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Heard Brilliance Recently?

I’m a lover of music and marketing, just like the next guy - but I really think the consumers have it right and the industry is still drinking koolaid - 

The big issues of the day are not Music. They are the economy, the environment and global relationships. 99 % of music doesn’t address these issues - we’re using music to distract ourselves, not unlike television in the 80s. No wonder we’re not connecting.  What exactly should we be connecting to?  Inspiration is not just a good hook, coupled with a strong manager, funding for a tour and a file on itunes. It’s about seeping deep into the emotional language of what matters and afixing onto a heart. And becoming imperative in that hearts’ life.  In ecological terms, it’s mutualism - the song lives in your body, and you derive great pleasure from it. Win win.  

Blog away, but the real fact that is that music is just not inspiring people right now. Not in any significant way. And though there will always be music, there won’t always be inspiration. :)

Imagine if your entire financial well being was determined soley on finding the single, one, exceptional talent. 

Wait for it, wait for it.  

The problem is, we’re all too driven by the idea of brilliance, without the source of it. Nowadays, all the marketing in the world can’t put the industry back together again.

Reader Comments (28)


You said:

"music is just not inspiring people right now."
Are you referring to all music, and all people? Or did you mean something more like
"music [from MTV, FM Radio, Major Labels, etc.] is just not inspiring [their target market] right now."
I need clarification on that before making any additional comment. Thanks!

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Shapiro

I'm surprised to see someone argue such a point.

I'm with Stephen above, I'd probably be happier getting some clarification about what you are really getting at here....

But in the meantime, I want to say this: If you aren't finding brilliant new music that seeps deep into you, you must either not be looking or looking in the entirely wrong places.

I'd also argue that great music has less to do with "brillance" than it does simple human endeavor. For me, the magic has always been the very idea of "creating something out of nothing" - whether or not it is 'good', 'bad', 'derivative', etc.

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Goodrich

I think this was a really negative post. and i agree with the two comments above.

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Tunes

My wife and I were listening to some new music last night after the kids went to bed. Trust me, the music was inspiring.

November 23 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

At the risk of sounding self-serving, I offer up at least 25 songs on my radio show and on my blog every week.

Check out the latest - Pampelmoose New Music Hour 11-20-08
and the Pampelmoose New Music Hour Archives Surely something for everyone.

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Oh, and to be clear, there's nothing wrong with the music business, it's the CD business and the music Industry that's broken. New music is everywhere...

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Totally agree that music isn't having the depth of connection with people. Either it's because of the ways most people are consuming and listening to music or maybe more so that anyone who has spent time developing a craft isn't deemed 'new' and doesn't get the media coverage they deserve.

I certainly think music at the moment is failing to connect with people but the things which do connect reach them in such muddled ways (having to discover Feist via an advert must make loving her feel very different to hearing her voice on a Broken Social Scene record and discovering her voice in isolation and songs like Mushaboom was amazing)

It's been interesting working with Martha Wainwright and the different response from media and people to various things I'd worked with before - and more so how different her debut with all those "new artist" spaces in the media which vanished when she released her follow-up. Martha's heartfelt honesty and the way people talk about how much they love her voice has been fascinating and very different to the connection the average music fan has to music.

Something new which hit me like the above and a little like the way people reacted to Bat for Lashes debut single....

I think both genders react to female artists slightly different to males but it'd be interesting thing for people to study

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterSeanDiS

I agree with the first few posters in that there is definitely inspiring music out there today. But I really like this article and agree with the point I think you're making, which is that the most important thing to focus on is creating inspired music.

In the music marketing blogosphere, there's not nearly enough acknowledgement of this. You'd think with all these quasi-professional music makers talking about how to connect with fans and create an online presence through the latest social networking web 2.0 there'd be more talk about making music.

But the conversation that goes on here is intentionally more focused on the business side of music and perhaps shouldn't be the only destination for the musicians themselves. Managers and label owners will find what they need to do what they do here, but musicians need to balance this kind of thinking with an overarching focus on the music itself. If you're serious about making a musical impact, your obsession should be with music, not with marketing.

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterJ. Greyson

I see what you're saying in one respect, but I believe the inspiration is out there, it's just not always the most popular thing on the market.

Do you brilliance in the sense that an artist would rather come up with a great song, rather than focus on the content of the song itself? Because I do not believe that is the problem. We've just gotta dig a little deeper to find music in which the inspiration is clear in the song.

- Cam

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterCameron

Too busy to hear the inspiration??

I believe there is some phenomenal and inspiring music out there, but I know I'm guilty of actually being too busy to listen to it. Who really takes the time to truly listen to music now?!?! We have music playing in the background while our attention is given to a dozen other things. Can we be inspired by music if we don't even listen to it anymore?

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Bernard

As the barriers to entry in the music business collapsed, the masses swarmed in. This means that the selection of music has become diluted.

It DOES NOT mean that the selection of music has become inauthentic or less inspirational. The old record business used to be, for all intents and purposes, a filter.

There is no more filter, so the brilliant and inspired gets mixed in right next to the copy-cats, uninspired, and..well... the inauthentic.

And the reason why the "new music business" is focused on so heavily is that the new tools for music discovery and music social networking ARE the evolving filters of the future. They are the aggregation tools of the long tail, and as they further evolve will become our new reliable source for letting the inspired music again rise to the top.

Please, please, please do not argue that today's music is less inspired than it has been previously. It's simply rubbish.

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Goodrich

I dunno where to start picking this apart.

The big issues of the day are not Music. They are the economy, the environment and global relationships.

Not like 1984, eh, where the big issues of the day were Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Hazell Dean, rather than the Cold War and the Ethiopian famine.

music is just not inspiring people right now. Not in any significant way.

No, music isn't inspiring you right now. You're not looking hard enough.

The problem is, we're all too driven by the idea of brilliance, without the source of it.

I'm sure you don't mean to come across as someone who pines for the days when Weather Report / John Lennon / Captain Beefheart / Hall & Oates (* delete as applicable) were releasing new albums to rapturous reception, but you do.

Music doesn't operate by laws of supply and demand. If there's more of it available, your average music fan doesn't value it less. They might conceivably have trouble finding what they're looking for (although I don't think that's the case, either.)

And the vast majority of people have never had any "meaningful" connection to music, in any case. They might have bought records, but to imagine that millions of people bought "Rubber Soul" because they were profoundly affected by "Nowhere Man" is just horseshit.

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterRhodri Marsden

I'm very surprised that almost nobody agreed with the point of the post. I'm also very surprised that people needed clarification. It seemed fairly obvious to me that the author was not referring to individuals being inspired by music, but our society as a whole. I, for one, am in complete agreement with Celia on this.

What is unclear about these points: "The big issues of the day are not Music. They are the economy, the environment and global relationships. 99 % of music doesn't address these issues" ?

Now of course an individual can find music that they think is brilliant. Thats not being disputed here, nor should it be. I absolutely love a ton of music being made today. But thats not the point. The point is that society no longer draws upon music as a force for empowerment or social change.

To society as a whole, music is more like candy than art. Again, I'm not talking about you and your friends individually, I'm talking about large groups of people. Groups of people which are marketed to by bands and companies. And they marketing touchstone of today is individual personalization. The music industry (as well as individual artists) today are obsessed with empowering individual choice and customization. We want people to feel like little rulers of their own musical kingdom, not essential members of something bigger than themselves. Now, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, but as a social trend, I think it is pretty close to established fact.

Music is not important for politics. Music is not important for generating new ideas. I would never say that music itself is more of an opiate than an art, BUT, when you stack it up against the important issues of our time, I think it provides more distraction than action. By this I mean, music does not help us focus on these social issues better - it helps us feel better as individuals in the face of these problems by providing us with an unrelated, fun, alternative.

The music itself is fine. And I do think that "brilliance" was a poor choice of word to use. I would rather talk about "relevance." The question I would ask is, is brilliant music providing a relevant context for the issues of our times? I don't think it is, at least not to the extent that it has in certain times in the past.

Now does any of this matter? Here is how it does: brilliant music will always be created. Its being created today. But will it be remembered? The music that will be remembered is the music that not only defines our times, but provides the best possible artistic response to them. Is music responding to the world as well as it could be?

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

this post is a lot like most modern lyrics. singers and songwriters write drek with occasional gusts to drivel and call it music. I agree with Andrew in that the masses have swarmed in and most never rewrite anything. go to any popular songwriter site and see the crap that gets posted as song lyrics. there are no gatekeepers. as to where we go from here i just don't know but your own music is an applause business. if you can't get anyone to listen then it's just the sound of one hand strumming in the forest.

November 23 | Unregistered Commenterdavid

Thank you Justin for that accurate and relevant clarification.
You're right about the word brilliance - it was a poor choice of words and relevance is much better.

But I would argue one point. I may have received my music education in the school yard growing up, and not on an electronic network, but at the end of the day, but i sat alone in my bedroom with my Kenwood stereo and vinyl to enjoy. And what came out of those speakers moved me in ways nothing else profoundly did. The music moved me to protest wars, to join movements, and to want to serve mankind. That was in early 1970s. Music, which is poetry singing, was political - and artists embraced their personal politics with it.

We've become a society that can speak out individually whenever they want, but most are still afraid to embrace their personal politic. We work in a creative industry and just look at how many people, perhaps not here, but in other industry sites, write without their last name. I don't mean it as a personal attack, it's simply representational of a society that is not comfortable speaking out and owning their point of view. And it's not exclusive to our industry. The music feels much the same.

Obama winning the election is the first real hope that Americans "are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore". Finally, someone ignited the youth to create change. I hope we'll see a similar trend in music, politics and art in the coming years, at least in the US.

There are a few leaders in music. Bono, Bjork, Springsteen. I'm sure there are a few others but it's a very small room. Relevance indeed in is the point. Without relevance - it's all about marketing. And as a marketing person - that's too bad. I have a higher standard and greater hope. I hope others do too.

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterCelia Hirschman

And what came out of those speakers moved me in ways nothing else profoundly did. The music moved me to protest wars, to join movements, and to want to serve mankind.

This is all very admirable, but to pretend that this was the case for the majority is utterly misguided, and to imagine that the music of today isn't inspiring people is just arrogant. I go to gigs, I see people being profoundly moved by what they see, I see people starting bands, I see people excited by playing music together. And when they start their bands, they might not write about paving paradise and putting up a parking lot, but that doesn't mean that they don't inspire others, in turn.

Because of all the things music can inspire, the impetus to protest against war, or place an X in a box marked "change", or not to waste electricity or whatever, is possibly THE most facile. The last people I want to see making semi-profound statements about issues of the day are men or women with guitars, a flair for slightly naff poetry and a pained expression on their faces.

I'd rather see bands and musicians doing extraordinary stuff, musically, than churn out the kind of vaguely political, empty, naive rhetoric that so many bands did when I was growing up, in the mistaken notion that they were Starting A Revolution. They weren't, and they didn't. Bands who think that their albums are rallying cries for a generation are pompous twats, and look faintly ridiculous. And if you step back to get some perspective, it was ever thus.

Music that's being produced today is as incredible and diverse as it's ever been; the proportion of people who are emotionally moved by music is - I think - about the same as its ever been, and subjects pertaining to our everday lives are thoroughly addressed by newspapers, community leaders, politicians, teachers. Just as it should be. Bono is a ludicrous, preposterous figure, but never more so when he takes on the role of some World Statesman in the belief that he's changing the planet, when actually what he's doing is shifting a few more albums.

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterRhodri Marsden

Has music ever been the driving force for change or do we simply recognize certain types of music as indicative for the times of change that those songs reflect? I.e. is 60s music what created that era or is 60s music merely reflective of that era? (I'm inclined to say the latter)

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterJim Offerman


I think "arrogant" is a bit harsh. I am trying to understand and relate to what Celia is saying, as I have been trying to work out for five years why the industry cannot develop a new band that can consistently fill stadiums (Dave Matthews was the last, and that was over fifteen years ago).

I go to shows; I am raising my kids on a diet of music; I buy music regularly; and I am sent music from all over the world. I have to say that when it comes to new music; that is most of the music I have collected over the last ten years, I am not as inspired as the music that I collected earlier in life.

It would be easy to say that this is due to the fact that my youth remains captured within the older songs in my collection. However, I like to believe that I am someone who's youth has practically never ended. Like a lot of people, I have over one thousand songs on shuffle from every decade spanning the last forty years. I have to echo what Celia is trying to say: I hear the difference.

Two years ago I wrote a post about Digital Audio Workstation Gods; it's now one of the first posts on MTT Open. I tried to build a case that the over-reliance upon engineers using digital audio workstations is the leading contributor to the dearth of bands that can fill stadiums. However, since we are on this subject, I want to offer some partially evolved thought on the matter. I'm looking forward to being slapped down on this; so don't worry about hurting my feelings.

In all my businesses, I have been fortunate to be able to work with kids (18 to 28). The difference that I see between the kids now and the kids that I managed twenty years ago, is that most kids today suffer from something I will call short-termism. Generally, I find that everything else is in tact, except the ability to think, plan and act long term. Philosophically, I chalk this up to swinging from the branch of capitalism we have all been hanging upon over the last ten to twenty years.

So, in my humble (not really) opinion, short-termism is causing music to be less inspiring to ME. It's what causes kids to be over-reliant upon Digital Audio Workstation Gods; it's what causes record labels to behave the way they do; It's what comes out in today's lyrics; and it's why fans jump from one thing to another as fast as they change yesterday's socks.

Fortunately, two things are happening that are going to inoculate us from short-termism. First, the world is figuring out that it doesn't really work; we are going to have to swing from a different branch. Second, the ability to "push-market" music is just about over.

Write down all the qualities that equate to lasting, enduring, and long term; bake them into music, behavior, actions, deeds and business practices, and I believe that new bands could be birthed (developed) that can fill stadiums (they will be "brilliant" again). Now, how's that for a theory?

November 24 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

This is getting confusing.
I totally agree with Rhodri's comment. Celia, what do you mean there are a "few leaders in music" then mention Bono, Bjork and Springsteen? Of that trio the only talented artist is Bjork do you expect her to pontificate on world affairs like that stuffed shirt, Bono or the fake "working guy' Springsteen? Please, spare us.

Bruce, your theories are misguided. "Write down all the qualities that equate to lasting, enduring, and long term;" you say - I doubt that Captain Beefheart sat down to write his albums with an eye on selling out stadiums but to me his music is outstanding 30 years later... Same for Can, This Heat, Fugazi, ....and another 100 or so in my music collection.

Kids today (I have 3 teenagers one a son aged 19 who is a musician) want to make music. I see dozens of new bands spring up every month in the vibrant Portland, Or music scene where I live. There are hardly enough clubs to contain them all. Half of Portland including my entire family migrate NE to The Gorge in Washington every summer to attend the Sasquatch Festival where you can spend three days in the company of dozens of bands large and small from Bjork all the way down to a favorite discovery of mine, Thao. This is music discovery en masse.

You mention short-termism in kids today. That's a sign of your irritation with youth, you've forgotten your own youth when we were all living for the moment. At age 20 I was a founding member of Gang of Four and our long term goal was to make an album. We did, it's called 'Entertainment!' and it is hailed as mightily today as it was when it was released 30 years ago. The original line-up of the band then made another album. Then we split up. I left and started another band and continued making music. It was all that I knew what to do. Short-termism? Maybe. Burning fiercely then burning out? Yes. Remaining passionate about music to this day? Check.

I am so glad to think that we've seen the end of the 'stadium' bands. The idea of charging thousands of subservient people to come worship at the feet of their 'heroes' is something I can live without. Pack me into a room with about 1000 people max and I'm as happy as a pig in shi*t as they say. Force me to sit in a soulless arena with a pair of binoculars having paid a hyper-inflated price for a ticket I will then point out everything that is wrong with the music business.

For a candy-coated, spectacle of fluff lacking substance I'd rather go to Las Vegas. It's more fun.

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Dave, I didn't say "with an eye to selling out stadiums". Yeah there are a shit load of kids that want to make music and there are just as many that want success as fast as you can get fast food from a driveup window. The world I witness makes music, pops it onto MySpace, gets a ReverbNation account, and starts sending out links to industry insiders in less time that it takes to roast a turkey.

I would suggest delaying gratification - less focus on the internet and promotion, and more focus on music.

As for frustration with youth - yup that's correct. I was taught to live every day like it's your first and to live every day like it's your last. Most of the kids I encounter - skip the every day like it's your first part of that verse.

Now that I think about it - I walked out of the Dave Matthews stadium show I went to this summer for exactly the reason you said - soulless. However, I have been to other stadium shows where the exact opposite has happened. In fact, that has happened to me in every size venue. I don't think size has to matter when it comes to venues; positive and negative can happen anywhere.


November 24 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

I again feel compelled to say that value isn't inherent in a song or recording, but instead in the act of creation itself.

This is an interesting discussion, but I hate to see it devolve into a discussion about which music is great and which isn't. Just because songs from a certain era inspired you doesn't mean that they will inspire everyone because of some inherent quality. It has to do with your personal experiences with that music, what it represents for you, what you are already inclined to like (through familiarity), etc.

Music is so ultimately personal, you have to acknowledge that.
To borrow the cliche, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I don't see any way to get around it. If you aren't inspired, you aren't listening.

@Cecilia Regarding your comments on protest and anonymity, I can't think of anything that makes someone more anonymous than being in a crowd at a protest. Just because today's youth aren't rioting in streets doesn't mean they aren't moved to protest. Protest has evolved along with everything else. Protesting in the streets for today's youth is like listening to your favorite song on an 8-track. It just doesn't make sense anymore.

I'd argue that one of the main ways youth embraced protest very recently was through the excessive posting of political videos on YouTube throughout the election. I think it had a profound effect on the candidate's transparency (for better or worse).

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Goodrich

At the risk of being presumptuous, I'm going to suggest that the best way to consider this issue is to put aside your own musical experiences and opinions about what you think is good or inspiring or brilliant. I think that what we are talking about here is about the aggregate sum of millions of people's musical experiences. To say that you find music inspiring now, or even that people in general are more involved in music seems irrelevant to the issue.

For the last ten years we've all seen how the market has focused on personalization, has become niche-oriented, user-defined, and more or less focused on the individual. I think we can agree on that. So I think it is only logical and a statement of fact to say that music and the way we listen to music has become more of a personal and less of a social thing.

Going to a concert is not "social" in the macro-sense. There are tens of thousands of concerts. What we're talking about is whether this generation has developed a coherent artistic response to the times we live in. I would argue that, no, we haven't. Music does not seem to be connected to other forms of action or expression. It simply exists, albeit vibrantly, as its own relatively insular form of art. Now, I'm not saying you haven't had experiences that break this trend, what I'm saying is that in the macro sense, you can't match today's trends and messages in music to trends and messages OUTSIDE of music.

Someone earlier wrote that music in the 60's (which, if you ask me, is an example of a truly social moment in music) did not create the times of the decade, but vice versa. I totally agree. But look around. Here we are again in interesting and transformative times (at least I think so). Its time to catch that wave and ride it.

What does that all add up to? My suggestion is that music-related companies should focus less on content and more on context. Content is availability, customizability, and listenability. There have been immense achievements in this department in the last decade. Now I think its time to hone the message a bit further. I think there are interesting opportunities to be explored in marketing that are bolder than letting consumers attach their own fill-in-the-blank message to their music.

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

"I would suggest delaying gratification - less focus on the internet and promotion, and more focus on music."

Nice Bruce. I really like to hear that.

Also while I am here I would like to acknowledge and correct a horrible error in a previous comment loitering somewhere around here. I made the simple minded mistake of claiming that "Hey Bulldog" was on the LP Rubber Soul when in fact it is on Yellow submarine.

Sorry, that has been keeping me up at night.

"I would suggest delaying gratification - less focus on the internet and promotion, and more focus on music."

That's the important part.

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterMilton

This sounds like classic Dubber trying to get a rise and make sure where not all yes men and woman. Would I be right Andrew?

If anything I personally find more inspiration in music than ever. There's always periods where this is lost. But these are usually due to laziness.

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Spraggon

I recently stumbled upon this brilliant video at It's all about computers.

November 25 | Unregistered CommenterLefler Sagegrove

See? This is why I need that MTT opinion slide-o-meter thingy.

November 25 | Registered CommenterMusic Think Tank

Feeling uninspired by your music? What are you listening on and what are you listening to? If you answered earbuds/computer speakers and MP3s, then I'm not at all surprised. Degraded sound, degraded music is ultimately degrading.

November 26 | Unregistered CommenterMojo Bone

@David and Andrew

Just out of interest, what do you mean when you say the masses have swarmed in to the music business?

December 5 | Unregistered Commenterdunc

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