Last updateWed, 22 Nov 2017 8am


Video Really Killed the Radio Star

It seems as if the music industry has been placing a much higher importance on image over true raw talent since the 1980s. The release of the first music video ever for “Video Killed the Radio Star” by Buggles in 1979 really depicts the message of how looks, style, and what you could see on video literally killed the radio star, or the musicians who could sing and had true talent.

The reason for this shift could be the growth of technology. The 80s were a great time for technological advances and that decade has really shaped the technology we have today in the music business.

Joe Rapolla, Chair of the Music Department, said, “Technology has impacted the [music] business, like all businesses, over the last 150 years.”

Dave DePaola, a junior music industry student, explained, “I think the decade of the 80s was a turning point in music because of the emergence of new technologies for recording and production, as well as evolutions in music with the creation of new sub genres like glam metal, where the image was more important than the music.”

Bands like Poison, Mötley Crüe, and Def Leppard were some of the most well known glam metal bands and were the epitome of image focused musicians.

Even now, we still see the problem of image taking over the music industry. With this year’s Grammy awards on Feb. 15, there has been some controversy amongst music lovers saying that Taylor Swift’s 1989 did not deserve Album of the Year over Kendrick Lamar’s new album, To Pimp a Butterfly.

Although Swift is a great pop artist, the argument that these fans make is that to win a title like Album of the Year should not be based on popularity but on real artistic value.

“Pop music is a product placed to a melody. It’s not meant to mean anything other than catchy tunes, un-meaningful lyrics, and lack of instrumental skill,” said Liam Frank, a junior music industry student.

Frank also commented on Kendrick Lamar’s album, “It is such a good vehicle for exposing racial inequalities experienced first hand by Kendrick and also for very universal and adaptable personal and moral lessons. Kendrick Lamar uses his talent and art to share his story and make a real statement.”

DePaola said, “Pop music is music that is made only to be sold.” But that wasn’t always the case. DePaola continued, “Innovation was more appreciated in the old days.”

The days of rock and roll in the 50s, 60s, and 70s were great and allowed musicians who played instruments and wrote their own songs to be popular.

Frank added, “Back in the day, popular music was more about the individual and their art. Now, mainstream media tells you what you are supposed to like.”

Even singers and crooners in the 40s who just sang songs written for them had a real gift for singing. Now artists like Britney Spears or boy bands like One Direction are popular because of their looks and technology that makes them sound better.

Rapolla explained this shift we’ve come to in music from a business standpoint. “The first music product was sheet music, then the LP, then we were a singles business in the 1950s,” he said.

Rapolla added, “In the 70s we moved back into an album business. Recently we’ve moved back to a singles business. And now we’re moving to an access versus ownership model, whereas music becomes more of a service rather than a product.”

Our generation’s focus on hit singles and having music consumption at an all time high affects what the industry promotes as popular music.

John Mayer is a great example of an artist who puts so much heart and soul into all of the songs he writes, however, he is really only known in the world of pop for winning a Grammy for his hit single “Your Body is a Wonderland” in 2004.

Even artists like Gary Clark Jr. who are huge in the world of blues and soul today are not recognized in mainstream music.

Clark’s album “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim,” which came out in September of 2015, was a highly acclaimed album by Rolling Stone and could objectively be considered the best album of the year.

However, because of the way the industry is today, an album like that could never cross over into mainstream music because of our focus on singles.

Rapolla summarized the evolution of music by saying, “As always, good music that can sell is important to the music industry. That has not changed. What’s different is the characteristic of what good music sounds like […]. The sounds change but good music is always what drove the music business.”


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