By Zane Fletcher, Culture Editor
I once watched a documentary on one of my favorite bands, and one of the most important punk rock bands in history,-The Clash. The documentary highlighted their production process and the relations between the band members in their writing and recording habits.
The Clash had two singers who switched off on the lead – Mick Jones (who would later go on to form Big Audio Dynamite) and Joe Strummer (who formed Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros).
These two big personalities often conflicted on musical direction, as happens in bands, yet the band remained (until their ultimate disbanding in 1986) a unified front under the heading, The Clash.
Musicians today, across all musical genres, have a penchant to name their projects after themselves. Bruno Mars, Ed Sheerhan, Lil’ Wayne – all of them have supporting casts which contribute to their success, yet they rarely receive praise. Where did the unity that had previously pervaded music go? It has disappeared in the self-driven, selfish industry that music has become.
Why is this an issue? Well, in the disintegration of the band era, the time of the “collaboration” has come about. Songs featuring other artists are extremely prevalent, and often successful, yet these one-off events seem to lack a certain panache.
When groups were together for years at a time, they were able to grow comfortable with each other’s talents and abilities. When two rappers work together for one song, or when a pop star brings in a different artist for contrast, it succeeds at a similar level to the early years of bands.
It would be difficult to find a soul who thinks that the Beatles didn’t improve with time, or Led Zeppelin. Current artists deny themselves this opportunity by setting themselves up in a carousel supporting cast, which reflects back on the selfish nature of the industry.
The airwaves have become so saturated with these big names that we as consumers of the music industry have forgotten about the alternative. There is also a sense of self-preservation inherent in the decision to front the produced music with the artists’ own name.
When bands were unified as one, the decision to be innovative was not as risky – the blame of a failure would fall on the shoulders of the whole group, as opposed to just one.
When the Beastie Boys became the first to add an electric guitar to hip-hop, the reception was strong. No one had ever done that before, and the risk was great, but due to the nature of their relationship, they were able to give it a shot and ultimately make their careers.
This is noticeable even in the divide between bands and artists today. For example, one of the most creative and innovative bands of the 21st century is OK Go, a band. They take generic pop and add their special ingredients – be it a unique music video, vocal track, electronic undertones or what have you.
Compare them to a rapper like Lil’ Wayne, successful as he may be, has not really introduced many wrinkles into his industry.
This is not a diatribe against the music of the 21st century, it is instead one against the individualized and selfish culture it fosters. It ushers in not only a lack of creativity, but a lack of longevity and unfortunate invisibility for the supporting artists.
Gone are the days when a studio musician like saxophonist Kenny G could be as famous as some of the largest names of the time. The innovations and ideas of the bands are dying, buoyed only by bands like OK Go and The Killers, while pop and rap artists use their names as a money grabbers while ignoring the most important function of their position – the music.