One of the statements from the last few years that has really stood out to me was a statement Trent Reznor made for the documentary The Defiant Ones. He discusses how downloading, and streaming has helped music become background noise. I disagree, corporate radio, and the advent of single national playlist has done more to damage music and make it background noise than downloading or streaming. Let’s be honest, hardcore fans are still purchasing music, they never stopped, this is why vinyl and cassettes are selling in 2017. But, the casual fan, the ones that made an album platinum, are gone, they’re the ones that turned to YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music and yes downloading, instead of buying The Black Album, Appetite For Destruction, Trent’s Downward Spiral, or a greatest hits package. They reach to a solution that only serves up what they want instead of having to buy an entire album. In part the labels are to blame for that as well for not making singles readily available, before iTunes took on the Napster blueprint, and made it profitable by selling single songs. But let’s not steer that far from the background noise topic.
For most people that are roughly my age, mid-forties, and older, we grew up hearing album tracks on the radio, it wasn’t only the hits. Sure, the hits received priority, but you still got to hear tracks that would now be considered “deep cuts” on a frequent basis. Once large corporations got hold of playlists, and made sure that every station was scrubbed of its individuality, they forced stations to play the same music all of the time. I can’t help but remember the last station that I would listen to at work in the states, and they had a “no repeat work day”. What they wouldn’t tell you is they repeated those same 50 songs every day. And on the weekends, that was worse as their rotations tracks were played every two hours, and that doesn’t even account for the “all request lunch hour” scam where the interns were “calling in” to request something you already hear a billion times a week. This has hurt the music industry on many levels, it has hurt established artists get new music on the airwaves, and it has also impeded new artists from flourishing. As a result, a lot of people aren’t aware that a band has released new material, in turn, bands are gun shy to do so, it is a vicious cycle. It has also made all of those hits you usually hear on the radio trivial. I can still remember catching a video and going into work the next day, and telling a co-worker, “I hope they play the new track by so and so, it’s so cool you’re going to love it”. And then it happened “quiet, check it out, here’s the new track”, but that doesn’t happen anymore. It’s those same 50 songs, and it has gone from “quiet this is a special moment”, to “hold on, let me turn this down, so we can talk”. Those songs have become part of the daily grind, and just another chore to listen to, instead of something exciting to help you pass your day, or get you pumped up to help the end of the day come quicker. Those songs have become a drag, and no matter how much I love a band, hearing the same three tracks from them, make me never want to hear those songs again. Because of this, those songs and music in general, have become, like Trent said, background noise to the majority of the listening audience.