Is Rock Really Dead or Just Evolving (A Response to Gene Simmons)

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Gene Simmons has once again made headlines declaring the death of rock-n-roll. In an interview in Esquire Magazine (with his son Nick Simmons), the Kiss bassist blamed the dying music industry and illegal downloading/file sharing for creating the current landscape that musicians have to navigate. Indeed the current state of rock music and its place in the music industry is fairly grim. However to declare it dead is, in my view, erroneous.
Simmons is correct in his statements illegal downloading has led to the music industry lacking the power it once had. This in turn results in the industry that’s left relying on safer bets: pop and rap which are very popular and country which in addition to popularity also has an audience more likely to buy albums. It’s true that it might be difficult for people to think of bands in the past 20 years that are truly iconic. It’s also true that in our current society there is (sadly) a lack of respect for artists and their work.
However does all this mean that rock is dead? I don’t believe this is the case. The more likely scenario is that rock (and music as a whole) is evolving. This evolution is leading to bands that may not fill stadiums like Kiss but are just as well loved by their fans and are still able to make music their career.
Some factors that Simmons failed to take into account for the current state of rock music is a cultural fragmentation of sorts and a fragmentation of rock music itself. In the period he lauds as the time where many classic bands came into being (from about 1958-1983) there was a more homogenous culture. It was a time where there were only a few channels on television and where the idea of the internet would have sounded like something out of “The Jetsons.” It was easy for rock bands to be propelled to a mass audience because they had “The Ed Sullivan Show”, “American Bandstand,” and other similar programs that everybody watched (perhaps because it was one of a few choices). Now however, with hundreds of channels on television and millions of websites artists don’t necessarily have that same platform for immediate exposure to a mass audience. In some ways this might be beneficial (one can argue that artists today have many different platforms they can utilize) though I will concede that it can feel at times like shouting into a wind tunnel.
Another issue is that the genre of rock music has become very fragmented as well. This isn’t new; in the early and mid-sixties there were clashes between mods, who favored the sounds of bands like The Who, and rockers who stayed loyal to the rockabilly sounds of the fifties. In the late sixties and seventies we saw the growth of numerous subgenres including psychedelic rock, heavy metal, southern rock, glam rock, punk, new wave, etc. However nowadays there are so many different subgenres (just think of how many types of metal alone that there are) that it’s hard to pinpoint one band that defines rock as a whole. Is rock represented by the radio friendly pop sound of Fall Out Boy and Maroon 5? The retro vintage sound of Wolfmother, The Black Keys and the music of Jack White and his various groups? Is it the neo-psychedelic sounds of The Flaming Lips, the folk-rock sound of The Avett Brothers or the dark metal/grunge sound of Five Finger Death Punch? While this fragmentation of the genre certainly might make it hard to talk about a band defining rock in the way The Beatles or The Rolling Stones did, it goes to show that there is still a lot of rock music out there and a lot of rock music fans. They just might not listen to the same stations or have the same music in their iTunes libraries.
Thus, despite the continuing challenges that up and coming bands may face, rock music is far from dead. In fact, it’s just the opposite, very much alive and continuing to evolve and expand. The rock bands of the future may have more challenges to face and more of a niche audience then the bands of the past. However, in the words of AC/DC, “Rock-n-roll, it will survive.”

Bibliography and Works Cited

Simmons, Nick. “Gene Simmons: ‘Rock Is Finally Dead'” Esquire.com Article. Esquire, 04 Sept. 2014. Web. 06 Sept. 2014. .

4 Reasons Finding A Band is Like Finding A Relationship (Only Worse)

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Ever since I was a teenager I’ve wanted to be in a rock band. I still do but ten years later, while I haven’t given up, I’ve come to the sobering conclusion that it’s probably easier to find a relationship then someone to be in a band with. I suppose at its heart a band is a relationship between its members. Like any relationship…

4) You Can Get Rejected for Arbitrary Reasons: Do you have “that” friend? The one that has a checklist for their dream girl or guy? They go on date after date but no one ever lives up to their fantasy and sometimes they reject someone with plenty of potential for the smallest reason. Well finding a band can sometimes feel like that only more so. It shouldn’t be any secret that the music business is getting told no often. Sometimes though rejection can come for reasons that are at best political and at worst illogical. I once saw an ad for a band that was perfect on many levels (they liked the same type of music I did and seemed to have similar goals). I was turned down because they specifically wanted a male lead singer. Now granted people have a right to their qualifications and ultimately you don’t want work with someone who doesn’t want to work with you.  However, I think my example is one reason that finding a band can be more similar to finding a relationship then a job…a job would never be allowed to use that or similar reasons to turn you down (at least they couldn’t admit to it). Of course, while it’s not easy to be the rejected, it’s not easy doing the rejecting, especially when it may be for a good reason which leads me to number three…

3) You Have to Play with A Lot of Frogs to Find a Prince: The ideal band member is someone who has talent and chemistry (i.e. they are proficient at their instrument, they have similar taste in music, they can play with you and not against you, etc.) Unfortunately this combination can be exceedingly hard to find to say the least. I have too many stories to count but they can be divided into those who can’t play, those who can play but go overboard, those who can play but don’t have the same goals, and the list goes on. Oh and unless you’re trying to be Simon and Garfunkel or The White Stripes you’re probably going to have to find more than one other person so take all the frustration and angst of finding one awesome person and multiply that by the number of people you need. Of course if you’re lucky enough to find those people don’t get overconfident, you still need to decide what your goals are…

2) You Have to Talk About “The Future”: If you’ve been in a relationship at some point you find yourself having that awkward conversation about where the relationship is going. Are you looking to get married and have kids or do you just want a carefree fling? In a band it’s similar only marriage and kids is the Grammys and stardom. Or maybe it’s simply being a highly successful regional act or whatever end goal you have in mind. Ultimately though at some point (and preferably early) you have to figure out if you want the same things. Otherwise it can lead to bitterness and resentment. In the last group I was in our biggest problem was that we couldn’t agree on a direction. He wanted to do more cover band type stuff and I still wanted to try to work on original music. In another group I wanted to get more serious (more practices etc.) but the other members weren’t on the same page and it lead to us splitting up. Of course even if you have this conversation and you’re all in agreement on your goals there is still one more issue you have to face…

 1) You Can Find the Perfect People and It Still Falls Apart: I’ve been in two bands where everything seemed perfect. We all liked the same types of music, we seemed to have similar goals and in both cases I could see us rocking out at Bonnaroo or the Grammys together. In both cases they didn’t even make it past the first gig. Of course staying together isn’t an easy task. One only has to look at a biography of The Beatles or The Yardbirds to see how even great bands can fall apart or have trouble maintaining a line up.

Sometimes I wonder why I still want to try, especially with all the frustration I’ve dealt with. I don’t want to stop searching though because, in spite of the issues, I still hope to find that perfect band one day. There isn’t anything that beats the feeling of playing music with other people and being totally in sync. It’s a feeling that, as corny as it sounds, is truly magical (and really that’s the only way you can describe it). Being in a band gives you a chance to be a part of something greater then yourself. As a soloist you might only be able to play so much but when you have your fellow band members you can take the world by storm. It’s because of this dream I keep going so that hopefully one day I can find my true (musical) soul mates.