The utter annihilation of FM radio broadcasts would be sufficient in salvaging what remnants of hope I have for today’s music industry. Too extreme, you say? Allow me to elaborate: Almost every day, I am subjected to the same songs during my morning commute to school.
If I’m lucky I’ll hear the same song twice before I even get out of the car! This would be wonderful if I experienced something close to enjoyment during this whole fiasco; the music usually consists or empty lyrics, a catchy chorus, and over-the-top instrumentals. This is determined by market research to be what the audience would like to hear. These commutes are oftentimes accentuated with mumbled curse words, a short sigh, and a swift jab at the power button; silence is bliss. But should it be? Ignoring the problem doesn’t always make it go away.
Like many things, the problem lies at a deeper, more fundamental level. Radio — not unlike many capitalistic ventures — strives to appease the largest amount of people to yield the largest amount of profit. Now, I understand the necessity of this practice: Without profit, the advertisers go M.I.A. and the radio station disappears with it, but what is being sacrificed in the process? By adopting a mentality that sets out to appeal to the masses, the radio becomes the sworn enemy of divergent thought. It perpetuates the belief that one must fit a certain mold in order to succeed; if it’s not the right sound, if it doesn’t appeal to the masses, if it doesn’t fit the standard quo then your music is worthless.
The problem is elevated to a dangerous level that threatens the formerly genuine art of music. Artists must now contort their craft to that which is acceptable for the radio in order to “make it big”. Radio hits can best be described as songs that are easily relatable, non-provocative, inclusive of most age-groups, and infectiously catchy (the ones that pry their way into your head and refuse to budge). This is the gravest of offenses: To be forced to sacrifice one’s own creativity — and, in a sense, one’s identity — for even the smallest amount of playtime on mainstream radio. In this way, musical diversity and innovation are forsaken for gimmicky, catchy tunes that lack depth and meaning, while failing to introduce anything innovative. The artist becomes alienated from their own creation; they no longer make the music for the sake of itself, but rather to sustain fame and fortune.
This development elucidates the hypocrisy of most mainstream FM radio stations; they employ a strategy that ensures that few individuals would take offense to the music they play. However, if you listen in close enough, you’ll find that most songs involve male artists rapping/singing about lavish lifestyles and engaging in self-aggrandizement, while the female artists sing about partying, drugs, and sex; Hardly innocent subject matter. Normally this would warrant immediate removal, but in this perversion of music, it’s not only allowed, but lauded as the epitome of success that many youths aspire to obtain. God forbid a song should feature lyrics that allow the listener to think and reflect on something more substantial. Imagine then what they might aspire to achieve!
I take music to be an extension of the individual who creates it. What does it say about that artist if the music they create is alien to their actual being? The meaning behind the song is pre-emptively assigned and forced into a mould that has been cast long before the artist came about. My point, then, is this: Radio must become a testament to individuality; to express music that reflects the artists themselves, not some procedure that would persist with or without the artist. I’m tempted to call this a moral obligation, but I wouldn’t go that far. However, there is a silver lining.
Recent trends show that FM radio is decreasing in popularity (especially among educated millennials), while satellite (ex. Sirius XM) radio and internet (ex. Pandora) radio is drawing an increasingly large following. So it appears there is hope after all! And it doesn’t require the death of FM radio (unfortunately). The increasing popularity of digital media represents a sanctuary for the potential resurgence of divergent thought in the music industry and has helped build a place where outside-of-the-box artists can hone their craft and share it with like-minded listeners. Of course, terrestrial radio stations undoubtedly retain millions of followers. FM radio lives to see another day…
Though it would be fantastic not to hear the same song 80 times a day…