By: James Pew –
“No Pop (noun) – short for Not Popular. Meaning anti-commercial, non-chart-friendly, also inferring there is no expiration date on music nor is it limited by geographic or regional boundaries”
The first time I wrote about No Pop was over a year ago. I re-read that piece in preparation for writing this one. Having forgotten about it I was surprised by the tone. It was definitely a little harsh and cynical, as is the Youtube video “The Truth About Popular Music”. I don’t necessarily agree with the situation depicted by Joseph Watson is entirely accurate. However, the gist of what he is saying resonates with me. And the angry tone he spits out is hard to take but never-the-less his anger resonates too. My first No Pop articles were angry in tone and I bet this one is going to be too.
I typically shy away from negativity and cynicism, I’m a music producer of No Pop which means I’m in the business of making dreams come true. I help artists develop songs into inspired productions through an artistic process of exploration and discovery. We don’t think about formulas and marketability. We set out to make personal pieces of art to the very best of our abilities. We surround ourselves with the best musicians we can find who share our values of music making. We pursue excellence and we have a ton of fun doing it! My world is a creative one that is positively charged by the artists working with me. We don’t spend very much time on negativity we much prefer to spend our time creatively engaged with that open conduit between heart and craft. We largely ignore the Pop world not out of principle but from lack of interest. Above all myself and the artists I respect the most are heavily motivated by an inner need to contribute something to the lineage of our art form, regardless of YouTube views.
A point made by Joseph Watson is that through repetition the masses are being fooled into “feeling rewarded” from listening to music that would normally go against their preferences. He has many good points and some compelling scientific data backing that claim. We live in post literary times. The pop books of today are products of the same dumbing down that music is facing. Literacy in general has regressed greatly from when print was the dominate medium. So has the musical literacy of the masses.
My personal frustration with the matter has more to do with what seems to me like big media’s Pop Music and Pop Culture enjoy a position of prevailing culture to the extreme. Being an utterly pervasive and totally inescapable machine that produces heaping loads of its own culture and over distributes it across a multitude of media around the globe around the clock. It’s dominance over the imaginations of the masses is alarming. The need for alternatives to the prevailing culture has never been this desperately necessary.
Pop culture has the power to totally disrupt natural cultural developments. There needs to be a healthy garden of multitude when it comes to music and art and ideas and everything that comes from human creativity. Big media celebrity culture pushes us towards generic-ness and homogeny. What would happen if the world’s biggest, most powerful media finally achieved their goal of 100 per cent share on our attention? If humans completely surrendered their attention to the fantasy structure of big media?
Alternative movements, Ideas like No Pop are a counter-force. Genericness can be fine for a time here and there. But eventually we all need depth and artistry and inspiration when it comes to works of art, or ideas, or food, or relationships, or any of the things we value spending time on.
Much of the mainstream music world, the segment who seem intent on dumbing us all down to the lowest possible depths, have got it wrong. In the modern digital age, people of all ages are empowered with knowledge and information. People want smarter, deeper music, not shallow, dumb music. Eventually, just like the oil industry, who may someday discover it costs more to extract oil than is possible to recoup from its sales, the big music companies will discover it costs too much for the advertising media spectacle to make enough return on marginally talented shallow acts. Sophistication and ground breaking next level artistry is always the cycle that moves things forward.
The spread of an idea like No Pop has a lot of interesting potential. Imagine fringe counter culture elements all over the globe uniting in a movement that has an organizing/empowering effect on the music makers and music industry stake holders who resonate with the notion. The No Pop idea resonated with me the first time I read the Music Think Tank piece. I felt like I had been practicing a No Pop-like approach in my carrier as a independent music producer but this new organizing of the idea, laid out in the MTT piece in a clear definition with added exposition painting a compelling No Pop picture, solidified exactly what it was that I was should be doing. For some strange reason this allowed me to refine my approach and development and got me closer to a sound that is unique. With this clear idea of No Pop in mind I have established and continue to develop a sound and approach to music production that is my own. No Pop is a deeply inspired notion that has really helped me focus on whats important in the studio and beyond.
In 1976, Jacques Attali wrote a book called Noise: The Political Economy of Music that accurately described the demise of the music industry. Keep in mind that in 1976 and for many years after the music industry was at its height. No one else had predicted the good times would end. Attali said the music industry will suffer a “crisis of proliferation”. He predicted that soon we would all have so much recorded music it would cease to have any value. The crisis of proliferation we are experiencing from the over production of culture has made it extremely challenging for any new piece of art/culture to not be swallowed up and/or discarded in the maelstrom. The powerful media world responsible for institutions like the Grammy Awards has a lock on culture. They have no trouble getting their culture into the eyes, ears and minds of the masses.
Because of this there is no “selling out” anymore in the traditional sense. Most artists can’t give their music away for free. Today you can only be a sell-out in terms of integrity. An artist’s recordings may have little value but the integrity of the artist themselves is everything. The mythical cross-roads re-cast in a modern sense see’s today’s artists standing in front of two pathways. One involves maintaining integrity and a total commitment to the artistic process as well as an honesty with oneself. The other involves a deferral or circumvention of integrity and the artistic process is used as a weapon to capture attention as opposed to the creation of an artefact intended to elevate a person and/or culture.
If you sellout your integrity what avenue is left? The artists at the forefront of the mainstream machine are pretty much all reality stars now. Their lives, and all the various ways we get to seem them humiliate themselves, have become the new sick art form delivered with cutting edge production values to an expectant public. The good news is, I guess, if you sell your integrity you can always pursue success in the more lucrative reality TV bolstered entertainment industry.
Integrity, Excellence, Respect, Discipline and Commitment. These are the qualities I would attribute to those who have achieved the highest levels within their discipline. Olympic athletes are the best athletes the planet has to offer so we celebrate them. It makes little sense that centre stage of the Grammy Awards does not consist of the best musicians on the planet? Yes the Grammys do recognize Jazz and Contemporary classical musicians of the highest level, but centre stage, the main show, the televised portion is dominated by a hybrid celebrity/business/media culture that cares little for musical excellence or honouring the art form of music. This mainstream portal, the Grammy centre stage and such, being the dominant portal can make it seem like that is all there is worth looking at or listening to. That is the source of endless frustration for me. Why the extreme emphasis and focus on the mediocrity of the centre stage?
In a just world, the public would expect and desire excellence in the musical arts in a similar fashion as the excellence they expect from Olympic athletes. Powerful media has countless times demonstrated their effectiveness at convincing masses of people to desire and expect things that work against their natural instincts and best interests. If you truly wish to honour your art from (and why wouldn’t you?), Integrity, Excellence, Respect, Discipline and Commitment will reflect your approach. If you are an artist there is no question of this. An opportunist either lacks or sacrifices the essential ingredients of artistry in favour of some other reward. A lot of so called artists are really just opportunists who utilize music in some form or another. Unfortunately, these desperate creatures have much of the spotlight. You either cater to the reality TV circus entertainment industry or you can be a real artist, regardless of the sacrifices and rewards. As a listener or music maker we are all at the same cross roads. No Pop is a pathway. It’s your choice to walk it.
Founder of No Pop is Toronto music blogger and writer Lonely Vagabond. James Pew is a producer and recording engineer at Euphonic Sound Studio