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Old January 10th, 2013, 03:53 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Are Today's Bands Any Good?

Just an article I came across.

By Bob Lefsetz

Are today's bands any good?

The business is focused on these young "prodigies", like Britney Spears. The acts are getting ever younger, and the rationalization is that kids buy music, and that anyone over thirty, maybe even twenty five, is too old for the target demo to relate to. If you don't believe the Jonas Brothers are a great act, then you're an old fart.

But can anyone that young truly be great?

Maybe they've got innate talent, but has it been developed, are these young kids truly ready to bless us with their gifts?

According to Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers", no. Innate talent, pure desire, they're not enough. Sure, Mozart started writing music when he was six, but he didn't compose a masterwork until he was twenty one, after he'd put in 10,000 hours of practice.

How can you have accumulated 10,000 hours worth of practice if you're not even close to twenty one?

Turns out that's the rule. You've got to have 10,000 hours of practice under your belt to be truly great, to be world class. How many of today's acts have this kind of history? No wonder today's live acts rely on production, they've barely been on stage, never mind performing for 10,000 hours. Like the Beatles.

The Beatles went to Hamburg five times between 1960 and 1962. They played eight hours a night, seven days a week. Winning over an audience that didn't speak their language, that was more interested at first in the strippers. The Beatles gigged 270 nights total in Hamburg. By time "I Want To Hold Your Hand" broke in America, in January of 1964, the Beatles had performed live over 1,200 times. That's more times than many of our so-called stars have ever gigged.

Greatest guitarists of all time? How about Duane Allman. Not only did he practice while watching television, he even brought his guitar to the bathroom! Sure, you've got to have talent, but you've got to PRACTICE! How much practicing have today's musicians done?

Maybe that's why jam bands do so well on the road. You might not like their material, but they can play. Going to a Widespread Panic show is not like seeing Miley Cyrus. The band may not look pretty, but their music can stand alone. It draws people in. They developed over all those years, all those gigs.

How about Elton John? He didn't dream of being a star, he just wanted to be in the business. But he cut demos and wrote incessantly. To the point where he became incredibly good.

You might not like Diane Warren's songs, but the reason she has so much success is because of how dogged she's been. Knocking on doors when she was new and not that good, and working at her craft incessantly, year after year. Max Martin wrote "...Baby One More Time", Britney Spears just sang it. Michael Jackson's an incredible performer, but his great records were done with Quincy Jones, who'd spent so much time in the studio, never mind composing himself.

So, when you e-mail me the music of some new act and I don't respond, am I hearing something, or should I put that NOT hearing something? Kind of like Gladwell's book "Blink", I've been listening to music incessantly for years, I know what's great. And what you're sending me isn't. Because those acts want stardom, but they just haven't invested in their careers by practicing enough.

By time the Beatles left Hamburg they were so good, so tight, they could hold any audience. That's a skill you learn on stage, it can't be perfected in front of a mirror, not even in a garage with your buddies. There's a different charge at a gig, the energy, the distractions, the adrenaline, you've got to DELIVER! How many of today's acts truly deliver?

Those English musicians played American blues records again and again. Jimmy Page wasn't only in the Yardbirds, he'd played a ton of sessions before Led Zeppelin. And speaking of sessions, John Paul Jones was legendary for his work. Is it any wonder Zeppelin was so great? Or the Eagles... Glenn Frey and Don Henley played in bands before they backed up Linda Ronstadt on the road, they honed their chops in Aspen, they didn't compose their magnum opus "Hotel California" until five albums into their career!

Maybe today's acts just aren't good enough. Not because they lack talent, but they lack practice. That's what Gladwell says.

He quotes the study of K. Anders Ericsson of students at Berlin's Academy of Music in the 1990's. He found the world class soloists had practiced 10,000 hours by the age of twenty. But what is even more fascinating is that Ericsson couldn't find any "naturals", who were world class without practice, and he didn't find any "grinds", people who practiced yet weren't superior.

There are some amazing producers in today's music business. As well as great songwriters. They've honed their chops for decades. It's no wonder their compositions rule the charts. Because the acts they're writing for are relative newbies, they don't have the chops because they haven't put in the time.

But, it gets worse. Clive Davis has famously said he doesn't want his proteges to write. The business has focused on good-looking people, who might be able to sing. Then again, with today's studio wizardry/trickery, ANYBODY can sing. So, no one focuses on getting it perfect, even Mariah Carey doesn't sing live, and few focus on writing their own songs. Therefore it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy...today's acts don't write their own material because it's not treasured by the industry and therefore it's the so-called hacks who have all the talent.

The public was rabid, for a sustained period of time, for the Beatles. People recognized greatness, developed over years of practice. Whereas today everybody's just a flash in the pan, because after their momentary hit written and produced by the usual suspects, there's nothing left. You go to hear the hit, you don't go to see the act. Maybe the public is much smarter than we give it credit for.

As for punk rock... The Ramones didn't rise from nowhere. They were one of the giggingest bands of all time. Most people didn't even know who they were until they'd recorded four albums. You learn a lot going back to the studio. How can we expect today's acts to be comfortable when they've barely ever recorded in professional circumstances, and furthermore the sessions weren't in their control!

Brian Wilson didn't write "Good Vibrations" for the first Beach Boys album.

Aretha Franklin sang gospel and had a string of albums on Columbia before she broke through on Atlantic.

The lasting successes, the ones cleaning up on the classic rock circuit, the acts people want to see over and over again, didn't arise overnight, they paid years of dues before they ever broke through.

I'm not saying you've got to be old to make it, maybe you just have to be doggedly focused. Not only on making it, but rehearsing, getting it right. The music industry has lobbied against this. It has not encouraged its stars to practice. It just wants people who are willing to be manipulated, who are willing to do anything to make it. This has nothing to do with musical talent.

Maybe the conventional wisdom is right, today's kids do have a short attention span. Then again, they play videogames for hours, they surf online for days on end. That's why your teenager is a computer expert, why he can run your machine at what appears to be light speed. Because it's second-nature to him.

But working hard, practicing playing music to make it is not second-nature. It has not been encouraged by our industry. We don't reward practice, we just reward desire and good genes. And Gladwell posits again and again that genes are not good enough.

What's the old saw? That Bruce Springsteen would have been dropped after his first album today? Same deal with Bonnie Raitt and so many of the legends? It took them years to hone their skills, to not only write and record great music, but perform it too. Actually, both of those acts developed on the road. Where are developing musicians supposed to play today?

The audience knows something the industry does not. That today's music just ain't got the same soul. Rather than being heartfelt confessions by professionals beholden to no one, tracks are cookie-cutter confections created by cynical journeymen beholden to the dollar.

Maybe the Net will allow acts to grow and develop on their own.

But don't ever confuse greatness with the kid who used his Mac to write songs and then post them on MySpace. MySpace is a great wasteland. Everybody can write, few do it well. What makes people think anyone with a computer can compose great music overnight?

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Old January 10th, 2013, 04:02 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I was talking about similar to a mate just then...

Guitars/equipment has never been so cheap and available as now...

compared to the "golden era" of music people are still raving about... when getting an electric guitar/amp was only dreamed about....

where's all the new guitar heroes?.... what's the result of all this flood of cheap available guitar gear?....

when are they going to stop playing covers.?.. and make some real music with these "walmart" guitars... ;)
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Old January 10th, 2013, 04:47 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Whats popular is not a good judgement on whether there is young talent. The days of your pop band with a #1 hit song that play their own instruments is over. But there will always be talented successful acts, they just will not get the recognition that the pop acts will.

One way to look at it, when young people grow up, they start to appreciate talent more and more. Otherwise Britney Spears, N'Sync, Backstreet boys, New kids on the Block and the 9 million other washed up music groups would still be making millions on their music career. Granted some figure out how to stick around, but 99% do not.
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Old January 10th, 2013, 08:41 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Good article, thanks for posting that.
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Old January 10th, 2013, 09:37 AM   #5 (permalink)
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It is becoming a wierd world indeed. Everyone wants to be a star with a guitar in their hands instead of a guitarist making music.
There are definitely some up and coming hopefuls.
Jools Holland or whatever his name is, keeps surprising me with new talent and he often shows clips of bands that played there from years ago and one can see how far they have come.
Youngsters are in abundance in the business and definitely do not have 10,000 hrs as of yet but wait for it. When those kids hit 30 or 40, we are going to have some real gems.
Good read OP for sure and food for thot.
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Old January 10th, 2013, 09:44 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Old January 10th, 2013, 09:51 AM   #7 (permalink)
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These kids sound pretty damn good. A marching band/street orchestra playing Zappa's Zombie Woof.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6b-Kwa2IJtE
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Old January 10th, 2013, 09:52 AM   #8 (permalink)
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I was wondering if music journalists today are any good? What do you think?
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Old January 10th, 2013, 10:09 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by enterprise View Post
But don't ever confuse greatness with the kid who used his Mac to write songs and then post them on MySpace. MySpace is a great wasteland. Everybody can write, few do it well. What makes people think anyone with a computer can compose great music overnight?
These few closing remarks seem strange to me. Myspace is not a place me or my friends go to for music, or anything at all for that matter. Do people still use myspace? Why is a veteran music critic like him visiting myspace links that people send him?

And who are these "people" he mentions confusing greatness with ambition, or thinking that great music is composed overnight? I don't know anyone who thinks that way. Is it just me, or does the author seem to be complaining about a straw man?

IMO this article would have been better if the author had stuck to praising the great artists of the past that he mentions in his piece; then it would have been positive and uplifting rather than coming off as and angry old fart writing a "You kids these days!" piece.

Besides, the main claim that he makes - that it takes practice and age to improve as a musician - is trivial and obviously true.
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Old January 10th, 2013, 12:10 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by trev333
when are they going to stop playing covers.?.. and make some real music with these "walmart" guitars... ;)
That's my problem.Whenever I play for my friends and play my 'pieces of music',they all tell me to stop and play some coldplay or radiohead(both of which I don't like) and the neverending requests of stairway,hotel california etc.Only my parents somewhat listen to my compostions and to some extent,my brother also.It's not just that people don't play their originals,it's also that a majority of people (especially where I live) are not ready for new music.They just want to listen to what they like and not what they can like.
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Old January 10th, 2013, 12:40 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Well, in my band - we joke that we have over "100 years of collective experience":)
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Old January 10th, 2013, 12:54 PM   #12 (permalink)
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I was wondering if music journalists today are any good? What do you think?
+1000


Comparing classic staples with modern top 40? That's not even apples and oranges. That's apples and cigarette butts. It put me off especially when the thread title mentioned 'bands.'

I couldn't agree more about putting in the hours practicing and performing, the lack of venues, and the state of pop stars not writing any material for themselves, but I couldn't shake the feeling that the writer of the article was being ignorant of modern music. Many references to good artists of an older generation, but no noticeable knowledge of good modern artists.
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Old January 10th, 2013, 01:09 PM   #13 (permalink)
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A.) tl;dr, but

B.) The author's argument doesn't make sense, because in most cases it is not the young stars who are putting in the work to produce the material... there are writers, producers, session musicians, engineers, touring musicians, comprised of people who probably have over 10,000 hours of experience, but you don't know. The actual "artist" may not have written a single part of the song, and only goes into the studio to do a few vocal takes that then get auto-tuned to hell... so ...

C.) These artists may have more experience than the author is giving them credit for.. e.g., Britney Spears has been on the professional singer/dancer track since she first tried out for the Mickey Mouse Club at age 8...

Last edited by waparker4; January 10th, 2013 at 04:01 PM. Reason: didn't see OP didn't write the article
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Old January 10th, 2013, 01:15 PM   #14 (permalink)
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The mass public could care less about greatness today. They listen to music with Ipods which have dumbed down the signal quality.How many people actually buy CDs from Amazon and download to the highest bit rate level?
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Old January 10th, 2013, 02:05 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Devil's advocate - is it worth it to spend 10,000 hours of practice if they are just going to sign the next Bieber from some mall tryout? You can spend 10,000, be really good and never get anywhere because you don't have the right look.

This ain't the 70s - video killed the radio star.
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Old January 10th, 2013, 02:15 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Today's good bands aren't even good.
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Old January 10th, 2013, 02:20 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Devil's advocate - is it worth it to spend 10,000 hours of practice if they are just going to sign the next Bieber from some mall tryout? You can spend 10,000, be really good and never get anywhere because you don't have the right look.

This ain't the 70s - video killed the radio star.
Yes, it's worth the hard work and practice it takes to become great at something even if it doesn't make you famous. Now how do I go about practicing to be the next Justin Bieber?
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Old January 10th, 2013, 02:56 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Bunch 'o crap. Mozart started when he was 3, and certainly could have put in 10K by the time he write his first symphony.

I'm getting ever mote frimly into the opinion that there's no such thing as 'talent', at least not as most people preceive it. What people call talent is really interest -- the interest to practice. If you're interested in it, doing it isn';t boring and it isn't work. And that makes your practice more useful than someone elses.

Of course they don't find people who've put in 10K hours who aren't good. If you weren't going to be good (i.e. no talent, meaning no interest) you've given up by that point.
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Old January 10th, 2013, 02:58 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Bollocks! There's no way....
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Old January 10th, 2013, 03:19 PM   #20 (permalink)
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That's my problem.Whenever I play for my friends and play my 'pieces of music',they all tell me to stop and play some coldplay or radiohead(both of which I don't like) and the neverending requests of stairway,hotel california etc.Only my parents somewhat listen to my compostions and to some extent,my brother also.It's not just that people don't play their originals,it's also that a majority of people (especially where I live) are not ready for new music.They just want to listen to what they like and not what they can like.
That's depressing to hear. I never would've been in a band if I hadn't written some songs and wanted to play them in front of people. Mind you, this was during the punk/new wave club scene in the 70s/80s and all the bands played original material. The notion of playing human jukebox for two or three sets a night wasn't something I was ever going to do.

The bad old days are back? Next thing you'll tell me is that the clubs are all working the 'pay to play' scam. *shudder*
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