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Here are some articles relating to the issues of the decay of music and the causes of that decay. For any articles not available for publication on the web, the reference information will be given, along with the short description of the topic.

Dan Krimm,
Letter to Editor
Grammy Magazine, April 1990

This response to an opinion column by Wynton Marsalis on defining jazz opposes the traditionalist viewpoint, arguing for a wider, more flexible concept of it and other idioms. (The main graphic for Music Unbound is based on this idea: genres are "clouds" with "centers of tradition" that can smoothly blend into mixtures with other genres, as a continuum.)

John Steinmetz,
"Resuscitating Art Music"
NARAS Journal, Summer 1993

(note: this file is 96KB of text, but worth every kilobyte)
This article is an amazingly lucid, dead-on description of the trials and tribulations of art music in America. Even though it is already several years old, it remains a persistently relevant treatise on what's wrong, and some ideas on how to fix it, mainly through better ways to present music and music education (and the overlap of the two).

See also Steinmetz's pamphlet for audiences not accustomed to classical concerts: How To Enjoy a Live Concert

Neil Strauss,
"The Sorry State of New York Radio"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, February 4, 1996

This article is a wonderful piece of reporting on both the industry structure and real-world manifestation of commercial radio's decay into the depths of the least common denominator, in the Big Apple and elsewhere.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Allan Kozinn,
"A Once Proud Industry Fends Off Extinction"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, December 8, 1996

The classical records business is in deep trouble after a year when the entire record business has slumped, according to Kozinn, and here he describes the current state of the art. It's not a pretty picture, but he looks for glimmers of hope none(such)theless.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Jon Pareles,
"All That Music, and Nothing to Listen To"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, January 5, 1997

By God, the Times seems to be waking up. Or, at least, Pareles is beginning to do so. He takes aim at the niche-ing of the American music marketplace in this article, though he still hasn't acknowledged the critics' role in helping support, sustain and legitimize the shape of the market as defined by radio formats and as followed by the MBAs at the record labels who are running the bottom line these days. (Neither has Ed Rothstein.)

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Mark Landler,
"Why Music From New Movies Is Outselling Other Albums"
New York Times, Week in Review, February 2, 1997

The title of this piece may be all you need to read; the rest is just elaboration. Not a good sign for the structure of today's music business. But then, if you've gotten this far in this web site, you already knew that.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Neil Strauss,
"Forget Pearl Jam. Alternative Rock Lives."
New York Times, Arts and Leisure, March 2, 1997

Neil Strauss understands. Here's his attempt to lead people beyond "hard-edged rock distinguished by brittle, 70's-inspired guitar riffing and singers agonizing over their problems until they take on epic proportions. ... And be forewarned that most of the names of styles listed here are completely made up and should in no way be used to show off musical knowledge in conversation." Of the 22 new "genres" he's named, here are a few favorites: Nerdcore, The Zittish Invasion, Fractured Rock, Funk Bricolage, Psychobilly, Cutie Pop, and Sludge. Hey, gee, what radio stations do you know that focus their programming for advertisers who target the demographic that listens to Sludge?

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

James R. Oestreich,
"Chasing the Latest Phenomenon, With a Bow To Barnum"
New York Times, Arts and Leisure, April 27, 1997

Oestreich uses the David Helfgott ("Shine") phenomenon as an example of the distortion imposed by mass-market celebrity marketing on the classical music world. It is clearly the notoriety gained from the intense story told on film that has fueled what seems now to be a fairly solid performing career for Helfgott, in the face of less-than-generous reviews from a purely musical standpoint. He writes "the attempt to make classical music a mass medium has essentially failed." Who would argue, when classical's rave of the moment is someone Oestreich compares to "of all people, Liberace. Mr. Helfgott may have found his proper level on the Academy Awards telecast. Even though he got lost in his signature piece, 'The Flight of the Bumblebee,' he came off sounding better than Madonna." No comment....

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Tom Piazza,
"A Folk Album That Awakened A Generation"
New York Times, Arts and Leisure, August 24, 1997

Piazza reviews a re-release of the Folkways album "Anthology of American Folk Music," originally released in 1952. In discussing the effect of this album on folk musicians in the 50s, 60s and beyond, Piazza points out the variety of music cobbled together in this set of recordings, and the diversity of influences that they provided for contemporary artists, some of whom "strove to recreate the original performances in as faithful a manner as possible; others used the anthology as a trove of material to mine and transmute." -- refreshing to see traditionalism and progressivism placed on equal footing, particularly by someone who tends more toward a traditional viewpoint.

Piazza closes by musing on the anthology as "not just a loose confederation but an integral unit ... what kind of unity could possibly underlie this diversity? It is a question we still ask,..." Well, if after so long the question still hasn't been definitively answered, perhaps there is a problem with the question itself. Grand unifications of traditional bodies of works are ultimately hypotheses filtered through some integrated human evaluation; they are personal works of creativity almost as much as the original works themselves. To give them "objective" status beyond the subjective stance of their author/editors is to push them beyond a valid realm of applicability.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Gerald Marzorati,
"How the Album Got Played Out"
New York Times, Magazine, February 22, 1998

Marzorati may be jumping the gun in his analysis of the demise of the rock LP format. Radio formatting he gets right, maybe also the programmability of CD players (to re-sequence the presentation of songs from any particular disk), but the Internet hasn't kicked in enough to make that kind of dent in the marketplace just yet. Soon, but not at present time.

But the behavior he describes -- consumption of music by "users" as opposed to the experiencing of music by "listeners" -- is a sure and inevitable trend that shows every sign of becoming the status quo in the future. Today's audience doesn't listen to music the same way that earlier generations did, by putting on a vinyl disk and immersing themselves in the large-scale experience that the artist presents to them. Rather, they select music for general characteristics as "aural wallpaper" rather than giving in to an artist's larger esthetic plan.

Radio formats are a prime source of this behavior, and as the prime promotional tool for recordings this imposes a forceful influence on what music survives in the marketplace. Darwin's natural selection operates on individual artists based on their fitness for the existing environment, and radio is the dominant environment for music sales.

However, rather than continuing this trend unaltered, the advent of Internet-based platforms for music sales may introduce a new flexibility into the marketplace. With a true custom-casting approach to audio programming, the mass-audience derivation of radio formats could be blasted apart by the on-demand programming of the individual (see A Modest Proposal: Audio Programming From Online Catalogs). That is, the problem with radio formats is less that they empower users than that they don't empower users enough. The authority of the artist has been supplanted by the authority of the radio programmers, moving from an esthetic to a mass-economic motivation. The solution is not to move back to the artist's authority, but forward to the user's authority in terms of programming the experience.

The artistic experience is a relationship between artist and audience. In the past it was controlled mostly by the artist, currently it is strongly intermediated by promotional/distributional channels, which tends to pervert the esthetic relationship. Moving forward to individual audience empowerment brings it back into a more purely esthetic relationship again, which is good for the art itself, and better for artists themselves. Artists may never recapture the kind of control of their relationship with their audience that they had in the past (except live, in concert), but a genuine esthetic interplay with their audience is much better than being beholden to the least common denominator of the average of a mass audience's taste.

(Note: Since this article appears in the Sunday Magazine, it is not included on the NY Times web site. However, you may be able to find it through their other sources.)

Michiko Kakutani,
"Portrait of the Artist As a Focus Group"
New York Times, Magazine (Culture Zone), March 1, 1998

Kakutani focuses on audience research in arts/entertainment as a whole (though stopping in the music arena long enough to point out the use of market research companies in country-music radio programming described by Bruce Feiler in his book "Dreaming Out Loud" -- "The process, he suggests, systematically excludes tracks that provoke the strongest reaction, positive or negative -- and the resulting picks tend to be predictable, homogenized and cheerfully upbeat."). From novelists to Broadway producers, makers of commercial arts are more and more being drawn to firms like Audience Research & Analysis, who provide audience preview reactions to the show's producers.

Kakutani complains that "Just as today's poll-driven politicians have elected to become mirrors of the national Zeitgeist, so have poll-driven 'artists' elected to become assembly-line manufacturers, in thrall to the opinions of mall rats deemed demographically correct." And, not only is this relationship between artist and audience intermediated by such research, but it is analyzed purely in aggregate terms, flushing out whatever shred of individual reactions there might have been in the initial audience reaction. The application of mass-production productivity techniques to the arts.

Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.

(Note: Since this article appears in the Sunday Magazine, it is not included on the NY Times web site. However, you may be able to find it through their other sources.)

Rob Hoerburger,
"God Give Us Music"
New York Times, Magazine (Culture Zone), May 24, 1998

Hoerburger weighs in with another concurrance on the narrow character of modern pop music marketing, subtitled "CD's, CD's everywhere, but adults wouldn't know it from listenening to the radio."

On the heels of Kakutani's column on marketing dynamics noted above, Hoerburger describes some of the cultural ramifications that result from it, mainly the observation "that while the industry has served 13-year-olds so well, it has practically ignored another wide demographic swath, the 33-and-over music fans who grew up buying records, [and] now have fat wallets and would still make regular CD purchases, if they thought there was something to buy."

He goes on to complain: "What's so maddening about all this is not only that there's an unserved audience for thinking-listeners' pop, but also that it's still being made" -- but that nobody can find it on the radio. And if you can't find it there, chances are it won't sell very well.

As Hoerburger says: "a revamping of radio formats is still something that gets discussed a lot but that no one really does anything about." Well, nobody will do anything about it until it becomes economically advantageous to do it.

That won't happen until new technologies bring us into the realm of custom-casting of audio programming. Some early steps are beginning to appear, such as Imagine Radio, so there is reason for long-term optimism. But we still have to get through the current scene first, and that remains difficult for a creative spirit.

(Note: Since this article appears in the Sunday Magazine, it is not included on the NY Times web site. However, you may be able to find it through their other sources.)

David Schiff,
"Classical Radio Plays Only To Sweet Tooths"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, May 31, 1998

The sub-head to this article reads: "Commercial radio? Public? It no longer matters. Musically, it's all 'soft-serve.'"  When even the prominent WGBH in Boston is falling prey to programming format pressures deriving from audience survey analysis, you know something is up. (See sidebar "In Boston, a Last Broadcast Bastion Falls"  by Anthony Tommasini.) If you thought that classical radio was immune to the forces driving pop music radio, think again. No one is safe from the drive for profit margins (or their counterpart in the public world: audience size). As long as audience size is the driving factor in content design, it doesn't matter if that is for "commercial" purposes or for other sorts of matching funding, etc. A mass audience is a mass audience, any way you look at it.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Jon Pareles,
"With A Click, A New Era of Music Dawns"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, November 15, 1998

Yup, it's finally happening. The reality of the magnitude of evolution staring at the music business from the digital domain has hit the mainstream. The combination of the escape from mass-radio formats (see A Modest Proposal: Audio Programming From Online Catalogs), along with the standardization and wide dissemination of the MP3 format, is now the received nomenclature of the music business.

Note: MP3 may not necessarily have to be as scary to those who depend on royalties as one might think, given the development of watermarking and encryption technologies for sampled music (for example, see Liquid Audio). It does open up an environment for free sharing of music, which is certainly legitimate, but in the future expensively-produced recordings might be released only in encrypted/watermarked format, and that watermark would allow prosecution of any web sites attempting to distribute that music outside of a valid license. That may be distressing to today's artists still releasing high-quality digital recordings on unwatermarked CDs (there is a window of material here that is especially vulnerable, because it is simultaneously high quality and unprotected) however when retail has the ability to encode personal ID data on each purchased recording at time of sale, that can still serve as a strong deterrent to piracy. What this may mean is a hierarchy of profitability for recorded music, including both free and paid forms, depending upon the popularity and/or quality of the artist.

It's all about opening up a wider variety of options, not replacing one set with a different one. MP3 is like copying cassettes, but may be able to be protected from large-scale piracy with watermarking and playback encryption. In the meantime, outfits like and Imagine Radio are beginning to provide the foundation for feasible alternatives to radio formats.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Richard M. Sudhalter,
"A Racial Divide That Needn't Be"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, January 3, 1999

The deck for this refreshingly unexpected article reads: A new orthodoxy says that blacks were the only jazz innovators, but it ignores the efforts of whites. Well-known jazz trumpeter Dick Sudhalter publishes a new book in February called "Lost Chords: The Contributions of White Musicians to Jazz, 1915-45." A brave man indeed.

Ten years after the creation of the jazz program at Lincoln Center, replete with inauguration essay by curator Wynton Marsalis, somehow someone has finally found the nerve to stand up to that neo-traditionalist "orthodoxy" with a new review of the evidence that suggests a less monolithic interpretation of jazz's origins and influences. "New" is a relative term, if after well over a decade the orthodoxy hasn't already become so entrenched to become the object of revolution itself.

This article and the new book should whip up quite a frenzy in the world of jazz traditionalism, after it had seemingly attained a state of self-congratulatory repose. Clear, direct, detailed, with insight, compassion, respect, and a real plea for unity in the jazz world. Never say never. Bravo.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Jaime Wolf,
"No Hits, All the Time"
New York Times, Magazine, April 11, 1999

An ode to WFMU, the ad-free public-supported radio station in Jersey City, NJ at 91.1 FM on your dial (if you can capture the 1,250-watt signal -- or try 90.1 in the Hudson Valley). Station manager Ken Freedman is quoted: "Ordinarily, the idea of playing something that makes you turn off the station is like cancer. We encourage it." Now that's a brazenly refreshing remark in the radio world.

Wolf describes the chic factor in this way: "By the station's best estimates, it draws about 300,000 listeners in a given month. That's a figure that's grown a bit in recent years, but a tiny blip on the radar compared with the 1.2 million who listen to Howard Stern in a given week on K-Rock. But the interesting thing about WFMU isn't so much how many people are listening as who they are. A self-sustaining, ad-free independent in an age of radio corporatization, it's a station whose name has become like a secret handshake among a certain tastemaking cognoscenti. Lou Reed, Matt Groening, Jim Jarmusch and Eric Bogosian are avowed fans. The critically lauded bands Stereolab and Yo La Tengo have headlined fundraising concerts for the station. At FMU's semiannual fund-raising record fairs, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth regularly mans a table. The founder of Matador Records, Gerard Cosloy, and the Warner Brothers Records senior vice president and director of A&R, Joe McEwen, have done D.J. stints on the station."

'Nuff said.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Neil Strauss,
"A Chance to Break the Pop Stranglehold"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, May 9, 1999

We're on the cusp of something revolutionary ... or not. Strauss reviews the recent developments in the online music arena, evaluating possible futures in the delivery (and thus the creation) of music. A must read for those wishing a comprehensive overview of this decision point.

See also the excerpt from Jaron Lanier's manifesto "Piracy is Your Friend" reprinted in this issue of the Times, Making An Ally Of Piracy. Lanier, guru of virtual reality and sometime musician in his own right, is of the John Perry Barlow cloth, an extremist regarding the obsolescence of copyrights. Nevertheless, all ideas are contributions to the discussion, 'cause this thing ain't over yet.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Jon Pareles,
"When Pop Becomes the Toy of Teenyboppers"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, July 11, 1999

If you were wondering what "the pop stranglehold" referred to above actually is, here is the in-depth explanation. More and more, the blockbuster model is aimed at the age 5-13 crowd, because that's the target market that responds best to the strategy and content that best fits the broadcast model. Want something different? Gotta change the model, or at least augment it with another one.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Jonathan Van Meter,
"What's a Record Exec To Do With Aimee Man?"
New York Times, Magazine, July 11, 1999

Case in point, of a musical artist struggling with the economic structure of today's blockbuster-directed music business. The time is now.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Lester Bangs,
"The Comedian Harmonists: An Instant Fan's Inspired Notes"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, September 5, 1999

Times music critic John Rockwell compiled this posthumous "amalgamation, with slight cuts, of two early drafts, a fragment and a fuller version" of Bangs' unpublished liner notes for the only recently released "The Comedian Harmonists" CD, recorded in Germany in the 1930s (a vocal sextet with 3 Jews, "the group broke up in the mid-30s under Nazi pressure," reports Rockwell). Bangs is often worshipped for his verbal excesses, in lush supply here, but what Bangs loved about this recording is what he sought to define for himself: the pure, indescribable genre-busting originality of artists setting out to express themselves according to their inner voices, without regard for the constraints of surrounding stereotypes.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Peter Applebome,
"Straying From Country's Main Road"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, September 26, 1999

Well, of course, it was inevitable. Country music formats on the radio have become too constraining to fit the artists who are specifically trying to do something interesting with it. As Applebome says: "the really maddening thing about Nashville is that it has blundered into a particularly auspicious creative moment and does not have a clue what to do about it."

In fact, the artists know exactly what to do with it, it's that broadcast radio has it's own ideas, and they aren't primarily about creativity and variety. Ad rate cards rule. "Nashville" (whoever that is, in particular) is just following the path that's been paved for them, since they aren't in a position to pave their own broadcast roads. They're just the truck drivers, and they don't have off-road vehicles at their disposal. The off-road vehicles of the Internet, however, are browsers. Funny how many dirt paths have popped up recently...

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

"Crossing Music's Borders In Search of Identity"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, October 3, 1999

This is a two-fer: A double-barreled exploration of multi-ethnic hybrids in music. First we have David Byrne taking aim at the "none-of-the-above" anti-categorization inherent in the term "world" music in 'I Hate World Music' -- not a judgment on the content but rather the classification. As he puts it: "... there is more music, in sheer quantity, currently defined as world music, than any other kind. Not just kinds of music, but volume of recordings as well. When we talk about world music we find ourselves talking about 99 percent of the music on this planet." But of course, not on high-rotation radio. Just savor the subsection entitled 'The Myth of the Authentic' and dive into some of the clearest thinking about genre we've seen in a long time.

Then, follow that with a spotlight on John Zorn and Arto Lindsay by Adam Shatz in Downtown, a Reach For Ethnicity, an examination of a resurgence in the exploration of "roots" in musical trends, especially Zorn's focus on traditional Jewish music, and Lindsay's ongoing foraging in Brazilian music of his own youth. Important in both undertakings is the extent to which traditions are embraced versus extended/blended. Roots, in these cases, are about finding some sort of ethnic center to the music, without necessarily being bound by constraints of form. Practitioners of these traditions would likely not consider the results of these musicians to be traditional at all, yet from a "Western" ear the ethnic inspirations are quite clear, and intentional in the minds of the composers. (Compare the music of John McLaughlin's 'Shakti' group from the late 70s / early 80s -- it sounded "Indian" to westerners, but "Western" to genuine products of India.)

In today's environment where the Avant Garde has hit the ceiling in terms of formal deconstruction, and is becoming old news (in fact, it may have accomplished that years ago in some circles), the only route to progress is in the process of reconstruction. Avant Gardists reconstructed according to personal rules, but that has required a substantial learning curve on the part of any potential audiences, if they hope to glean the real essence of such music. But another option is the hybridization of elements that already existed previously, in a new mix-and-match that creates something new and yet familiar in some sense. (Even the Avant Gardists must draw upon sources that existed previously, if not necessarily sources familiar to a wide audience. However personal and idiosyncratic ones influences are, they must exist as a prerequisite to creativity.) In the end of vertical evolution in musical form, there now emerges an heretofore unrecognized horizontal dimension that is increasingly important to the future of music everywhere. What this hybridization shares with the Avant Garde is an acknowledgement that rules of tradition are not etched in stone, but serve merely as an impetus to create something new. What might have been lost in the finite limits of deconstruction can be renewed by the infinite possibilities of the "in-between" in musical form and style. It's a new era.

Jon Garelick,
"The Thrill of Discovering an Unheard Sound"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, October 31, 1999

Here is a bright, sharp, first-person account of the extended experience of encountering, exploring, and finally becoming familiar with a new form. That initial rush of discovery, the enduring gathering of new experience, and the eventual epiphany when hearing the next work for the first time and realizing that one is understanding it from the inside. Far too few people in our mass-culture market get a chance to feel comfortable reaching for this experience without trepidation or ostracism. Time for a change.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Ann Powers,
"In Rock's Canon, Anyone and Everyone"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, December 26, 1999

This is a classic case in point regarding the impossibility of defining genre (part of defining a genre is identifying quintessential examples - the Canon acts as a sort of genre skeleton). In rock, passions are so personal that nobody can ultimately agree on what matters. In fact, this is not limited to rock - all music created from the heart has the same nature. Now, if we could only give up the futile effort to create a universal Canon in the first place. Just acknowledge that it cannot exist and let's move along.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

Clea Simon,
"The Web Catches and Reshapes Radio"
New York Times, Arts & Leisure, January 16, 2000

Just check it out.

If you have registered on the New York Times web site, you can find this article there.

And, some articles not published in print media: