It may sound like artistic temperament, or hipster schtick, but we really don’t care all that much about genre at Skin Back Alley. Sure, it’s useful to a point in terms of being able to discuss styles of music and pull out trends, themes and common traits. But it also gets used – like all labels – as a way of limiting and pigeonholing. An easy way to put music in a nice, neat, inoffensive little box.
So, what to make of UK newspaper The Guardian’s story today that “rock has once again overtaken pop as the UK’s most popular album genre”?
Well, frankly, not very much, surely?
Says Gennaro Castaldo of the British Phonographic Industry: “While the appeal of pop remains consistent, the popularity of rock music tends to ebb and flow a little more, reflecting as it does the excitement that can quickly build around new acts as they burst through. With Arctic Monkeys now taking on near-iconic status, and the likes of Jake Bugg and Bastille to name a few connecting with a new generation of fans, rock music looks set to enjoy another wonderfully vibrant period.”
Does this really tell us anything new? Very broadly speaking, Pop music tends to be favoured by more youthful listeners, and is afforded more funding and exposure by record companies, broadcast channels and Saturday night prime-time TV shows such as The Voice and The X-Factor.
I would hazard a guess that Pop is also the dominant force in sales of singles because it’s youthful audience are more au-fait with digital technologies. Those technologies allow the delivery and consumption of single tracks in an immediate and cost effective way, tying in nicely with the means by which younger people listen to them, namely digital players such as iPods and smart phones.
But heck, even from it’s earliest days, Pop has been a singles orientated style of music, and whilst youth may dominate the style, it certainly isn’t confined to teen fans.
Very broadly speaking, rock music has tended to be more oriented towards the album format and it’s audience older in years. It doesn’t get the same exposure as Pop in terms of TV and radio coverage, or have the same level of funding from major record labels and promoters. I suspect that rock music fans are more likely to buy physical formats such as vinyl or CD, and tend to buy more full albums than pop fans.
Given the album vs. single trends, then, is this really news? And can’t rock be pop, and pop be rock, and both sets of listeners cross-over and mix and match and vary their tastes and purchasing patterns?
I think that the recording industry would do well to stop thinking in terms of mass markets and audiences and start understanding, as a few notable bands and smaller music labels have done, that those models of selling and distributing music are no longer viable – at least not in the longer term.
The music industry has been slow to cotton on to what the manufacturing industry is now also having to consider. Namely that in the post-industrial, digital age, mass models of marketing and distribution are failing. To greater and lesser degrees, people can now access what they want, when they want it, and will no longer accept waiting inordinate amounts of time, or spending inordinate amounts of money, to get it.
Those who have grasped the nettle are essentially doing it for themselves; using cost-effective digital distribution channels to build direct connections with their fans and audiences, understanding what they want, and delivering it at reasonable cost and on-demand.
In short, they are cutting out time, cost, and giving themselves artistic freedom and direct dialogue with those who are listening and, yes, buying.
Albums vs. singles? Rock vs. pop?
Who cares. Ultimately, there is only music.