Monday, July 04, 2005


What if you got up one morning, and had nothing to eat in your house. You decide to go to the supermarket to pick up some groceries for the day, so you get into your car and drive to the local Food-E-Mart. When you get there, instead of being met with a range of choices you find 22 aisles of cereal. Different types of cereal, but nothing else. So you get back in your car, and you drive to the Bet-R-Mart down the road. Again 22 aisles of cereal. You sigh, buy your corn flakes and go home. After a while, you have visited every supermarket in your city, but still nothing but cereal. After a little more time, you begin to forget life with other foods. You start to think that a choice between cereal types represents choice in your life, and you stop dreaming of fruits and veggies, breads and muffins, meat and cake and all the things that used to enhance your diet...

What if you were living that scenario right now, only not with cereal?

There is something in the media industry today (particularily the music industry) which passes as choice, but is actually far removed. Spiked published a great essay on this a few days ago, talking about the ways that music has changed over the last 30 years. I believe the same thing can be said for other forms of entertainment as well. We have the illusion of choice, obscuring the reality of bland business decisions:

"And record companies in times past had very different understandings of A&R, or 'Artist and Repertoire'. Recently a friend and ex-A&R man told me that times had changed. 'A&R', he said, 'now stands for absent and redundant'. In times past, an A&R man - because they were, pretty much exclusively, male - would help an artist to find songs, perhaps put them with specific musicians and arrangers. The role was creative and at its best, led to relationships which fostered the performer's growth, over time. If a company had a great success with something, other people would look for someone to equal that success, sure, but they wouldn't be looking for something identical, because what was appreciated was difference. If you couldn't hear an artist's sound as distinctive, who would want it?
Add to this heady mix the present expertise of studio operators and the expansion of digital recording techniques, and what you have is the possibility to take voices and render them apparently in tune and significantly altered in tone. This is achieved by using the auto tuner, which effectively flattens out the vocal to the exact tonal pitch, removing all the idiosyncrasies that make a voice special into the bargain.
Then factor in a society where people in their mid-twenties live at home - for endless reasons, unable to make the steps into adulthood. A culture of fast-fix, where it seems that what is best required for commercial success is to be the most like, the closest to, the nearest approximation of, something already on the market. Add to that a reluctance to engage in real emotion, but to emulate what appears to be 'sound-alike' emotion, and what you get is a wall-to-wall carpet of similarity of either tone or vocal styling and increasing youthfulness.

Again I wonder, If we make our decisions based on incomplete information (media news) or choose what to buy based on the illusion of choice, are we not being influenced by the corporations in a very real way? These pseudo decisions are not our own, or rather not the ones we might make based on complete information. As long as corporations control the flow of information (or artist development, or flow of products into the stores) they also control our tastes.


Blogger Jape said...

Interesting post. I'm starting to question my will to do anything. Can I even make it out for wings tonight? I don't know...

Keep it up, Jay!

2:34 PM  
Blogger Target Market said...

This is why independant music is where it's at, babe. You get a whole range of stuff, some crap, some sublime, but almost always unique. In Victoria, for example, CFUV campus radio at 101.9FM is my favourite station. Unlike all the other radio stations, the DJs play what they want to play (rather than what they assume their "target audience" wants to hear). So you never know what you're going to get! Long live indie music amd indie media!

8:49 AM  
Blogger Jay said...

But my point is also - it's not just music where we are facing the illusion of choice. This is occuring across industries. My question is, how much freedom do we Really have to choose?

9:54 AM  
Blogger Target Market said...

Yes, I do see and agree with your point. I think our culture is pretty messed up right now... slight variations on a theme masquerading as choice is a pervasive problem in all markets. We can have anything within a narrowly defined set of marketable, socially acceptable parameters. The inability for radical opinions, radical music, radical people, radical products to find a forum in our society is a sad thing indeed. However, I am optimistic that there is a growing folk movement of people who are dissatisfied with this state of affairs and are using their creativity to bring real choice back to the people, whether or not the powers-that-be like it. They can try to stop it, but they can never keep up with the ingenuity of the people to exploit cracks in the system. They're too stuck in their own business models, their own paradigms, their own arrogance in thinking they know best.

8:31 PM  

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