David Prognosticates The Shape Of Music To Come
We kid ourselves that we live in a modern age. One in which the scientific method and the temple of reason are triumphant and have freed most of humanity from the superstitions of the past. But many of the vestiges of the old world — like the art of prophecy for instance — are just as rife today as they were in the spooked-out Middle Ages.
Sure, there are far fewer traveling hucksters roaming the roads and we don’t brutalize these prognosticators for dabbling in the occult. Instead, we book them a spot on “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”
Whether they are talking heads like Bill Kristol and Pat Robertson divining the future of the Iraq war or alleged mediums like Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce — lovingly reanimated via historical reenactments on History Channel documentaries — pontificating about Armageddon and Atlantis, primetime television never seems to tire of calling on “experts,” no matter their spotty track records, to tell us what’s around the bend.
I have my own example. In 1992, I interviewed Newsweek reporter and “McLaughlin Group” commentator Eleanor Clift on the eve of the Clinton era when she confidently told me that Roe v. Wade would imminently be struck down. Fifteen years later and despite a U.S. Supreme Court so hostile to abortion that it likely keeps Clift up at night, Roe v. Wade is still on the books.
So what fuels this desire to predict the future? For some, the payoff is obviously financial. There’s also a need to fill vacant air time. Principally, however, it’s ego. The opportunity to lay out what you envision so as to later claim, “I called it,” is a temptation fewer and fewer of these experts are willing to resist.
Since I’m not immune to the above and considering that we are flush with the traditions of the holiday season, I propose we kick off a new one right now. Below, I will present a few of my own predictions of what we might expect in the music world in the year to come. You, my faithful readers, will be charged with sending me dozens of ridiculing e-mails about how wrong I was this time next year.
Then, we’ll repeat the whole cycle again in 2007!
So, here are my predictions for 2007:
Guns N’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” Will Be Released
You’ve heard it dozens of times before: The new Guns N’ Roses album is just about to be released.
And this might not seem like much of a prediction as Axl Rose, the legendary L.A. band’s central figure and sole original member, posted an open letter on the group’s Web site last week setting a March 6, 2007, release date for the disc, still called “Chinese Democracy.”
But, this time, I believe it will be there.
For most of the last decade, the only two things that Rose and company have produced are broken promises and ill will. As fans waited with bated breath for a new product, countless projected release dates came and went.
Ignoring all deadlines, Rose has created an album whose only parallel is some kind of Hollywood blockbuster that has gone wildly over budget. He’s busied himself with burning through a series of collaborators, hired hands and session players, according to both rumors and various published reports. He’s also employed a cast of top-tier producers (Mike Clink, Youth, Sean Beavan, Roy Thomas Baker), but none seemed capable of producing something that would help shepherd this troubled album to the market. All the while, rumors circulate that his label, Geffen Records, has spent millions financing endless recording sessions.
And then there’s the matter of the two controversy-riddled tours that the Rose-led band undertook in 2002 and 2006. Many of the shows were well-received, but the tour also included an alarming number of last-minutes cancellations.
Perhaps this is part of some grand strategy Axl has to drive away everyone who ever cared about Guns N’ Roses — even the most ardent fans. I mean, why didn’t he just go onstage and using the “N word” like Michael Richards? Oh, wait, he already did that with “One In A Million.”
Anyway, here’s why I believe this 13-year odyssey will come to an end: As Rose himself admits in his online posting, he’s never set a firm release date before.
Furthermore, rumors persist that the record is already being mixed or has completed the process, which is one of the final stages before the record is turned over to the label. It’s unlikely that an artist — even one as eccentric as Rose — would allow the mixing process to commence unless the album was finally nearing completion.
Lastly, if we can read into his letter, one can also detect a sense of frustration in Rose’s tone. He seems to sense that enough is enough and something has to come from this process.
I’ve no hard facts for this hunch that we’ll see “Chinese Democracy” on store shelves. Maybe there are two groups that Axl hasn’t driven away yet: the optimists and the gullible.
Michael Jackson Will Release A New Single
Like a nightmare that won’t end, I believe Michael Jackson will release a new single in the new year and it will be universally reviled. I also predict it will cause additional TV documentaries about his inscrutable life.
I think this will be just the latest example to show that Jackson’s decision-making process is warped and completely broken.
While various Web reports say that will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas is doing some producing with Jackson for his new album, I think there’s little hope of rescuing his career.
First, Jackson is still a figure of scorn connected to his latest child molestation trial, in which he was acquitted. His vocal style is so recognizable that I think it’s still too soon for him to expect any honest hearing from pop audiences.
More detrimental, however, is Jackson’s pattern for bad choices — whether it be his music, lifestyle or fashion-sense. All of his creative output since “Thriller” has shown signs that he’s has an unusual perception of himself and what his audience wants to hear. Have you ever listened to the lyrics of “Bad”? Does he think anyone will ever take him seriously again when he sings a love song?
The fact that despite all that has happened, he still attracts various talented people can all be traced to the monumental success of “Thriller.” With album titles like “HIStory,” “Invincible,” and “Victory,” narcissism is the only thing that seems to drive him anymore. I believe it will yet again drive his floundering career into the ditch.
YouTube’s Steady Loss Of Popularity
Earlier this year, Google paid billions for YouTube and the jury is still out on whether this move was worth the final costs.
I believe one thing is certain: YouTube will experience a steady loss of popularity in the year to come.
The removal of thousands of copyrighted video clips — everything from old “American Bandstand” performances to segments of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” — will certainly reduce the site’s traffic by narrowing the search possibilities.
An even graver problem will be the fact that most of the music, movie and TV industries don’t seem to truly understand what made YouTube so popular in the first place. They seem content to flood the site with trailers, videos and promos. While hip shows like “The Office” have attempted to engage their audience via YouTube, most of Hollywood still doesn’t seem to be on the bandwagon.
In 2007, YouTube will more closely resemble a commercial stooge, shilling for whatever the major media companies want to shove down our throats. Sure, there will still be plenty of “America’s Funniest Home Video”-quality clips to drive traffic.
YouTube-like Web sites are becoming too common for the original to expect to hold onto its audience. It’s just a matter of time before the herd moves on to other sites where they can find what they want but the media companies say they can’t have.
Disappointment Will Follow The Shins’ New Album
Face it, it’s crunch time for the Shins. The Portland, Ore., power-pop quartet is currently poised for greatness.
The group’s first two records, “Oh, Inverted World” and “Chutes Too Narrow,” were near classics. Then, the group got a much-needed leg up courtesy of some high-profile placement in the much-loved comedy with a sappy heart, “Garden State.”
Set for release on Jan. 23, the band’s new record, “Wincing the Night Away,” has the unenviable task of capitalizing on all this momentum. It must propel the band to the next level — from indie-rock group made good to bona fide rock stars.
Quality aside, I believe this record will be a disappointment to all those true believers and closet romantics who are only searching for that next great pop ditty from the Shins.
Now, I haven’t heard their new record. But, if its single, “Phantom Limb,” is any indication, I suspect this will be a much more challenging record than its ephemeral fanbase can accept. The song has a pleasant Motown-ish tambourine drumbeat and soaring chorus and the lyrics have an unconsummated allusion to loss, but isn’t the melodic forces of nature that some of their old songs are.
The selection of singles can often be taken as harbingers of what albums are really like and this choice raises some doubts that “Wincing The Night Away” will land the band at the top of the charts. To give the Shins credit, I think James Mercer, the band’s chief songwriter and singer, is too industrious a songwriter to attempt to repeat himself. He’s proven himself to be more of a musical explorer than a pop craftsman and this will keep the album from fulfilling its lofty sales expectations.
To be positive, I think the disc will sell well — at least initially — and there will be several quality songs on the record. I can also predict it will land on quite a few critics’ top 10 lists come next December, but I don’t believe this is their time to release “The Joshua Tree.”
Growing Popularity In Larger Capacity iPods
Apple Computer’s holiday season marketing campaign is squarely focused on promoting its iPod Shuffle products as the perfect stocking stuffer. You’ve likely seen the commercials of the Shuffle, which is clipped onto the ever-changing outfits worn by a menagerie of teens.
Cheap and highly mobile, the Shuffle and its cousins, the Nano and the Mini, are the perfect entryways to get young people and maybe even their parents hooked in the iTunes universe.
But, I believe this is just the first step in warming customers up to the idea of buying larger-capacity iPods. The current capacity on the Shuffles, Nanos and Minis are limited (all less than 4 gigabytes) and too often force users to drop old songs so as to make way for new ones.
Once locked into the convenience of the iPod and iTunes, Apple will be betting that folks will seek to digitize their entire music collections to be placed on their iPods and thus, buy larger capacity items. Currently, the iPod with the largest payload has 80 GB and while the pricetag would make even Santa Claus blush, it shouldn’t be a problem for musichead moms and dads.
And doubters would be wise not to underestimate the Baby Boomers’ buying power. In the ’90s, the record labels were awash with cash after millions of boomers began buying CDs to replace their old vinyl albums. I predict this same urge to adapt and adopt will prompt Apple to begin marketing these larger-capacity iPods to parents and grandparents.
I think in the coming months, the music industry, concert promoters or individual artists will take steps to start offering online video streams of live concerts.
Think of this idea like the hydrogen-power car. It’s an idea whose time will come as the situation becomes more desperate.
The startup problems would be formidable, as would be the costs. First, there are the legal and financial hassles of getting artists and their labels to agree to the idea. Second, there’s the concern about enterprising Web users capturing the video and offering the illegal downloads. Lastly, there’s daunting overhead of hooking up various concerts venues for video and audio to stream over the Web.
But, sooner or later, the music industry’s dwindling bottom line might force them to stop trying to figure out ways to squeeze ever more from the low-hanging fruit. Instead, they should consider exploring new opportunities.
Should the obstacles be overcome, this is a revenue stream the industry has yet to be exploited. As ticket prices continue to skyrocket and attendance numbers decrease, the industry will need take steps to go to their customers. Think of it like pay-per-view TV, but on a smaller scale. The expansion of broadband access has made this feasible for most parts of the country.
Beyond the financial rewards, artists might also come to appreciate this new arena of exposure. Streaming their concerts will give artists another opportunity in the spotlight that they haven’t enjoyed since videos were locked out of MTV. As CD sales continue to trail behind DVD and video game sales, the problems for musicians in search of a break in most other major forms of media will only get worst. They will need to strike out on their own.
A hypothetical prototype for this proposal should be Wolfgang’s Vault, a Web site that offers memorabilia from famed concert promoter Bill Graham, but also streams of dozens of concerts by ’60s rock gods.
The site’s surging popularity was enough to get a number of write-ups in music magazines and Web sites and earlier this week, some lawsuits by some of the bands whose shows from decades ago were being streamed.
It’s only a matter of time.
Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.
©Copyright 2006 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.