Thursday, January 9, 2014

Classical Music = Cover Band

I have a question, and I want an answer.

Can someone please tell me when classical music became the stuff of cover bands?  I realize it's been a long, slow slide, but I'd love to know the exact moment it occurred. 

Was it the 7,770th recording of Mozart's works?  As of this writing there are in fact 7,771 of them listed on ArkivMusic.com, so chances are it happened earlier than that: 

www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Name/Wolfgang-Amadeus-Mozart/Composer/8429-1#drilldown_recordings

Live settings are no different.  Bachtrack.com logged 15,091 performances of classical music in 2013, with 7,428 of them being works by Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach - meaning 49% of classical music performances were by 3 guys who died a collective 674 years ago (for the record, Mozart came in first with 2,512 performances).  The site is careful to state that their stats are not comprehensive, but you get the drift - this is bleak stuff:

www.bachtrack.com/files/1083-2-infographic_5.pdf

It's nice to go to the same restaurant, get the same dish, have the same drink.  I do it myself, with food and, yes, music, both as a listener and as a performer.  But when you begin to broaden the view provided by Bachtrack even just a tiny bit, things start to look downright pathological: Beethoven was on top of the performance list for numerous years before ol' Mozart swooped in and took the big brass ring.

According to AllMusic.com, there were 15 releases of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in 2013 alone:

www.allmusic.com/composition/symphony-no-5-in-c-minor-fate-op-67-mc0002424528

But that's nothing - in 1995 there were 27!  Fantastic!  Ludwig clearly needed the marketing assistance, he wasn't getting enough of a push (only 14 or so releases of No. 5 in '94, it was a slow year).

Here's a modest proposal.  What if, each year, there were a dozen releases of KATY LIED by Steely Dan, performed by cover bands, all focused on replicating with the greatest fidelity each and every intricacy of the sound, from the high hat tone on "Bad Sneakers" to the electric piano sound on "Chain Lightning," with subtle variations in performance and interpretation designed to bring out different details of the tunes - maybe slowing both the intro and outro of "Throw Back The Little Ones" to a crawl, for example.

And what if these releases were all reviewed by the biggest journals in entertainment, like Entertainment Weekly, so there would be deep and detailed analysis of a dozen KATY LIED albums, all critiquing the sound and interpretive choices, and ranking them against each other and the hundreds that preceded them.

All the while, there are thousands of other groups out there who aren't cover bands - they're original groups, writing their own music, creating new material, but not getting nearly the attention that Steely Dan is, because Entertainment Weekly is hellbent on writing about KATY LIED. 

And this continues, year after year after year, and gradually the general public forgets about the vast majority of non-Steely Dan material or simply discards it until Steely Dan becomes one of two or three bands whose music makes up about half of all the music performed by cover bands.  Everywhere.  All the time.

This would of course all be complete and utter madness.  It reads like a Philip K. Dick novel, yet this is the world we are living in, the world classical music has created and become of its own twisted accord.  I don't mean to be cruel to Ludwig van, or Fagen and Becker - more people should listen to KATY LIED every day - but let's make a New Year's Resolution by swearing off the cover bands.

Many classical music commentators seem fixated on narrating the supposed death of classical music like Vin Scully analyzing Kirk Gibson walking to the plate, praying for a home run off a dominant closer against all odds, or by suggesting that we should eat our own babies (to reference another modest proposal) and simply ask our existing audiences to buy more products, or come to more concerts, or donate more.

These are backward, stasis-inducing actions that hurt more than help.  There's a huge world of new, fresh, invigorating music by composers who have taken the ball and are running fast and hard with it.  Maybe we should all go on a Mozart Diet in 2014 and resolve to hear some of the new stuff that's happening out there.

Now excuse me, gotta run, I hear "Black Friday" coming on, haven't heard it on the radio in years.

Bob Lord
CEO, PARMA Recordings


2 comments:

  1. This so-called dystopian future where all music is Steely Dan sounds pretty great

    ReplyDelete