Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Throughout this class, we've been talking about classical music’s identity in today’s world, and have often discussed the matter as though we are the only ones going through this process of trying to keep ‘our’ music alive and pertinent.  This past week however, I came across an article in the New York Times that has made me realize that we are not alone in our doubts and fears that our music may be in danger of surviving.  The article, written by James McKinley jr. is entitled Billboard’s Changes to Charts Draw Fire.  Billboard has long been responsible for providing music charts and rankings of which songs are no. 1, top 10, etc.  A few weeks ago however, it totally changed the way it makes those decisions.  Whereas in the past it had relied heavily on radio stations and the number of times a song was played, it is now making its selections based on the number of digital sales and online streams that a song gets.  While this may be a more valid way to choose a number 1 hit, it is creating a very different result from what radios choose as their number 1 songs.  One of the main reasons for this difference is that radios usually keep their songs within one genre.  You have the R&B music station, or the classic rock, or country, etc.  However, online results don't take particular genres into account.  As a result, some of the songs that are making it to the top of the charts are upsetting purists who don't believe these songs deserve to be there.  For instance, Psy's "Gangnam Style" song has "been the No.1 song on the new Rap Songs chart for the last three weeks, even though Psy does not rap on the track and most American hip-hop radio stations have yet to embrace him as a bona fide rapper."  Similar issues are coming up in the Hot Country Songs Chart, as well as the R&B-Hip Hop Songs Chart.  Pop-infused songs are generally what are making it to the No. 1 spot, upsetting the purists of any given genre.  I find this really interesting because this may be the first time that so many different styles of music are experiencing what classical music has faced for years.  As classical musicians, we've been talking about the possibilities of crossover for a long time, and we already have examples of how this can work.  Yet the question always remains: what are we willing to give up in order to secure a spot in the mainstream, and in order to ensure that classical music will still be heard?  Well, it seems that Billboard's decision to rate songs based on online success and activity is creating these same problems for many different artists.  Billboard's decision effectively "means that traditional country artists, whose songs are played only on country stations, will be pushed down deeper into the charts, while pop-oriented stars... crowd the Top 10.  Labels in turn are likely to encourage artists to make country records with a pop flavor."  So, is music losing all hope of individuality?  
It seems that all musical styles are undergoing a sort of transition period, where the only winner is Pop, which is often just a mish-mosh of a variety of different styles.  Just as Hewett talks about the idea that classical music must be “all-embracing,” it seems that Billboard is opting for the same goal.  The fear is that in doing so, different genres will lose their identity, or at the very least, will disappear under the impenetrable pile of pop songs that will continue to get the greatest online hits.  Kyle Coroneos, who according to the New York Times article writes a blog for the Saving Country Music site, says: "I have a theory all the genres of music are coagulating into one big monogenre, and this emphasizes that."  Perhaps this is an opportunity for classical music to regain center stage.  As pop music melds into one messy 'monogenre,' classical music can regain its stance as an exciting, living and breathing art form, offering authenticity to a public tired of listening to the same thing over and over.

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