no means no: gatekeeping, a full time job

My dad, who remains a hopeful teachable Beatles-elitist, introduced me to the music world. But he left behind a lot (Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, punk rock, Lou Reed, Janis Joplin, Hendrix, the list goes on). Like all coming of age stories I went away to college and became close with people from different places all over the country and learned that musical diversity shouldn’t be scowled at. It should be embraced. Everything doesn’t need to be the greatest. It can be good for that moment, this time. Nothing needs to be so black and white. I soon saw that I need to give everything a chance or otherwise I will miss the wonderful world of music that is happening right in front of me. Music releases are countless and there should be no reason not to look, not to listen.

If we are our own gatekeepers, we can plunge through any mass to find whatever it is we are looking for. Due to boredom, discovery, and creating something yourself – people stumbleupon and reddit all day every day. Finding genres within genres and bands and artists that all sound a few notes different from one another can be annoying. Chillwave, rock, surf rock, shoegaze, alternative, folk, alternative-country, self-released, fuzz pop, (the new) beach rock, hip hop, world pop, remixes, new soul and remasters. But for the amount of music out there and the amount of press discussing it, doesn’t it seem strange that everyone talks about the same artists? We know what’s great but why is no one discussing the route to listenable? It’s strange to think we’re being told what’s good without having to root through every new release ourselves. If we are in fact our own gatekeepers, why don’t we get more of a change for the local band? The Late Greats are out there, I guess it’s just my frustration that they may never be anything else. Although even if they never become anything else why can’t we enjoy them for who they are?

What is being given to us can be mistaken for each other. Determine Toro Y Moi from Washed Out or Best Coast from Cults. [Or at least the hype is all the same.] While Radiohead’s newest unexpectedly mimicked In Rainbows, other artists can relive their past in a new record and still have that freshly sealed sound like Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues. Samuel Beam of Iron & Wine made us listen twice with Kiss Each Other Clean to appreciate the new direction he took his old sounds. Adele stuck to what she does best and managed to make us cry with her in 21, which is a remarkable thing to share with the world.

But some bands are better than others at perfecting their own sound, and sticking to it, re: The Strokes vs. Vampire Weekend (also see: bored rich white kids at private school.) It works for them not only because we know it’s what they’ll continue to do but because they’re good at it. And they know it. Then there are new game changers that everyone can agree on, tUnE-yArDs, and returning (previously under appreciated) champions, The Black Keys. If I were to continue trying to give releases their fair share I may never get to a point. What’s happening is a severe overflow of tunage. And giving everything a chance is draining.

But how do we learn to say no? No more rock? No more bands that do the same thing, mimic old music to gain notice for their famous comparison (Yuck) and then publicly talk about it like no one is supposed to notice. When do all the music coverage outlets stop praising the same bands across the board? How do we demand no more music that can be confused with itself? Or is this just how it is now? Something we have to live with? How can I even begin to complain? There is so much out there, there is plenty for everyone. With the personalization of media we’ve managed to get exactly what we want and keep out what we don’t. But there is a level before us, the music directors and promoters that hear and decide these things and then send them on their way. Unless you’ve lived and worked in that industry it can be hard to fathom just how much crap really is out there.

Where are the critics that might tell us what’s popular is just so because it has to be? (New Washed Out anyone?) Or has fame taken us over? Lesser known publications seem to be the only reviewers who have the balls to say when they think something it shit, instead of a favorable review of stars or a numbered rank. Even though they’re calling it out, they still write something about it and have an opinion. It’s harder to come by anyone that will push back, against the crowd. Was there ever a time when press was musically unfavorable?

It seems that media outlets have stuck to the same artists and ideas because they know it sells [Jann Wenner]. And we keep listening to them. But with so many ways to access tunes and spread them around (youtube,sound cloud, band camp, myspace) you’d think there would be more people that go searching outside the proverbial box. They wait to see what people bring to them, instead of betting on themselves.

As our own gatekeepers we owe it to ourselves to not let big media swallow us up. Sticking to the same sites, publications, writers, and never going for a second opinion is unacceptable. The same over-personalization of media that makes it easy for us has made it easy for us to be lazy. I have found recent comfort in turning to blogs that have a lower readership (?) to find music, new and old.  Places like gorillavsbear and aquarium drunkard present music as it is, just to put it out there: videos, mp3s, downloads and early reviews. (I’d love to hear of even more places to visit.) They still aren’t talking about crap but they are highlighting underground music from decades ago and current local bands from cities across the country. Their atmosphere is luring.

We all need to make an effort to find something that isn’t the same old new. There is too much overload of the same, from the same places. Finding and reporting on crap along the way should be part of the process. There is a lot of music out there and a lot of it is shit. But why is no one ever telling us about it?

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