Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to manufacture pop music and other art

The golden era was honest about this. Record producers and a stable of office workers in a place such as the Brill Building churned out product, much like I do as a writer. (I've written content for around a couple thousand commercial websites so far, including in Spanish, my father's language.) Peter, Paul, and Mary were formed by a casting call to cash in on the hootenanny fad. As were the Monkees regarding the Beatles. (The show is much better than Beatles movies, though not the music, which has its moments: because it was funny; the Monkees were mostly actors - Peter Tork and Davy Jones - who wanted to be there. The other two were real musicians who felt boxed in. The Beatles, real musicians, didn't want to do light comedy, and a lot of the material stunk anyway.) Before the hippie-ish image of the pop star as romantic virtuoso singer-songwriter overtook that. (Brill songwriters Neil Diamond and Carole King made the transition beautifully.) But it's all still really the same. Human nature is, of course. Often the results are good; other times they're clearly by rote. "How Do You Do It?" is formulaic but the formula, with an enthusiastic performance by Gerry and the Pacemakers, works. Rap, by the way, is not music. Music has a melody. Rap is street poetry, which does require talent and intelligence.

Neil Sedaka literally studied chart hits and applied his musical training to manufacture this song.

The chord progression of Pachelbel's Canon: a staple.

You'd be amazed how much of our art follows a strict, proven formula, even being pre-fab. Because, as I think the classical Greeks and Catholic doctrine say, there are objective, universal standards of truth, and, the ancients said, beauty. The romance of the artist who doesn't follow any rules is at best exaggerated. The ones who creatively break the rules first master them. Learned from Cracked that the adorable classic Disney and Warner Bros. animated characters (great because they weren't mainly for kids) were "drawn from a standard, 'fill in the blanks' template of characters" telling artists what proportions to use to maximize cuteness, for example.

I've been a copy editor: can you spot the mistake?

Admen manipulate these images all the time. My job is to drive business to my company's clients so I think I get it.

Of course sex sells too: Katy Perry's popularity, for example, even though she seems marketed to other girls. The music's disposable. Looks have worked to snag girl fans too, even though girls respond less to looks than boys. (Both for reasons that reproductively make sense: healthy women + powerful men = strong babies.) For example, Fabian, who was still handsome when I saw him years ago, and still couldn't sing a note.

Obviously Fabian's handlers were trying to cash in on Elvis Presley, a very talented singer who would have been much better if somebody had taught him how to sing; on some songs he just belched out the notes as legendary producer Sir George Martin ("the fifth Beatle" yet the personification of English class and calmness) says.

P.S. Unlike earlier pop acts, the Beatles were destructive to the culture; I don't know how that happened. (Walter Cronkite gave them their world break. Wanting to cheer up America after President Kennedy's assassination, he read a story on TV about a British pop craze.) Their early stuff was just good golden-era pop. They were good at what they did, of course. I've stood 20 feet from Sir Paul McCartney performing.

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