Monday, April 23, 2012

The making of a music snob

I always wanted to be part of a minority. Think it's tough being different, try being just like most of the people around you, not knowing who to identify with...

But good news! I found my niche. In the great tradition of minority identification, the revelation came via a slur in response to my dismissal of The Voice. But really it's been right under my upturned nose for a long time - I am a music snob.

The term is thrown around endearingly among my own kind. But used against me just because of my stubborn refusal to be herded in the one direction of the masses by the latest commercial karaoke contest, it hurt.

I can see the entertainment value of the show, but I have no interest in its existance whatsoever and would happily avoid it altogether if it weren't being talked about by goddamn everyone. And so I rant.

Surely after ten or more years of reality television scouring the country for the next best voices, we've either drained the talent pool or proven that a lot of people can sing or even play guitar, but few can write a song.
Would Thom Yorke make it onto one of these shows with his lazy eye? Or John Darnielle with his odd voice? Elliott Smith with his gloomy tone? Tim Rogers with his ruggedness and inability to keep his shirt on ... OK, he'd probably do well. Or Paul Kelly? Would Paul Kelly - one of Australia's greatest songwriter's, with his shy, plain looks and everyday voice - make it on any of these shows by singing a few bars of a song, his or someone elses? Record execs have been trying and failing to find talent this way for decades. It's precisely why we have an Indie music scene.

I don't care if you watch it, I really don't. But please, please don't take it too seriously. Because if you're in it for the music, instead of sitting on the couch watching the idiot box, you could be sharing a beer with real people in a local bar, checking out a genuine band playing their own music with no rules and no competition to constrain them. Artists plying their trade on the slow road for the love of it, playing to share a moment with other music lovers, not chasing 15 minutes of fame by making an immediate superficial impression on has-been popstars judges. The Voice's angle is that it's 'blind' judging - presumably removing the superficial visual nature of pre-incarnations. But remember two things: contestants that make it onto the stage have still been carefully chosen in pre-production auditions; and Australian Idol gave us Casey Donovan as a winner - a shy, young, overweight Indigenous girl, refreshingly far from the popstar mould. These shows are as much about manipulating a narrative as looks. They realise we're at least smarter than that. But they don't foster careers. Casey Donovan was a victim of the very supericiality her achievement was supposedly rebuffing.

My problem is: I. Love. Music. As far as art goes, it's the one that speaks to me the most directly, the most powerfully. It can express the whole range of emotions, and capture moments and feelings in a way words can't. It's emotional lifeblood. And I can't watch these shows without wanting to yell at them: for missing the point; for for stripping the music of it's meaning and injecting an ungodly dose of glitz to make it entertain as large an audience as possible; for playing on the genuine premise that there is a lot of undiscovered music talent out there, and then refusing to really look for it; for being so arteficial and contrived; for exploiting naive talent. Emotions and contestants are manipulated. Winners are exploited and often end up worse off.

Don't even start me on Young Talent Time.

I'm not criticising anyone who watches it, really. Did I say I don't care? I'll probably get sucked into Big Brother again when it comes back this year, so what? We can't be intellectual all the time. It just saddens me that a music talent show can draw such an audience and ignore so much genuine artistic, creative talent. Amidst all the flash-in-the-pan popstars - and a couple of persistent B-grade performers who now stoop to tweeting for cash - the only genuine artistic talent I know of to come out of these shows in Australia is Lisa Mitchell, finishing sixth as a 16-year-old in Australian Idol in 2006.

But exploring real talent wouldn't be so popular I guess. The deeper you go with art the more it branches out - we're all moved by and relate to different tones and tunes. It's the beauty of being human, we're all different. So you have to keep it shallow to reach the largest possible audience.

So when friends talk about this music, I just want to tell them how good we have it here in Melbourne - one of the best and easiest places on Earth to explore your taste through countless live music venues, fantastic public radio stations, independent music stores and glorious festivals. These are the places and events supporting and unearthing new music talent, not dramatic TV shows. And I want to share this great thing we have with them, so they can find more good music and share it with me!

I shouldn't care. It should be enough to enjoy it on my own and with the friends who share my passion. But when something bowls you over - whether it's a song, an album, a movie, a book, a poem - it's natural to want to share it, especially in the Facebook age. Maybe we some of us feel the need to share too much and come across like snobs when others - especially those swimming in the mainstream - don't see the beauty of our pristine little tributary. Maybe it betrays a lack of self-belief that I want others' to recognise the value of the music I like?
So I am a snob. Or maybe I'm just seeking validation; a lonely guy who should care less about what other people think. There are enough like me to feel part of a community.

I think it's time to renew my Triple R subscription.