Does it take talent to become a pop-star? No, really. This is a serious question. Does it?
I asked that question in my first film Before the Music Dies and I got a wide variety of answers. At that time (2006), there was still a lot of confusion as to where the music industry was headed. Some believed the industry was just going through another material shift, much like the time when we swapped our cassettes for shiny new CD's. Some believed that the industry would suffer in the digital age as "voice enhancement" was becoming more prevalent almost as fast as youth and beauty were becoming more of a pre-requisite.
For the sake of comparison, let's take the coveted Saturday Night Live music slot into consideration. 20 years ago, the stage was graced by legends such as Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Prince. Just 10 years ago, it was Radiohead, U2 and Jay-Z. But this year, we've seen some a lot of very young faces such as Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and Ke$ha.
Are these acts that are topping the charts today simply the "4G" version of the definition of popular music or is this music just another product of an information-overloaded society where anybody who can tweet, post, text and email at the same time thinks that they are multitasking? In either case, it feels like quality is an afterthought.
Could it be that in the world of pop music, the days of true variety are over? Will there ever be another Bonnie Raitt, (a 40-year-old artist that earned a Grammy for Best Female Recording Artist) again? Will there ever be another full figured woman such as Aretha Franklin ruling the the pop charts? Could a blind piano player such as Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder ever get a shot at stardom today? I certainly hope so. Susan Boyle's stardom is a good sign that the audience is open to variety, but I doubt major labels are willing to take a risk on signing anyone over the age of 21.
Don't get me wrong, you won't catch me calling out for "the good ol' days" because there is plenty of great music today. To find it, you simply have to look under the surface of the commercial pavement.
So, the times have obviously changed, and there's no going back. Technology is a raging river, and you just gotta get in it and ride. "DIY" is the name of the new record company, Facebook, Twitter, iTunes and Pandora are your marketing platforms, and all of the software you need to record a full length album in the comfort of your own bedroom these days is a given. Access is a beautiful thing, and the ability for every artist to spread their wings and express themselves in the way they feel they should is a dream come true, but sometimes, in the hands of profiteers, this sword feels more and more double-edged.
Additional material provided by Russell Gustave Ochoa from Everybody Gets 15 Minutes