I'm watching "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve" just before midnight when I realize that Dick Clark isn't so rockin' anymore. I also remember that I haven't made my New Year's resolutions yet. Resolution 1: no more "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve."
Dick Clark just bums me out. He embodies all of the contradictions of the music business. On one hand, "America's oldest teenager" — now felled by a stroke, slurring his countdown &mdaFsh; is like so many music business dinosaurs who don't know when to walk away. On the other hand, Clark's determination and single-mindedness is exactly what the music business needs now in order to reinvent itself back into relevance.
I'm not counting the music biz out, but it needs to make some New Year's resolutions to kick its addiction from pre-packaged, pre-mediated, pre-scripted pop. Because I care, I took the liberty of coming up with five resolutions for the music industry shaman. Let's all meet up on December 31 and see how we did. I'll have "New Year's Eve with Carson Daly" on the flat-screen.
Resolution 1: Lay off the Auto-Tune.
Auto-Tune is the Casio keyboard of 2000s music. Just as those plastic '80s keyboards convinced any big-haired, new wave wannabe that he could be in a band, the pitch correction software has substituted singing with gimmickry. When do you know it's become too much? When Ellen is trading Auto-Tune vocal riffs with T-Pain. When T-Pain is hawking Auto-Tune iPhone apps. When 36,000 video results appear from a YouTube "auto-tune" search. Auto-Tune has become the same sad punch line as all of those '80s new wave acts. It's time to say good-bye to both of them.
Resolution 2: Remember that it's OK to get base hits.
The Big Music Machine needs to go back to doing what it used to do: building music careers. This means having the guts to release a record by someone other than a reality show contestant — and releasing their second album when the first one bombs. In 2010, labels need to lose the blockbuster mentality and get back to creating careers instead of marketing campaigns. Recent Kennedy Center honoree Bruce Springsteen wouldn't have a career in today's music world. It took two mediocre-selling albums before the Boss had his first hit with "Born to Run." And no TV show to help him out.
Resolution 3: Put on a concert, not a revue.
Somewhere along the line, a concert became a variety show. It was no longer enough for four dudes to play together in front of some guitar amps. Costume changes, an army of dancers, and Broadway theatrics suddenly became standard for a "concert." If you want sequins and circus stunts, go to Vegas. Keep concerts about the music.
Resolution 4: Take the stylists and makeup artists off the payroll.
This year, let's see some artists take the stage who have zits on their face, sweat stains under their armpits, hairs out of place, and clothes they bought themselves. Yes, high style and fashion is part of the rock tradition, but like so much else in the music industry the excess has become unbearable. More guitar techs, less mascara. Or at least, learn to put on your own. Rock stars should be able to tune their own guitars, apply their own eyeliner, and pick out their own leather pants.
Resolution5: Give us a real controversy.
For the record, Adam Lambert is not controversial. He's just a dude who has his head turned inside-out by a chorus of managers, publicists, and media trainers who are making him walk an impossible tightrope between not gay, too gay, and not gay enough. Susan Boyle having a meltdown is not controversial. It's human for a 48-year-old recluse to get a little wigged out when she finds herself on the world stage overnight. This year, please bring us some old-fashioned controversies. Maybe a singer who says he's more popular than Jesus. Or someone ripping up a picture of the Pope on national TV. Or maybe Adam Lambert kissing the Pope on TV. Now that's a real controversy.
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