08/20/2007 03:31 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Breaking Out of a Musical Lull

Musically speaking, we are living in an utter and profound lull.

Musical lulls are characterized by things like business controlling the artists, rather than the intense musical periods where the artists are the ones driving things.

Right now, we are stuck in an American Idol era where music labels and moguls are firmly in control, and their formulas are followed as closely as possible.

It's all eerily reminiscent of the early 1950s. That was the "Doggie in the Window" era. Mitch Miller, Doris Day and the like were making snappy and happy songs. The underground was brewing with a sonic gumbo of black artists and hillbillies, but in the mainstream, it was all pretty, safe and happy. A musical lull.

How can you tell that you're living in a musical lull?

* The mainstream music culture features harmless lyrics by harmless artists.

* The "look" is non-threatening.

* Dancing is at a popularity peak, as people dance and hum, but don't really LISTEN.

* Music has a minimal impact on culture, other than being a soundtrack.

* There's an underground happening, but it is still out of reach to the masses.

* It's about tabloids more than musical notes.

* The music media is on autopilot.

* McDonalds'-style pop rules. Predictable, safe, consistent, with few surprises. Musical originators are copied, cleansed for mass consumption, and formularized.

* Artists have short life spans, and quickly become trivia questions.

Then -- there are the intense periods. Periods of tremendous change compressed into a short period of time.

During intense periods:

* The old wave hits a brick wall.

* The "sound" changes. New instruments, new techniques, new recording methods.

* The "look" is new: Different and scary.

* Satan is responsible, according to many.

* Listening technology changes.

* Music impacts culture profoundly. There are fights over music.

* Artists are in control.

* People dance less, and start listening more.

* The next generation of long-term artists emerges.

* Music media goes through explosive evolution.

* You don't hear as many artists copying other artists, because everyone is too busy creating their own sound or contributing to the movement.

The intense periods happened: 1955 (Rock n Roll); 1964 (Liverpool); 1969 (Everything); 1980 (New Wave); 1991 (Grunge). All of the above happened during these periods, and all of the 'lull' characteristics happened between these periods.

Take the intense period of 1969: It was all over for the old wave. Paul Revere and the Raiders? They hit the wall. Musicianship was a selling point. Lyrics were social statements. The sound of music changed as fuzz tones and synths emerged, and there was practically an arms race over how many tracks you could layer on a song and how high you could turn up the amplifier.

Junior came home from college looking like a hippie and got thrown out of the house. Satan was responsible for the Iron Butterfly. Walk into the wrong bar and play Hendrix on the jukebox, and a fight would ensue. Stereo revolutionized listening as it became mainstream. FM radio emerged for the first time as a force. No one told Cream how to write a song or to keep it three minutes. You didn't dance to "Abbey Road," you listened to it.

Suffice to say, we are now in a musical lull. All the signs are there. Consider the recent controversy surrounding Kelly Clarkson, who recently apologized to label head Clive Davis. During an intense period, like 1980 or 1991, a label head would bow to an artist that sold as much music as she does. Can you imagine the Police or Nirvana apologizing to a record company? Yes, those are "big names," but any important artist from an intense period wouldn't even bother.

A musical lull. You either live with it (and, of course, some prosper mightily from it). Or you try to be part of the change.