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Seven Ways to Improve the Quality of Music

1. MUSIC IN SCHOOLS The bottom line is, if we want better popular music, more people have to know how to play it. Speak with famous musicians,
and you’ll be stunned how many started in the school band. With the evisceration of school music programs has come the decline of quality pop music. You don’t need a music degree to enjoy music, but you cotton to those with developed skills.

2. PERSPECTIVE Just because you play does not mean you’re entitled to a job in music. With access has come delusion. In other words, if you can put it on iTunes, I should buy it. But if you get a trophy in kiddie soccer, do you think you’re one step away from Manchester City?

You realize in school who’s good in math, biology, English. If you’re not at the top, you find another path.

3. A PLACE TO PLAY There’s nowhere to start out any more. Family functions have deejays, and the club business died with the record business when there was no one to support it. (To a degree, this is responsible for the rise of electronic music, and that’s fine, but just knowing how to turn on the turntable does not make you a deejay.)

With nowhere to play, no one can get better. Your skills might be developed, but your live chops are nonexistent. I love Lorde’s music, but live she’s a bore, because she just hasn’t developed yet. Think of all the great live bands, from the jazzers to J. Geils. They honed their skills off the radar, got good over time. We’ve got to get people to hire live bands for private functions. This requires good bands willing to play the hits people want at a fair price.

4. NO WINE BEFORE ITS TIME Just because you made it does not mean we should be interested in buying it. It used to be that making a physical disc was expensive; now making an MP3 is cheap, so people bombard us with their substandard productions.

5. STREET TEAMS/VIRALITY Marketing has trumped the organic spread of music. Yes, you want people to spread it, but only if they’re moved to. You want a mailing list so you can reach your fans, not so you can turn them into an army dunning those who do not care.

We live in an era of marketing, not music. And we’re all suffering as a result.

6. GATEKEEPERS There’s a fiction that making everything available means there’s an audience for it — the so-called Long Tail. But the truth is we live in a Tower of Babel society that gravitates to that which is universal. We don’t want endless playlists. We want a few certified hits. The reason labels cater to Top 40 is at least there’s a market there — and in hip-hop and country, too. Other than that, it’s a great wilderness with classic acts and concertgoers, but the inability to break a record.

We don’t need tons of playlists on Songza; we need one place where everybody goes that features a few tracks and readily rotates them. And that place isn’t radio, which is about advertising, not music.

7. BUSINESSMEN You’ve got to have someone to make the deals. But you need an entrepreneurial spirit. Wipe out music business schools; they’re a ripoff, teaching what does not need to be learned. We’ve got to attract the renegades, the limit-testers, those willing to turn the tables upside down who are now going into tech.

Did you know that Travis Kalanick, the majordomo of Uber, which you love, started with a P2P music site, Scour? Don’t pooh-pooh P2P; everything good in music has happened as a result. Spotify’s Daniel Ek stayed in, but you want him out, not realizing that the ability to have everything at one’s fingertips includes your music, and that there’s a ton of money in streaming.

Until we can attract the best and the brightest to music, we’re doomed.

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