PopOff! Commentary: Will The Real Randy Travis Please Stand Up

I’m sure I read about country icon Randy Travis’s inability to sing anymore, somewhere. Probably Saving Country Music where I recently read the article about “Randy’s new song”. But it hadn’t really be something I kept in my head. So with this new Randy Travis song I read about it before I heard it. So I can’t say if it would have fooled me or sounded off or whatever other vague metrics one uses for A.I. music.

Putting aside the excitement of a new song from Travis. And putting aside the question of how is this any different from a prosthetic limb on a runner. I see three outcomes here.

1. THE BLEAK

A.I. music made on the cheap permeates the landscape and most people just don’t give a fuck. For most of the masses music is background noise to get them through work or traffic not active listening anymore. And to give a taste of what that music USED to be here is a sample from the 70s:

Well guess what?  Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Post Malone, Kayne, Pink, Swift… they are the new muzak at the mall. It might be better music but to quote Mojo Nixon:

You know, sometimes I get the feeling that, that, uh, accountants and Lawyers
are in cahoots with the devil, yeah, they’re in cahoots with the devil,
to cover the Earth, cover the Earth with this wretched swill.
Gutless, mediocre, middle of the road sleep-inducin’ homogenized pablum,
background music for the slavery of daily drudgery

And if A.I. takes over the music industry so the industry can cut corners, pay people less and lay off staff, “gutless, mediocre, middle of the road sleep-inducin’ homogenized pablum, background music for the slavery of daily drudgeryis what we will get. At first they may TRY to fool us by inserting some fake guitar string sounds and maybe the occasional off-note. But very quickly there will be no point in that extra work. Just pump out the same song altered ever so slightly and nobody will notice it is the same song. Except when they do…

And that was from ten years ago.

And this song is a joke.

But I can totally see major labels doing some variant of this with utmost sincerity. And I can totally see people as I said not giving a fuck, and still buying it. Why?  Because consuming what is right in front of your face requires the least effort.  And when you are stressed or exhausted and done with it all… I get it.  It’s right there, just like that bad of chips.  Also, as I wrote in my other piece on A.I. Japan made a legit music star out of a computer generated idol.

The problem is when A.I. takes over the only input will likely be from those at the top telling whoever they underpay to type in the keywords and what words to type in. You might think those as the top would type in the keywords but I assure they will not, as Willie Nelson pointed out in his song, “Write You’re Own Songs”

We’re making you rich
And you’re already lazy

so just sit on your ass and get richer
or write your own songs

This is totally bleak. And this is not just music but all the arts; graphic design film, theater, the whole lot reduced to keywords. And the problem with this future is that it relies on mining all the art that came before it and that is a limited data set. And unless people contribute new art to the data set you will not get anything “new”. And if the only new stuff is the result if the limited data set, meaning nobody is adding newly created work without the use of the A.I.  well… here we are in the feedback loop.

2. THE NOT SO BLEAK

People get so cynical and jaded that they decide the only music/art they will consume is stuff they can see, hear, and touch personally. Stuff RIGHT in front of their face they can smell or stuff made before A.I. was ever a question anyone asked about. And as I have said in my write up on A.I. I think this will drive people to support local community more and the majors will have less power and if my dreams come true become obsolete.

I think they know this, which is why they wait like hawks to buy or tear down every last local music venue known to you and your friends. Here is part of a statement released from local SF venue Bottom Of The Hill where Alanis once played a show for $12 before she was famous.

This is not an emergency broadcast, for now, but it is a public service announcement: Thank you to our loyal customers, for supporting independent venues. Independent venues are fragile and endangered. The BIG GUYS wait very patiently in the wings for our independent venues to fail so they can take over. You might have noticed them taking over dates at formerly totally independent venues who don’t want to partner with the devil, but have to in order to survive. You’ll immediately know when this happens completely in the Bay Area, because your choices will be vastly diminished and your prices will be higher. In effect, you’ll lose the amazing scene we’ve all worked so hard to create. I say “we” because we can’t do it without all of you. Just wanted to send you a reminder.

So I can definitely see, and already see, a shift to more local focus. North Beach on the first Friday’s of the month is HOPPIN’ with live music, arts, and poetry. It is now one of my favorite days of the month. I show up in the late afternoon; go to Cafe Greco for a coffee and snack and to write and then just venue crawl throughout the night listening to poetry and music and looking at local art and eating local food. How big that shift will be is still unknown but I, of all people, am hopeful that it will be a seismic shift that sets a precedent for other communities big and small.

3. THE MESSY STALEMATE:

My realist take is it will likely be some messy in-between version of the two above, which we sort have all ready but will be even messier.

Unfortunately per option #1 above I don’t think the masses care all too much about local venues getting taken over because they just want music they know by artists they know. And most of the those artists don’t play independent venues. And no Green Day playing The Fillmore this year ain’t it because The Fillmore is not independent and hasn’t been for some time. And why would people choose corporate over the indie? Because the indie option has uncertainty’s and risk, the big one being you might not like the music even if it was VASTLY cheaper than a show by a band you know even with drinks. And sadly I believe the reason for this attitude is because there is no direct immediate incentive for people to care.

Basically, “What’s in for me?” And the answer to that is a bunch of intangibles and variants that in the long run make for a much more healthy local scene. But one doesn’t feel that as immediately as somebody just giving you say, twenty dollars for doing something. Of course the intangibles and variants are not direct and immediate on other side either with corporate takeover. But this becomes a bleaker, “don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” scenario. And I have certainly felt that recently with the Castro theater being bought out and the seats removed for more overpriced corporate owned music shows possibly having negative impacts on the Castro district itself. To say nothing of the loss of another movie theater.

But you do have people who support local music and venues it is basically the core of what Soundwaves does, champion local music. And I do think as A.I. gets more pervasive as I said in point #2 people will look for things they KNOW are real and right in front of them. Unfortunately I think these people will be the minority and found mostly in big cities and many could likely be pretty snobbish and obnoxious about it. They will spend plenty of time shit talking those who just let corporate walk all over them and walk all over the local music scene. Making one more division that tribalizes us.

One would assume the masses want real music by real musicians. It seems like a no-brainer. Who would go to a concert that wasn’t done live?

Plenty of people sadly.

When I go onto to threads about live shows there are a staggering number of people who rationalize and defend things like backing tracks for Mariah’s Vegas residency or Madonna not even having a live band on stage and basically doing the world’s most expensive karaoke.

And then there is even Britney herself blasting critics for attacking her for using a backing tracks because, “I’m working my ass off up here”. Well, I like Ms. Speares just fine and empathize with her story but that comment brings to mind exhibit A: Tina Turner.  She didn’t do a backing track. She ran out of breath and sat down for a song or two. It was all real live performing. But people are giving the artist’s (usually wealthy artists) a pass for not putting in the hours of practice it takes to do a live show, while getting fleeced with fees and cheaply made merch. Yes singing and dancing is hard to do together so either don’t do them together or practice more. Every single day cannot be an “off day” on a tour or residency but most concert goers have just accepted this as the case.

People say you’ll never be able to create something like Bruce Springsteen live in Dublin, one of my all time favorite live concert recordings…

But I have accepted that is coming. We already have the not actually ABBA live show. They recorded their movements but those vocals are not live and I bet they used the original recordings for most of the vocals and music tracks with maybe some little add ons here and there to make it feel more real. Because um… where is the string section that was on the original recording… Kiss is doing the same thing, nobody sells out harder than kiss. So you can imagine what that will be like.

All of this says to me most people just DO NOT CARE.

We music nerds a minority. A ironically, the music nerd bar is much lower than it was in the 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s. In the 60’s Paul Reveere and the Raiders or The Monkees was the kind pop pap nerds trashed while playing Zappa records. It the 70s it was Rush vs The Carpenters and because Rush never had a hit they HAD TO BE superior. In the 80s it was everything before The Joshua Tree vs everything after until POP came in the mid 90s and for some lowered the bar even further.

Now a music nerd just has to bitch about backing tracks and auto-tune to be called and elitist or say Olivia Rodrigo isn’t punk to get called a gate-keeper. Leaving aside the idea that complex music is not necessarily better, I feel like the overall cultural intelligence around music seems to have dwindled. Well, it has either gone down or it was always low and the low end just now has more of a voice thanks to social media.

I don’t know but I know personally that, the new “Randy Travis” song is not an abomination musically but I sincerely hope it not something people take as the way forward with music. Because most of us are not rich but we are most certainly already lazy.

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