Friday, May 8, 2009

The Death of Music, Part 7: "Nothing Songs"

As an amateur songwriter, I can honestly say I've written some bad tunes in my day. You know, the kind of song that's so ripe that fish wrapped in newspaper say, "WHOA, what the hell's that smell?" However, one thing I can honestly say I steadfastly resist at all costs is writing the "nothing song."

For those of you who don't know what I mean by the term "nothing song," I mean something that's even worse than bad: a nebulous ball of chords and notes with no compelling reason to exist, other than (usually) financial gain. The nothing song, as I define it, isn't bad OR good; it's just… THERE.

You've definitely heard nothing songs even if you think you haven't. Nothing songs can be competent, tuneful, pleasant, and even catchy. They often go down pretty easy. However, they also tend to be depressingly generic and nondescript. They tend to follow in the wake of hundreds (if not thousands) of songs with a similar sound before them. Simply stated, a nothing song is inoffensive enough, but you have to ask yourself while listening, "Did this REALLY need to be written? Is this adding anything important or significant to the already billions and billions of songs out there?"

And they don't have to be love ballads or soft rock songs, either. Even songs with loud, angry guitars or surly, wailing vocals can qualify for nothing-hood by virtue of their inconsequential nature.

I know what a lot of you are thinking: "You're talking about POP songs man! It's supposed to be disposable fun! Lighten up!" To which I reply, with a derisive snort, "PURE BUNK!" (Heh.) There are plenty of disposable "pop" (or "rock") songs which are fun and catchy as well as smart, unique and innovative. Just because something is classified as a "pop song" doesn't mean it gets a free pass to be non-inspiring, derivative dross.

And seriously folks, I honestly don't think my standards are THAT high. When I hear a song, all I want is some sort of sign - however muted - that the artists involved might have actually gotten worked up or cared about the notes they were laying down, and that they didn't bolt from the studio 5 seconds later and make a beeline for the bank deposit window.

This is why a nothing song can truly be worse, in a sense, than a flat-out BAD song. At least with (some) bad songs you get the distinct impression that someone really cared about what they were doing. At least with (some) bad songs you feel the passion and effort that went into making it, however atrocious the final result may be. And sometimes, amidst all the utter awfulness of a bad song, you can still catch glimmers of inspiration and creativity that nearly carry the tune and save it from outright suckiness.

Not so with a nothing song! Nothing songs are far, far more insidious than that. They usually have no personality, charm or vitality to speak of, because they tend to be homogenized within an inch of their commercialized lives. Any and all impurities are methodically distilled out of them, and they have no real spice or spark propelling them along. Hell, they have no real reason for being at all!!! And, more often than not, the producers of nothing songs try to hide the nothing status behind immaculate production, tried-and-true chord changes or a clear, powerful singing voice. But don't be fooled! These songs are sheer black holes of sound, sucking up precious vibrations in the air.

Basically, the goal of the nothing song is to be as innocuous and inoffensive as possible while simultaneously appealing to as many people as it can reach. The end result of this delicate balancing act is usually a reasonable, but ultimately unsatisfying, aural concoction which most people describe in terms like "not bad," "is what it is," "gets the job done," or "pleasant enough." Think about it. Do those sound like good reasons for any song to exist?

I personally respect my pop and rock music more than that, and so should you.

1 comment:

Steve Lanzone said...

I vote for "Crazy" by Aerosmith, and "Crying" by Aerosmith - which are not only "nothing" songs, they're pretty much the SAME song. Talk about lack of effort...