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May 13, 2017

Music is about the notes, not the dollars

In my household, we covered the names and stories of men like Jimi Hendrix, Robert Plant, Pete Townshend and Keith Emerson before those of various presidents. I was more familiar with the faces and names of rock legends than I was with those of my own relatives, a fact that hasn’t really changed. Music was and remains to this day a highly valued source of entertainment for my family and me, and it is for this reason that I lament the quality and direction music is now careening toward.


If you need proof of this decline, try comparing lyrics from the popular music of the 1970s to that of a contemporary artist. I believe a comparison between any Led Zeppelin song and any song by, I don’t know, let’s say Ke$ha, will be more than adequate to illustrate my point.

Consider the songs “The Battle of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin and “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha for their lyrical content and structure.

Led Zeppelin has penned a song inspired by Scottish folklore and J.R.R. Tolkien. The lyrics are poetic, offering the possibility of multiple interpretations, whilst at the same time possessing a fluidic rhythm that fits the pace of the song perfectly. Oh, and Jimmy Page uses a mandolin.

Ke$ha’s lyrics in “Tik Tok?” They are slightly less profound. Personally, the Mick Jagger reference always confused me somewhat. At least Led Zeppelin knew the guy. As for the delivery of the lyrics in the song itself, Ke$ha tends to hit us in the face with them in a jarring and heavy-handed manner. Led Zeppelin caresses our ears with their music. Robert Plant has some truly epic screams in his music; Ke$ha bleats out some senseless yodeling. And at no point in the song does she ever use a mandolin. Lame.

Yes, long gone are the days when songs like “American Pie” and “Space Oddity” were what made up the pop charts, for now we, the American public, are subjected to songs with titles like “Blah Blah Blah,” and “Omg.” What I ask myself every time I turn on the radio now is, what happened? Why don’t we have albums like “Harvest” and “A Night at the Opera” anymore?

The reason: music has gone commercial. The music industry is how it is referred to now. Record companies and producers are only concerned with creating a single that sells and they only cultivate those so-called artists who are interested in fame and the money involved.

Songs are mass-produced now – they are no longer written. The only artists that receive airtime on the radio now are those represented by companies with the most money. Music is no longer art. Our society is obsessed with wealth and the music that is popular now demonstrates this devastating fact. Songs are very simplistic and are more a sound bite than a complete song. The reason there are no longer concept albums like The Who’s “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia” is that the market is no longer a place where they can be appreciated. People no longer desire art for they want the instant gratification a catchy three-minute song provides rather than the fulfilling experience a carefully composed album can yield.

This reality saddens me. These cookie-cutter songs will not have the lasting power the music of old possessed, which is one of the reasons music from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s is still listened to today. The majority of contemporary music is not art because wealth is the objective. Music is an art, and the value of the art should not be based on how much money a song or a book or a painting could potentially make. If money is the prime inspiration for wanting to create, it is better to stop now. If this is the widely held sentiment of our time, I worry for the future of music and the creative process in general. All we want is money and our art has become stagnant because of this. I am saddened by the fact that society is training people to believe that value in life is determined by how much wealth an individual gains, and I believe the decline in the quality of popular music reflects this trend.

Jeffrey Bagdigian is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at

4 Responses to “Music is about the notes, not the dollars”
  1. Jeff Edwards says:

    In my opinion, there is a greater volume of quality music being produced right now than at any other point in history. The thing about good music is that it requires you, the listener, to do some of the work. You need to get out and look for new things.

  2. pete says:

    Jeffery, if you go back prior to the late 60’s early 70’s you’ll find that most pop songs were not written by the artists that sang them. The writers and publishers were the ones making the $$$.(Google “The Brill Building”) The Beatles and Bob Dylan changed all that and gave birth to the concept of the artists writing the music they perform and keeping more $$$. The music industry has been commercialized for it’s entire existence it is just much more obvious now. When you say “The only artists that receive airtime on the radio now are those represented by companies with the most money.” That has been the case since the inception of commercial was called Payola and many classic hits from the 1930s right up until the 1970’s would never have been hits if it weren’t for A&R reps bribing DJ’s to play their songs. But I agree that Led Zeppelin > Kesha

  3. Mike Linnehan says:

    While it’s really easy to cherry-pick songs to compare lyrics, don’t do it. Cannibal and the Headhunters (back in 1965) are amazing, but when your lyrics are “Na, na na na na, na na na na, na na na, na na na. Na na na na…”, you can make the argument song lyrics have gotten better since then.

    I will agree, however, that music is produced mainly for money with complete disregard for furthering musical knowledge. Beyonce and many of today’s artists have a team of writers that write their songs for them, so all they need to do is “sing” it with studio musicians who are just vomiting up whatever’s on the page in front of them (or sometimes just a beat and rhythm tracks done on the computer). No solos, no improv. It’s the equivalent of candy: A delicious treat, but it holds no nutritional value.

    Check out Axis of Evil’s “Four Chords” for a TON of songs that use the I-V-vi-IV chord progression. It’s everywhere. It still persists to this day in about 60% of what’s on “Today’s Top 40” radio stations and about 30% of the commercials on TV. 4 chords, 100s of songs. Does that sound like an industry that cares about music over money?

  4. Sara says:

    Tell it like it T-I-S!

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