Pop: The Artist’s Intention

The movie, ‘Love, Actually,’ opens with a scene of a sold-out pop musician in a recording studio. He is recording a “new hit single” and as he finishes singing on the chorus, he asks his manager through the microphone, “This is shit, isn’t it?” The manager, with no hesitation, responds to him, “Yup! Solid gold shit!”

The artist of a pop song, or more likely, the team of producers, managers, and songwriters behind a pop song try their best to fit with what the mass majority of people like in music. They do this as a marketing tool to make the most money, no matter what it takes to do this. How do these “marketers” know what will appeal to so many people though? The top ten on iTunes? The Billboard Top 100 chart? YouTube sensations with the top number of hits? In the top nightclubs from the DJ’s selections? Of course all of these can pin point exactly what the majority of people in America, and even the entire world, want in their music, but what is behind the curtain of all of these lists and picks and consuming behaviors that the artists need to pick up on to make money?

The Consumer’s Intention:

Through objective observation of popular culture it is easy to notice that most people want to follow in a pack. They want to be a part of something. They fear loneliness and a completely independent life from how society keeps us together with TV shows, movies, novels, and entertainment of the mind. In this sense, the pack has little thought and is lead around by their reactions to what life throws at them, i.e. their emotions and trained habits. The counter-productive part of this, however, is that all feelings are short lived. Feelings will come and go like a train stopping at its station, picking thoughts up and dropping them off at the next station where it picks up another set of thoughts; and when one of those stations brings about “good” thoughts then most try and go back to that station over and over again to redeem that pleasure. Some events, music, and conversations will bring about “good” feelings that bring “good” thoughts and the majority of people will search out these pleasant events or products throughout their days, nights, and entire lives in order to keep up that entertainment, fun, or good time.

Short-term pleasures are addicting because they only last until the event is over and then most will want and search for more. Drinking, drugs, partying, small talk socializing, dancing, and music that only lasts a month or two until the mass decides that it is old news are all events and experiences that the majority of the people in the world enjoy. Again, observing this fact is easy. One can see it through the behaviors of the staggering numbers of people from the age of eighteen to the later adult years in clubs dancing for hours upon hours and weekend upon weekend, their mass number of purchases and choices on iTunes and the Grammys for pop artists, their demand for the number of bars, clubs, liquor stores, and drug dealers in every neighborhood, town, city, state, and country people visit and live, and their choices on the weekend for parties, vacations, or some sort of activity to entertain the thoughts in their mind. Since the majority of people behave this way, the search for short-term pleasure can be labeled pop, popular, and/or normal.

Pop is “feel-good” music to the consumer. Girls love to have fun while dancing to the new Cee-Lo Green song and also have that feeling of stepping over the line while screaming out “F— YOU!” as loud as they can. Guys seem to be a little more neutral because they can’t “like” pop music, but when they go to a concert, show, or wedding they also want something that will pump them up for the night and brings up a dance with a lady. So far, in my observations I have seen that there are two aspects going on in the consumer’s intention to listen to pop: fitting in to what is the majority of the world (being a part of the norm) and finding consistent experiences that fill their life with a short lived buzz (their desire to feel good).

I interviewed a former employee of Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom, a concert venue in Denver, and asked her a few questions about her experiences with popular music concerts:

Me: What were your favorite shows to work at and also go to at Cervantes?

Interviewee: Dub step shows were the most fun to drink and dance to.

Me: Any reason dub step shows were the most fun?

Interviewee: They are freeing. You can dress however you want and be whoever you want.

Me: What makes it so the environment is that freeing—comfortable?

Interviewee: Everyone is on drugs and if they are not, then those people will still tend to dance wildly and do what everyone else is doing.

Me: So, everyone tends to try to be a part of the experience and feeling?

Interviewee: Yes. And the most freeing part is that you fit in no matter how weird you are. I knew a guy who was really socially awkward and insecure in his everyday life, but when he came to the shows it didn’t matter and he mentioned how comfortable the experience was for him.

Me: Does he come back a lot?

Interviewee: Yea, that may be the only reason he keeps coming back to the shows…to get that feeling.

Me: Would you consider dub step to be popular music?

Interviewee: Yes, I mean, I don’t connect to it and most people don’t, but it’s fun.

Most people want to feel good. Most people want to be normal and fit into a pack that in some way has a popular or known niche in society. This is just normal. This is popular. Dancing fits with this norm and so does, drinking, TV, small talk, and watching entertainers like Lady Gaga, Dane Cook, or Ryan Gosling. These activities make people feel good, fit with a huge number of people, and are available all the time in order for people’s cravings to be fulfilled. The artist’s of popular music (pop) are looking for what is normal and what is popular in order to create and market their “feel good” tunes. The artist’s intention in making pop hits is to appeal to the consumer’s intention of listening to pop hits in order to make a marketable, profitable, and, overall, an intensely popular product.

Satisfied Music:

Is there another road of music less traveled on that contains aspects of pop, like catchiness, instruments, lyrics, and inventive, unique singers? A type of music with no need for a specific genre, just a music mindset of rawness, thought, and purpose. No “over” production. No “feel good” beat. No “feel good” party, vacation, or just simply entertaining lyrics. Just sounding passionate because that is what the band or songwriter sounds like in real life. Writing down rational thought that may or may not connect with what the world thinks.

Musicians like Eddie Vedder, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), and Marcus Mumford (Mumford and Sons) contain this raw and thoughtful aspect of music that is consistent in time and does not just float off the edge of the world because it is old news. The power in their words, voices, and melodies stay close because they help us grow overtime.

It’s a mystery to me. We have a greed, of which we have agreed

You think you have to want mor than you need.

Untill you have it all, you won’t be free.

Society, you’re a crazy breed. I hope you’re not lonely, without me.

– Eddie Vedder, Society

Eddie is objectively checking out society and is stating what he sees. Then, he shares his feelings towards that reality. This is real, insightful, and could help people grow if they open their mind to it. Growth and change lasts in a person’s life, and something positive like growth that is instilled within us is satisfying. This classification of music would be, to me, considered as “satisfied music.”

This classification of music is my music consciousness. I am an artist/musician of this type and, also, a listener of this type. The artist’s and the listener’s intent are based on each other, but in the opposite way that pop is based on each other. In pop, it is the artist’s intent to figure out the consumer’s intent, so that they can produce that. This is impersonal and quite frankly not art. Art is defined on dictionary.com as the quality, production, expression, or realm of what is beautiful and of more than ordinary significance. In it, there is nothing that says: the manipulation of people’s wants in order to produce it and have them pay for it. When an artist sees the world from his or her rational perspective and then lyrically and musically arranges that observation and vantage point in that way, then that is art. When the listener of this music studies this music, grows in their knowledge of music and in their knowledge of the subject matter in the lyrics, then that is a satisfying emotional bond that is formed between the artist and listener that lasts from the growth and change in the two parties.

Why does my mind blow to bits every time they play that song?

It’s just the way that he sings,

Not the words that he says, or the band.

I’m in love with this soul, it’s a meaning that I understand.

– My Morning Jacket, The Way That He Sings

Jim James reflects the bond that is formed between the artist and the listener in this song. This is an experience that he understands and is trying to share with others, so that they will dig deep, listen, and maybe ask why their minds are blown to bits every time they hear a song from a certain band.

The artist’s intent in satisfied music is to understand their own perspective in reality and then share that with others, either through music, lyrics, or both. Classical musicians like Mozart understood reality through music and would share that music with others through scores and pieces. That is raw, imminent, and purposeful music. This music is then given to the listener and it is the listener’s intent, and almost job, to listen, study, and understand the artist and his or her form of expression. This isn’t fake and manipulative like pop. This is real and takes questions, thoughts, and study to understand it.

It scares me to think that the majority of the world wants to entertain their feelings, thoughts, and potential to understand into oblivion. It scares me that understanding a reality is far-fetched and not popular. Is there a way to turn satisfied music into popular music? If so, the musicians, unlike the pop musicians now a day, wouldn’t compromise their integrity. There is no way to manipulate a person who sees the reality in the world. So, make it “pop.” The label doesn’t scare me and probably wouldn’t scare Jim James, Mozart, or Bob Dylan, it’s the content and the staggering number of listeners behind the pop music today that sends a shiver down reality’s spine.

About Kevin Carlstead

I graduated as a hospitality and psychology student at University of Denver. I spent most of my teenage and young adult years in the hospitality industry. I am still searching for what industry suits my personality and talents so that I can feel more meaning throughout my days. My current career pursuit has me enrolled in a graduate program to become a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I was born and raised in San Diego, CA. I love music with something to it. I love life with something to it. I have made it one of my purposes in this life to integrate both of these things that I love. This blog and my own songwriting has given me the platforms to do that very thing. Thank you for reading.
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