CULTURE

Image reshaping music

Much of the talk on the perils faced by music today, on an international scale, has justifiably focused on the devastating effects of rampant CD piracy, both industrial and domestic, over recent years, and consequent plummeting sales figures. Sector authorities have repeatedly issued warnings about the dangers of a shrinking music industry, highlighting problems such as reduced tax revenues, threatened company closures, industry job losses, declining investment in new talent, and, ultimately, a narrower choice of music for consumers. From an immediate business perspective, and a longer-term artistic one, this is all very true. However, a less-discussed detrimental factor, one that concerns quality more than business, which has largely shaped the way the industry’s output has sounded, looked and been marketed over the past couple of decades, has been the power of the video clip. As old-fashioned as the view may seem, this mighty promotional tool has, in too many cases, transferred the weight of an artist’s appeal to the visual side, even if some of the video medium’s earlier potency has arguably faded over the years. Some acts, of course, possess the best of both worlds. They’re audiovisually friendly. Others may look mediocre, indifferent, or worse on screen, but are saved by the strength of their music alone – which is what it should all be about in the first place. In too many cases, however, it is the hot-looking and often substandard acts that are getting deals and being heavily promoted, with the video clip as an integral part of the campaign. Greece’s current contemporary scene is a good example. The arrival of privately run TV in the late 1980s and, not long after that, the advent of the video clip as a powerful promotional tool worldwide, combined forces for a huge effect on the sound – and shape – of Greek music. The country’s mainstream scene has since been heavily dictated by the visual factor. Acts with the «right» credentials are being fabricated toward stardom by the purely profit-oriented major labels, which seem more interested in immediate commercial explosions ignited by the here-today-gone-tomorrow acts than in milder, long-term development. The treatment of these acts is usually heavy, both in the beauty salon and the studio. Their dominance on television – especially privately run stations – and mainstream radio, seems to have shaped new musical tastes and trends of dubious quality that are drawing casual listeners more interested in the overall buzz than the music itself. Some aging PR-inclined folks, too, like your seasoned politician probably fond of golden-oldie acts such as Poly Panou or Grigoris Bithikotsis, for example, during his or her heyday, have joined in the racket to frequent the glitzy clubs, because these happen to be the places to be seen. And when your high-rating television journalists – news anchormen and anchorwomen who also host spin-off talk shows with mostly political content – start rounding up the ephemeral pop stars of the day as guests, the entire «glitz-pop» scene establishes itself further as the norm in modern Greek music. For listeners with purer musical intentions – a minority – there is little if any interest in this. Fans of the straight-out entertainers – the majority – could, on the contrary, contend that there is nothing of interest for them in local glitz-free scenes. For all they care, music should be all about pleasure, which, ironically, tends to be heavily associated with visual aspects. Frankly, this is probably preferable to pretentiousness, or dealing with talentless, often well-connected, acts that take themselves too seriously – and there are too many of these around. Returning to the issue of image, the more flagrant, hyped-up acts are undeniably dominating the mainstream media’s airwaves and raking in short-term financial rewards. But, it is the scene’s more covert, less recognizable and usually more inspired talent that will most probably mean anything for generations to come. And, for the self-respecting, there is no higher recognition than that, even if it’s posthumous.