Message to BRMC, The Strokes, The White Stripes, or whoever else wants to lay claim to The Next Big Thing

The CD comes courtesy of some guy met in a bar who claims to do something or another for this small label. On my drive to work the next morning, I give it a listen. As expected, it’s not awful, but it’s certainly not great. I recognize the semi-famous name of the producer brought in to record the lead track; I like the two other cuts better. The three songs are over in about ten minutes and there’s not really any reason for contemplation. I know I’m never going to listen to the promo disc again; this band is not The Next Big Thing. (So much so that I’m going to let them remain nameless.)

The promo CD gets replaced in my player by the new Von Bondies (“Lack of Communication,” Sympathy for the Record Industry), purchased last weekend at an impressive show here in Detroit. They are a somewhat typical rock band in these parts: loud, high energy, raucous, distorted riffing with plenty of power chords and a nod to our garage tradition (in this case, it’s more Amboy Dukes than MC5). After the show, I was pretty sure they’re the best band in town right now. I was even thinking that maybe, just maybe, they could be The Next Big Thing. But in the clear-headed light of day, their album is a bit of a disappointment. It’s hard for a band like this to capture the energy of their live show; the Von Bondies didn’t.

I start thinking… So what’s the difference between these two bands? Neither one has produced a recording that’s particularly impressive. While I’m still quite fond of the Von Bondies, it’s mostly because I just like garage rock. When I try and look at it objectively, it’s clear that if I was the type of person more inclined towards the classic alternative rock sounds of REM, maybe the unnamed band’s CD would be the one getting tucked away in my collection with hopes that one day I will hear more from them. The bottom line is that my gut says neither band is going to take the world by storm. But why?

When evaluating new music, how do you go about assessing what’s good and what’s bad, and more importantly, what’s crucial? How do you know if an artist is going to be The Next Big Thing?

I’ve thought about this a lot, and it’s obviously a complex issue. I can’t say that I’ve come up with much of an answer, but what I do know is this: If a band or artist is going to rock my world, cause me to go around telling everyone on earth that they’ve just got to buy this new album, that this is surely and truly The Next Big Thing, they have to produce a recording that is so good that in the process of listening to it I momentarily lose my fear. Fear of what, you ask? Fear of being an idiot—for liking the band in the first place.

Remember the Gin Blossoms? They were one of my favorite new bands back in college. Their first album was amazing, particularly for the depth of the songwriting. Then the other guys in the band kicked out their alcoholic guitarist (who just happened to also be the talented songwriter) and stopped paying him royalties. The guy was broke with a serious booze problem, and ended up killing himself. Grisly? Yep. But believe me, you can do plenty of less serious things to cause embarrassment to yourself and your fans. Need I mention the current state of U2, The Rolling Stones, Sting, Aerosmith, etc.?

So here’s my ultimatum to any musician out there who wants to grab the brass ring: Your music has got to make me absolutely sure you are never going to do the embarrassing things that we all know you will do at some point in your career. It’s on this illusion that all of rock and roll stardom rests.

15 thoughts on “Message to BRMC, The Strokes, The White Stripes, or whoever else wants to lay claim to The Next Big Thing”

  1. Here’s a question, though: What is the possibility that you become to believe that the Next Big Thing is, indeed, the NBT simply based on the fact that you hear it over and over again?That is, it seems to me that repetition is the cause of many groups/individuals becoming “stars.” You may have your initial listening and think, “Aw, this is OK, but really not worthwhile,” yet by turning on your radio and hearing it, going to a party and hearing it, going into a record store and hearing it, you may become convinced that what you’re hearing really is it. Sort of an ad populum sort of thing. Or a variant on Chinese Water Torture.Seems that the way the Entertainment Industry is constructed that the portals are cranked open and the Product (be it a musical group or an actor/actress) is permitted to flow. If the flow is such that it creates a wave within the population at large, then said band/performer continues to be able to get access. Without it, it is nowhere.For example, consider Sting. Is there anyone who thinks that of the members of the Police he was the most talented? Andy Summers has been putting out wonderful disc after disc that get no play (of course, the musical form he is pursuing is jazz, which isn’t marketable in the same way that EZ listening is). The Industry has picked Sting to flow into all manner of audio-visual venues. And if you listen to “Desert Rose” enough, you might just find your toe a-tappin’. . . (which I might suggest could be cut off, except my next-door neighbor told me yesterday that he lost a toe and it was an awful thing–probably much worse than Sting’s new album).

  2. Scotty, I was quite offended at your post re: singing at concerts. I do hope you will respect your elders regardless of our hairstyle.- proptronics

  3. Couldn’t possibly disagree with you more, gsv…first of all, sting after the police sucks…second, I tend to like things less and less after repetition (at least on commercials and commercial radio)…

  4. Sarah and/or Eleanor:There is a concept in economics called “Gresham’s Law,” which has it that good money drives out bad.So let’s follow that with a musical spin:While Sting post-Police sucks, for the most part, most people hear more Sting than other musicians. The consequence of that is that there is no good music to drive out the bad. Consequently, the Big Thing is based on availability. Same with the Next Big Thing.While there are a few discerning ears–yours among them, apparently–that listen harder, methinks that they are rare, all too rare.

  5. What makes the “Next Big Thing”. Ambition, attitude and an awful lot of hard graft.If its rock n roll it has to be mean, tough, and a touch anarchic (the song would not be as good were it titled “Street Lovin’ Man”)Jagger once said that the best rock n roll sounds rough or frayed at the edges. I think hes got a point.A thought on Sting: Do you think when he dies we’ll call him “Stung”?

  6. gsv — I like your economics argument — in fact, I couldn’t agree with you more. For the average music listener, what makes the next Big Thing is usually availability. it’s a shame for a lot great bands that don’t get radio play, well a shame for them, but then again those of us with more seasoned taste can keep them too ourselves (rock snob in me coming out again)As far as Sting/Stink, now I feel bad. Sting is pretty cool himself, but his music has gone down the toilet since the Police.– Sarah

  7. Thx, Sarah. But remember: the issue at hand is the Next Big Thing, and those of us who are rock snobs (which, I suspect, includes, oh, about everyone who has anything to do with GloNo) have a tendency to turn on those whom we’ve appreciated when they were obscure with the viciousness of rabid ferrets when they become the NBT.

  8. That’s only when they become disillusioned with being the NBT and lose original/artistic quality in order to maintain their status with a wider audience. But this isn’t always the case. The Pixies for example.

  9. G: While I am often accused of rock snobbery, I no longer feel the need to keep my favorite bands a secret. Sure it’s nice to see shows at clubs rather than arenas, but as long as the music is still good, I’m all for a band selling as many records as they can. Sometimes, huge sales can provide an artist the freedom to get freaky on the follow-up (see Weezer’s Pinkteron). Basically, I guess I’m just agreeing with S&E, above. I want all my favorite bands to sell enough records to allow them to release more albums…

  10. Great example Jake — that’s exactly what we’re talking about, except that you pointed out that sometimes selling records can actually allow a band more artistic freedom (rather than selling out)…good point…But I do get disappointed when my favorite bands start playing larger venues and attracting bigger crowds. Even Elliot Smith at the Metro a few years ago was sort of disappointing when I was used the Lizard and Snake in Chapel Hill, NC with an audience of about 7…but I’m glad he made some money!

  11. That’s the main reason shows in clubs are better. When you’re only ten feet away from the speakers, you can’t hear the tone-deaf drunk people (such as myself) hollering along with the band!

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