The Lunchtime Take-Out: I’m Sorry, But Your Album Sucks

Photoshop is ruining the music industry.

It used to be fairly easy to spot a bad album (or CD, if you’re too young to remember what an “album” is). The cover art would always look really cheap. In some cases, it would even be printed on what looked like notebook paper, using some kind of font from 1983. I’m not talking about bad or tasteless album covers, mind you. I’m talking about the ones that looked like someone banged them out a Commodore 64.

For the artists involved, you had to believe these covers meant certain death for their projects, but they were great for the music consumer. All you had to do was take one look at an album’s cover, and you immediately knew whether or not you should give it a chance. Granted, the “good cover art = good album” theory did not always prove to be true (In 1993, I bought a CD at my local Christian bookstore by a group called “Faith Machine.” Nifty cover, but some of the weirdest stuff I’ve ever heard.), but more often than not it could be reasonably trusted.

These days, though, anyone with a decent laptop and a good image manipulation program can whip up a pretty sharp album cover in a matter of minutes. This, I say, is grossly unfair to the consumer, who deserves some type of warning concerning the album he or she is holding in their hands, perhaps preparing to purchase. Bad music should be clearly indicated by bad cover art … or at least a picture of Lady Gaga somewhere.

Of course, for an artist to prepare bad cover art they would also have to realize their music is bad. The only problem is no one who has ever recorded an album believes it is bad. Now, I made a CD a few years ago with some friends, and we have all worked diligently to hide all evidence of said CD ever since. As we were recording it, though, we didn’t think it was that bad; in fact, we thought we were pretty cool. We all grew out of that; unfortunately, some people don’t.

Music is a very personal thing to so many people, and you can magnify the intensity by about a million when it comes to someone who actually has aspirations of recording and performing music. They are passionate in their desire, they are committed to their craft, they often spend great amounts of money and time fashioning a product … and they, very often, suck. They have no sense of time, they sing off-key, they try to sing (and sometimes, God help them, rap) songs they have no business attempting.

And then they put it all out there for approval.

I’ve been a music director at the radio station I work at for over five years now, and I still haven’t found a way to tell well-meaning, sincere, hard-working folks that their albums stink. I usually try to come up with some other excuse for not playing their music, and then I immediately feel bad afterward because I wasn’t being entirely honest with them. How can you tell someone, though, who has made music their life’s ambition that they, ultimately, don’t have what it takes to make it happen?

I wish I had an answer to that question, but I don’t. Some people take rejection well; others don’t. I know that even the people who do don’t go in and record albums and then immediately say, “Wow, that was really awful. I hope nobody ever hears that.” I guess, in the end, honesty is, indeed, the best policy. It never feels good, though, to have to tell someone their project is not good enough.

So my plea to all you aspiring artists out there today is this: Please honestly take stock of what you’re doing. Grade it. Pick over it with a fine-toothed comb. Be a perfectionist. Don’t think what you’ve done is the greatest thing ever. The world is full of self-absorbed artists who think they’re the best thing on the block. They’re not. Accept criticism, and don’t expect the world to bow at your feet with the first single you put out. Keep working at it, but if it looks like you just don’t have “it”, well…

Tomorrow I’ll probably get into what I think is wrong a lot of “cool” music today. That is, unless some disgruntled musician gets hold of me before then…

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