Monday, September 17, 2007

THE IRRELEVANCY OF MTV AND OTHERS LOST IN THE 90’s…AND THEN THERE’S GEORGE CARLIN

THE IRRELEVANCY OF MTV AND OTHERS LOST IN THE 90’s…AND THEN THERE’S GEORGE CARLIN


Les Garland is a guy I've known forever as he was Program Director of the famous CKLW in Windsor/Detroit. Later he was a key part of the MTV launch team. I was hired as a consultant back then and we've stayed in touch ever since including a wild and short lived ride as part of Quantum Media, Bob Pittman's company. Recently he sent around an article about how MTV is trying to return to their original glory. Huh??!! That is absurd. That would be like Santa Fe railroad saying that their once famous Super Chief train will once again dominate the Chicago-LA travel corridor. Ain't gonna happen.

MTV like FM Top 40 Radio (the way it’s presented) is irrelevant on the streets. MTV gets talk…but for the wrong reasons. FM Top 40 is SO in touch with 1995 that it’s perplexing just HOW out of touch it’s become--as if these stations are programmed and marketed for radio trade papers and other FM's...completely out of touch with reality... A great number if not the majority of people under 30 view MTV and Radio in general as pretty useless. Self inflicted. They listen and watch…but are NOT fans. Simply users. These guys running these things need to read Blender, put the industry mags aside for a sec, actually move in with their audience and lose the denial that commands their thinking….oh, and think like a person, not an industry guy. Get re-attached to REALITY not “the industry”.

MTV IS one of the world’s most recognizable brands. But that doesn’t mean anyone actually likes it. A few years ago we looked at their ratings since they promote that they are in____million homes. That’s like saying a New York radio station is in 8 million homes. It is. But of course 8 million homes don’t actually listen to it. In real ratings I thought MTV numbers sucked.

The rant about MTV is based on a disappointment for how they let that thing go to hell. Greed, ignorance or just forgetting what they mean and/or mis-evolving. They seem to be re-jiggering for every 5 year generation—but inconsistently-- with the result being confusion...WHAT do they stand for? Reality/Lifestyle channel? Or is it just going for the quick junk culture hit of the moment at the expense of their future. Classic example of FORGETTING what put them on the map. A jagged evolution. Trading the edgy icon and guiding beam of “pop culture” for the Celebrity Volleyball crap that drives the Junk Culture dumb down of America. Part of it was trading Main Street for Madison avenue...Yeah, they had and probably still have smart edgy people on staff, but they changed their mission...and my God, the elitist attitude they put out...I know they are far from dumb…but the mission is WAY out of whack. A parody of itself. Making money? YES! But so was practically every iconic AM station in 1968. They used to change culture now they mock it.

NOW--Bringin it back? Ain't gonna happen with a Brittney Spears event and a VMA that is more joke than anything. Maybe a Mud wrestle between Brittney and Paris...or better yet why not a Tiffany reunion concert? They've blurred their purpose in life SO far that the Britney bandage will just further their sink into junk culture oblivion that is more fodder for comedians than anything that touches a nerve in our society..

On the radio side, I do admire stations that have evolved well. I haven't actually listened in awhile, but KQRS in Minneapolis or WDVE in Pittsburgh (both former clients) continue to prosper...seem to making the right moves.

Personally I view the negative state of many former icons like MTV as a positive. MORE OPPORTUNITY. I love helping revolutionizing things…and there’s no shortage of things to change these days! The best candidates are those who WERE huge…and still make a lot of money, but are so disassociated and vulnerable that they are golden targets. Kinda like AM radio was in 1970. Making a ton, but man, was America ever ready for FM! And then in 2000 there was FM...and America ever ready for NEW radio…

The inherent problem in evolving a young end medium is the 16-20 factor. Those who got into MTV during the 16-20 years loved it and rightly so, but they failed to evolve with those listeners OR establish a musical beachhead with the next generation of 16-24 opting for a pop culture approach. Now I know those guys have fooled advertisers for years into thinking MTV was golden. In fact if they spent that money on Morning Drive radio stars they'd have been infinitely more impactful. I'm sure MTV makes a ton of money---but I predict that the reality of what they "mean" will creep out over time and they'll plunge into the cesspool of junk culture...

Music is Timeless: There’s a huge dichotomy between the way the "Industry" thinks and the way the streets think about music. In the Industry, it’s all about "now". Breaking the next star. Normal civilians could care less. I recently saw a survey showing Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin ranking high among the Top 20 artists among TEENS. Meanwhile there's all of this scouring for the next Alt band that'll last two years, or a replacement for Paris Hilton since it looks like she WONT be the next Madonna after all. I get asked a lot: What new stuff do you like? Well---How about Chet Atkins. But he's dead I am told. Fine, but to ME, I just got turned onto a song by him and it's NEW to MY ears. I know the music business needs new talent to grow. BUT--in the real world, music is timeless. You don’t really NEED something chronologically new when there are millions and millions of amazing songs people have yet to discover. The point here is that there are two things that the Industry as a whole doesn’t seem to get:

1. Timelessness. The average Joe could care less WHEN something came out if they think it’s good. Yesterday...today...tomorrow...it really doesn’t matter to a civilian (non Industry related) individual

2. Age. The forty year old James Dean "Rock is for the kids" thing is SO over. Age is irrelevant. It's all about cool. Hell, Tony Bennett is 70 and he's COOLER than some 18 year old...to an 18 year old. A lot of it has to do with artists really haven’t changed much in the last 40 years. In 1970 if you looked back at an artist from 40 years earlier you'd get Al Jolsen. I guess he'd be cool if you were taking enough drugs. But to anyone reasonably normal, Al was hardly cool. But an artist from 40 year ago today?--Dylan, Hendrix, Morrison, Charles, Cash...and those guys REMAIN cool.

Ben Harper has a good set out. The DVD was recorded in the XM Performance Theater. It's about the 30th or so session released that was recorded at XM.

Went to LA to meet with USC students on a project they’re doing for us. I always get nostalgic for the LA that was once a hub of creativity in music. The cool house that Elektra Records had on Sunset as their headquarters, guys like Neil Young hanging around in clubs, the studios jammed with inspired artists, cool parties in Laurel Canyon. Well, LA certainly had its drawbacks, but it’s kinda sad to see the music scene a shell of what it was. Not a BAD thing, it was a pretty slimy place too—but it had character… just sad as I recall so many outstanding days and nights there. Productive and otherwise. Now—I guess Las Vegas is the center of things. I guess that sorta says it all about today’s music scene in the USA.

Flight back from LA was hellish. Plan was to leave at 4pm and get into DC at midnight. Plane left at 8pm and got in at 4am. As we are a frugal company, we flew coach—kinda hard to justify a first Class seat as we are building toward profitability. Of course coach was packed. I was supposed to fly to NYC with George Taylor Morris and Aaron Lee for the Artist Confidential with Lyle Lovett. Woke up after two hours of sleep and was WAY too tired to command a flight into the Nations busiest airspace on a crummy rainy day. SO—we went on the Delta Shuttle. Got to the airport and it was cancelled! Finally got there. I just can’t stand to fly commercial anymore. Been doing it too long and the unreliability and general service quality is just too low. But the Artist Confidential was great. The audience was mostly music students and Lyle was a joy to work with. He and his and band were fantastic.

Reminded me of a flight a few years ago. We had our Burkhart/Abrams convention in Orlando. Huge event. Over 1500 in attendance. Immediately after there was an Industry convention in LA. The Album Network, a big trade magazine back then, bought out the entire coach section of a Delta L-1011 for convention attendees to fly to LA. It was insane. Open flasks at the seats…and beyond. Sex with Flight attendants…you name it. Mike Bone, a guy with Mercury Records commandeered the PA and started making announcements. The Captain walked back and threatened to call the FBI and land the plane. Somebody offered the Captain a joint. Bad idea. Upon landing the plane was met by Federal agents. Actually, I was pretty mellow on that flight being entertained by the crowd…lets say you wont see those kind of plane rides anymore—at least not on Delta!

Got word from George Carlin's people that his 90 minute special that was recorded here will be included in his Boxed Set! The audio AND video. It was a remarkable hour...that went 90 minutes. George walked through his career. The guy has always impressed me as a timeless master of the culture, but hearing his whole story gave me a whole new level of respect for his controlled insanity. Hung out with him for awhile after the taping---He's a great guy. Didn't go into the post performance mind snap. Really impressed with him.

He’s old…but I challenge anyone to find someone more in touch…and relevant. Greatness is not defined by age...but agelessness.

8 Comments:

At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Jason Birzer said...

Meanwhile, XM seems to have the opposite problem, focusing too much on "timeless" artists and not moving forward with new artists. I recognize that listeners should know their history and be exposed to what was out there, but there are also plenty of young bands that are worthy for exposure, and a lot of those aren't going to get it from the big label A&R guys.

There needs to be a good balance of both, and I'm not sure XM hits that with most stations.

 
At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Captian Sprocket said...

Here's your new positioner for XM: "NEW radio." (You're welcome. I am looking forward to my free lifetime subscription ...)

 
At 5:40 PM, Blogger Reginold said...

MTV (and the networks) hasn't been on the ball since Freston was handcuffed with the merger/repositioning of the division Sumner wanted, and that Tom was cleary against and explicity stated he was uncomfortable with running.

XM(irius) :) on the other hand ... it still has the potential of being the savior of radio. It just needs a strong dose of powerhouse marketing and a little showbiz shine. Been touted far too long as technology and device as opposed to "the" audio entertainment destination.

Here's your new tag line, "XM - Are you listening?"

 
At 3:19 PM, Anonymous George Jay said...

Lee once said that if you want to be a success in radio you need to know your business like a "guy in the construction business knows every thing about every aspect" of his building, or something like that. Lee's satellite business now encapsulates America, and if you travel across the country listening to radio as I did a couple of weeks ago with the motion picture/music video director, David Capurso, you realize that XM is, dynamically, right on the money. That growing cadre of marketing people whould do well to listen carefully to the Master's Voice.

 
At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

really excellent stuff

 
At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Don Beno said...

Damn, I wish I was on that Delta flight!

 
At 12:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously you don't get the new MTV. You're seeing it through your boomer eyes. MTV is the only TV kids watch today. They don't watch it for music. They watch it to watch other kids. To watch themselves. To learn how to behave. It's not their parent's MTV. And that's why it's a huge success...bigger now than 25 years ago.

 
At 1:27 PM, Blogger Wes Hightower said...

I think that for some reason MTV and the like does not value the 30+ something's dollars anymore. VH1 was nice for awhile, let's say between 5 to ten years ago when they stopped playing nothing but Mariah Carey and Vanessa William and started playing a wide range of music and music shows like "pop up video" and "where are they now?". And in the last few years even that stopped. Inane shows like "Flavor of Love" and the train wreck known as "Rock of Love" plague us with some reality versions of dumbdowned-ness.

 

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