Question. Is rock dead? No, rock is not dead. It never was and it probably never will be. Saying that rock is dead is a cop-out.
I am responding to an article titled, “We Asked a Top A&R Executive If Rock Is Really Dead,” by Digital Music News. Is rock dead? The topic is a good one, but the people who are tasked to answer this question come up short. And while there are some responses that help to answer this question, the answers don’t suffice.
I’ll spare the people who don’t like to read long blog entries and give them their immediate gratification: The reason that rock appears to be dead or people are saying it’s dead is because A&R either isn’t putting in the effort to find the next Metallica or it doesn’t have the ability (the ears) to identify hit songs and great talent. Period.
Here’s the deal in more detail:
Over the last few years, rock hasn’t been riding the charts like it has in the past. Something happened. Either A&R stopped actively looking or the people who are in charge of this genre don’t have the ears to identify the good stuff.
When the question is asked “Is rock dead?” I think what people are asking is why aren’t new rock acts riding the charts like they were in the 1960’s to the 2000’s?
If that is the question, here is the answer:
In the past 10 years, something shifted at the major labels. Even though groups like Creed and NIckelback had enormous success as late as the 90’s and 2000’s, there seemed to be a move away from mainstream rock. What arguably took its place was the rise of mostly hard rock and metal primarily from the independent labels. Those branches of rock by and large don’t have the mass appeal of mainstream rock and the harder brand doesn’t resonate at commercial radio like mainstream rock.
When the charts began to reflect the dominance of other genres, whether it be pop, hip-hop, etc., the question about the demise of rock began to circulate.
Gene Simmons, of Kiss, declared rock as being dead in 2014. Simmons’ reason, he said, had to do with streaming. I don’t doubt that streaming has thrown cold water on potential sales, but, again, there was no mention by Simmons about the lack of effort in finding new talent and whether songs played a role.
Bob Lefsetz, who was quoted in the Digital Music News article, sounded a little more optimistic than Simmons, saying that rock “…will never die, but it won’t bloom again either.” Based on this statement, the question that comes to mind is, how does he know that, especially based on the multiple cycles of rock over the years? I can’t speak for Mr. Lefsetz, but I have spent decades in A&R and publishing, listening to unsigned acts, solicited and unsolicited, and I can say with complete confidence that rock – and I mean mainstream commercial radio rock – will rise again simply based on its past success and its dominant influence on other genres.
Eventually, the article touches upon the topic of songs and this is where the lead is buried. Sat Bisla acknowledges that it is about the songs (that’s what I’ve been saying all along), but it ends there (I’ll get back to the topic of songs in a moment). It would have been refreshing if Bisla extrapolated on that. Instead, the article goes on to quote Bisla as saying that in order for rock to bounce back, “…we need that moment in time where a band comes along that can really speak to this generation…” and from where I’m standing, it’s quite possible that that band is playing backyards and bars somewhere in a small town and trying to get noticed. All A&R has to do is look for it.
Even if music consumers are waiting for a band to speak to them, I have found that there is a sector of listeners who like rock and want more of it. If you speak with young people, such as in the Midwest and the South, especially white males, many will tell you that they like rock and want more. Some mention that they are fans of Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, partly because there isn’t a current equivalent for them to support. Back when I was campaigning for Roadrunner Records to sign Nickelback, one of the ways I illustrated my support for the group was to tell Ron Burman (who ultimately signed the band) that, “white guys with bi-level haircuts driving F-150s are going to love Nickelback.” As predicted, they did and still do (but maybe without the bi-level haircuts). So, today there’s a demographic that is being ignored. A perfect opportunity for A&R to fill the void.
Going back to the topic of songs, I find it most troubling that when it comes to the question of “Is rock dead?“, the issue or why records don’t sell like they used to, the song element rarely gets mentioned. It’s like trying to figure out why a restaurant that had a great location, great customer service and reasonable prices didn’t succeed. (Hint: maybe it was the food.) The song is the centerpiece of a musical artist’s career. No songs, no success. And I think that when the element of songs gets more attention in discussions such as these, I think the other excuses will begin to move to the back row.
Everyone has their opinion, their take on the matter, their perspective, but speaking for myself, I’ve lived it and have had success at it, and the formula that works for me is: Know what’s good and keep looking. Believe it or not, there are hit rock acts that you’ve never heard of that have mass appeal and are ready to be signed – and will do enormously well. Now. With all that in mind, the question of “Is Rock Dead?” will remain.