As we start a new year it's probably worth taking a little stock of where rock music is perceived as being, at present. For the last couple of years there's been plenty of people (musicians, label types and general commentators) nodding sagely and saying rock is beginning its climb back into the proper mainstream. People are saying that even more loudly right now, but is there any concrete evidence to back it up?
I think for sure the active audience for rock is growing. More people clearly want to hear it. But, does it really make any difference if the major labels are deciding they don't want to provide it and limiting what is available.
For some time I've been bemoaning the short-term attitudes so many of the labels are taking. However, I'm beginning to think that it's not really all their fault and they are currently more of a product of the whole business environment. Some people might still disagree, but for rock music to make a wholesale comeback, it has to reach the mainstream in the United States in some fashion or to some degree.
The problem that manifests itself in short-term record label signing policies could be more related to the bizarre tact of almost all US businesses at the moment and the rather weird image American society is trying to present of itself to the outside world. I don't think it's too harsh a truth to expose, but American business right now is about doing a great sales job, not about having a real product. All the dot com and technology stock hype proves this, all it's doing is trying to get people to buy into a vision (no matter how improbable!) to get them to part with their money, rather than actually standing up and saying "I've got this great product the world needs right now". All the record label mergers and jockeying for internet positioning shows they've been suckered into the same mess! Investment types might not like to admit it but what you have here is a glorified form of gambling!
That would be fine and dandy if investors want to leave their money in something to make a long-term packet. Unfortunately, investors are by their very nature only interesting in the short-term. A year is an eternity to them, they want their original money back in several multiples in just a few months. In a record label context this means they have to find means to convince people that the next merger deal they do is going to mean a windfall for investors, yet shareholder short-term attention spans also means they still have to find a way to try and make decent profits every quarter, otherwise the investors will leave. The net result is they're looking for deals to do, yet not taking any risks at all with what is their daily business: making new music!
Combine that with the presented general insipidness of contemporary American society and you have a music industry that will continue to shoot itself through the foot while presenting virginal artists like Britney Spears as shining examples of the American way of life!