‘Folk music is aimed at old people’ - Part 2

(October 07, 2013)

‘Folk music is aimed at old people’ … and I thought that view was steadily vanishing. How wrong can you be? Only last Saturday night it came up once again. This time the view was put forward by someone around 30-something, not old by any means but no longer a youth, and yet his views were as fixed as the North Star. I suggested that folk music is aimed at an appreciative audience no matter how young or old. I put forward that folk music probably has more young performers joining its ranks than at any other time before. I also pointed out that recent festivals I’ve attended enjoyed a vast spread age range. No matter, his opinion remained unchanged - folk music is aimed at old people.

Giving the matter some thought I suggested the reason for his view may be that maybe he did not like and had little interest in folk music, therefore its target audience was somewhat off his radar, much like my own appreciation of pop music. The answer took me by surprise. ‘No, if folk was aimed at young people it would be marketed at young people. Look at people like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber their music is aimed at young people and marketed accordingly.’

Telling people what they want

Now I freely admit to limited knowledge of Miley Cyrus. Actually, I’d never heard of her until she hit the news because she had upset the legions of ‘light and joy’ by wearing not much, sticking out her tongue and rubbing her bum around some bloke’s crotch. And again, my knowledge of Bieber’s music is nil. He was unknown to me until he was involved in some scrap with a photographer and turning up hours late for a gig. Neither of them registered on my musical radar until the national news covered their antics, and I still have no idea what they sound like.

So, taking the premise that music is actively marketed to a certain group it’s fair to assume that it is aimed at them, and they appreciate it for what it is. However, the world of marketing appears more focused on ‘manufacturing’ trendy young things to market them to equally trendy young things. Does that mean the paradigm changes - music is aimed at a group because it’s marketed to them? The group would not appreciate the music without the marketing? I grew up with both types. Music that I and my friends appreciated appeared not to be ‘marketed’ at all (just broadcast by Stewart Henry et al) and so-called pop was marketed through all available channels.

Popular or rammed down the throat?

It seems to me that popular music has always marketed its artists. There was a time when all one needed to become a ‘marketed commodity’ were good looks and an invented name. The quality of the music could be a questionable as you like. The ‘stars’ were ‘manufactured’ to sell to the target market or to create a target market the record companies could sell to. All the while, around them music from excellent artists still flourished but of its own accord in an organic rather than manufactured way. Musicians wrote good music, built a following and gained presence, yet they remained apart from much of the marketing explosion. Today, there is still ‘marketed’ music aimed at pre-pubescent males and females. The passing years it seems have changed not much … see those mentioned above, plus dozens of others but be quick because they won’t last long.

And if the cult of youth-orientated marketing forgets the possibly that thousands of non-youths (heard that one on an American radio show and looked forward to using it) actually like the stuff that Cyrus or Bieber turn out, do they care? Not at all – non-youths, don’t fit their marketing profile. There you go spoken like a true non-youth. Oh sod it. Call me old for that’s what I am. Anyway, onward while I can still hold a thought in my old brain.

Finding yourself in the niche

Music that falls outside of the perennial wave of media hype and corporate marketing could well be called ‘niche music’ for that is what it is. The individual niches may be large (ish) moderate or infinitesimally small but they persist. Folk music along with other genres of niche music is not ‘marketed’ in that flashy aggressive way because the masses don’t respond. And because there a limited opportunities for corporate cash. The niches do not respond to fashion, style and celebrity. And although folk may have its celebrities, in the cosmic scheme of marketing they are about as relevant to today’s interpretation of celebrity and stardom as the trees in my garden.

However, folk and other niche music does have an advantage. It’s called longevity. Sure, pop music has been around since the invention of teenagers but how many of its skyrockets do nothing more than blaze across the sky in a trail of light and excitement only to last a few seconds? The vast majority. Trends change, fashion moves on, the fickle celebrity veil evaporates and they’re gone.  If I look back to those ‘marketed’ stars of my young days few remain. Yet many of their less mass-appeal focused cousins continue to flourish, albeit still below the radar.

I could not convince my antagonist that folk music is not aimed at old people. Neither would he accept that a large proportion of what is defined as ‘popular’ is ‘manufactured’ music with the power of the image far exceeding that of the music. He argued that corporate contamination comes from the music being popular not because corporate marketing created the music and the artist in the first place. However, I maintain that there remains niche music that has an appeal that transcends celebrity and image. Its appeal is built on the calibre and quality of the music it produces. And if it takes a certain frame of mind – call it old if you will or perhaps traditional - to appreciate it then that’s where the debate turns full circle.

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