Short rant on the unhelpful use of superlatives when describing music

This is a short rant about one of my pet hates which I started to notice during the invasion of music talent shows, is where music and artists are described as “awesome” “amazing” and in other superlative terms. I appreciate that many promoters, PR agencies and artists want to write copy to get attention, but the overuse of superlatives in my view is self defeating as it ultimately kills any sensible critical evaluation. Terms like “awesome” “genius” brilliant” “ground breaking” should in my view be reserved for the very best of the best and not trotted out without any real consideration.

One of the main culprits are “talent shows” Talent show judges often would feedback to aspiring artists after a 90 second performance comments like “you are a real star” and “that was awesome” Yes, its probably well meaning and encouraging, but I would respectfully suggest that these are well meaning optimistic statements at best. Such shows are mostly about packaging an artist to a specific image and sonic template and unfortunately in my opinion this makes for never endling bland production line music that all sounds very similar to my ears.

I should at this point declare that in my non musical persona I teach communication skills internationally in Asia, USA and Europe so that background will make me far more aware of these patterns than the average person. One of the problems I have with the excessive overuse of superlatives is that they make everything very black and white or as we say in the communication world create “digital thinking” where we are left with adjectives that only express thinking in extreme terms.

Superlatives on social media and ad copy

Social media is full of superlatives where posters get carried away in their praise and lose any kind of objectivity in how they are describing what they hear and see. Lazy advertising copy also tends to default to the overuse of superlatives and ultimately this is in my view not a great strategy if you want to engage and maintain customer interest.

At this point you may respond “Don’t be so negative, you miserable git!’ but my central point is that the over use of superlatives means that all descriptions become essentially meaningless and lazy writing when everything is “awesome” and “brilliant”

Its like describing all food as Michelin star level cuisine, and makes any critical evaluation totally meaningless.

I totally admit that this is a personal view and the trend is likely to continue and probably get much worse in future times as more people scrabble to become stars, especially with the absence of live opportunities in the last 12 months.

Downturn in music sales = more hyped marketing copy?

I have been aware for a while that the music industry is in decline, but even I was surprised by this recent news

This week’s No1 album is set to be one of the lowest-selling ever, with Mogwai’s As The Love Continues expected to top the chart with sales of just 7,379.

Two decades ago, sales would often top 100,000.

Meanwhile last week’s No1, Slow-Thai’s Tyron, has tumbled to No22, behind greatest hits records from Sir Elton John and Fleetwood Mac.

Chart figures are based on sales from physical formats including vinyl and CD, plus downloads and streams.

This week’s Top 40 albums combined have sold just 11 per cent of what Adele’s last album, 25, managed during just its first week in 2015.

Even new artists like Celeste — winner of the Rising Star award at last year’s Brits, who had millions put behind her debut album Not Your Muse — have achieved underwhelming sales.

Full article here

In my view this trend is part of the reason for more hyped ad copy which inevitably means the increased use of superlatives in marketing. Another set of culprit are many music colleges also are complicit in selling “the musical dream” where artists don’t get the best advice and are given quite delusional expectations about what is possible in “the music business” Yes, its useful to encourage artists, but the over use of superlatives actually kills creative aspirations as once you start to believe you are “brilliant” or “a genius” there really is nowhere else to go.

Some music examples (in my biased opinion) that actually are “brilliant”

I would decribe the following artists and albums as “awesome” but then what do I know, I’m a ranting old blogger and music lover that laments the lack of great songrwiting where songs were usually written by one or two people, not a team of writers seeking to fulfill the record company’s sonic brief for Spotify positioning

Albums that I would describe as “brilliant”

Tapestry by Carol King – a superb pop album brilliantly written

Sign of the times by Prince – hugely diverse album bursting with creativity

Remain in Light by The Talking Heads – great work by the band with Eno, terrific african grooves

Hoodoo man blues by Junior Wells – 60s album brilliantly played and recorded, stripped down superb songs

Miss America by Mary Margaret O Hara – great album of unpredictable provocative songs, one album and she disappeared

Blood on the tracks by Bob Dylan – superb well written songs after a break up

Of course these are just my opinion, everyone will have their own preferences

Final thoughts

Many people will think ‘So what, its all subjective anyway!” but when we engage in the excessive use of superlatives, we run the risk of dumbing down how we evaluate music. I’ve know promoters who endlessley use the term “awesome” in almost every conversational exchange. In my world few artists, songs or experiences “fill me with awe” and I think that’s only a good thing. Many will of course disagree and I leave it up to you as to whether you find this article “awesome” “life changing” or just plain “old guy ranting” All such views are fine by me as we all collectively learn and develop skills through critical evaluation and discussion.

“These are my thoughts, if you don’t like them, I have others” (apologies to Groucho)

Social Media for Music – The Good, Bad and Bat Shit Crazy

Whether we like it or not in my view social media is here to stay, but its definitely a two edged sword, some thoughts here…

The Good

Social media has many positives. It allows a global connection and opportunity for interactions that were never previously possible. Niche interests can benefit massively from this medium. I can think of a number of FB groups that are terrific for useful advice and exchanges, which genuine enthusiasts can share advice and experience in a way that was never previously possible.

For musicians platforms like YouTube are a great free way to connect to the wider world. Similarly FB and Instagram have become standard for most artists and recently when I hired a promotional company, one of the stipulations was to open an Instagram account and in a few weeks that account already has a substantial number of “followers” .

Social media can be great for getting recommendations where again the ability to share information is extremely useful. Such platforms are also useful in selling some products, especially where there is niche interest. The main positive in my view is providing a connectivity to a much wider audience, which can be time consuming, but in some instances can really pay off.

There are increasing new niche music platforms appearing and it will be interesting to see who stands the test of time and I don’t envy anyone building a platform! Of course building a platform that will have longevity is a tough call.

The Bad

Like any communication medium, there are pros and cons. Some of the negatives for social media platforms include individuals flooding a platform with their own well intentioned ideas and/or material. This can create a noise level can then be so great that its a massive turn off for anyone else. Another negative is that many questions are (and I’m being polite here) supremely daft and ill thought through as they are so generalized that its impossible to give any useful answer BUT there can be endless threads of people posting in these situations.

Here are some typical examples

“What’s the best DAW for me to use?”

“What’s the best way to make it in the music industry?”

“What’s the best plugin for producing rock music”

These types of questions appear everyday online and are impossible to answer as they are way too vague. What does the person require of the DAW as a tool? When somebody says “make it in the music industry, what exactly do they mean by that?” Many artists imagine signing with a record company means “making it” without realising that the “music business” like any other business is a two way trade. The investor will understandably want a return on their investment. Regarding plugins its again context specific, so unless a person gives an indication of the context, then its another impossible question to answer.

Another negative is that some folks can be down right abusive online and these in my experience are often obsessed with status and “being right” This makes the social media space pretty uninviting and people usually vote with their feet.

The Bat Shit Crazy…

There’s a whole level of bat shit crazy that can happen online. Some of the posting is so delusional and emotionally fueled, I literally have not words, but I’ll do my best here to find some.

Often social media platforms can grow at such a rate that it becomes like the wild west in terms of interactions and some characters can spend all waking hours online so that becomes their world. Everything gets exaggerated and this can result in some very polarized and extreme comments, that would probably never be made in real life. The other problem with accelerated growth (especially without any moderation) is that platforms can technically technically become unstable and that leads to a massive downturn in interactions.

There was a good observation in The Guardian on artist use of social media with the following comment

“I think social media has to be looked at by artists in two different ways: first, as a way they can reach their fans directly, and second – just as important – as a means that a lot of the media use to write stories,” says one PR, who wishes to remain anonymous. “Ultimately, if an artist still does have an outburst, no strategy can really be applied without their involvement.”

As a longstanding successful artist friend of mine once commented – “If you want to see true crazy, just log onto social media for a few minutes where everyone has an opinion about how folks SHOULD BEHAVE”

Social media platforms can polarize opinion often in a very odd way. On one extreme there can be endless adoration with comments like “I LOVE PLATFORM X!” and on the other extreme you get “FACEBOOK SUCKS!” usually posted by people who spend their whole waking life posting there. If you want to see “bat shit crazy” human behaviour, just spend some time on social media…

Final Thoughts

Social media for music platforms are a blessing and a curse. Personally I’m increasingly limiting my time and evaluating the benefits of any involvement. The social media “customers: are those financially supporting the platform. The “Users” are those who use the services although they often mean about how the platform “should work!”

I’m a fan of respectful discussion and debate and the best social media platforms are places where that happens. I have met some terrific people via social media but have also seen some crazy behavior. I guess that’s planet earth for you.

Hats off to anyone who decides to create a social media platform, it can be a thankless task where people will either love or hate what you are doing. The platforms that last will IMO have good financial support, good moderation (FB and some others have a massive problem with this that is creating a loss of customers) good business strategy (its all very well to proclaim being against standard business sense, but some owners are a bit naive and that will IMO cost them financially and in terms of customer retention) and an ability to attract customers and maintain a high quality of interactions. I predict more niche social media in future times and whether we like it or not social media in music and other areas of life is here to stay.

Welcome to planet crazy – social media & online behaviours

Let me start by saying that social media platforms, blogs and forums are in my view here to stay and are a terrific way to connect on  a global basis. There’s a great deal of positives in various online and social media behaviours, but like any medium of communication it can be used and abused in all manner of ways.  In my other life I work with resolving problematic client behaviours, so whether I like it or not I generally have a radar for such matters and here are a few thoughts. Some of the stuff online is so crazy that you really couldn’t make it up!

The amplification & distortion factor 

Social media platforms and online forums often create a very distorted world for many people.  Individuals can behave in very odd and ill advised ways which they would never do in real life situations. These platforms create a global reach for individuals and businesses in a way nobody could have dreamed of in past times, BUT this comes at a price. This year Facebook officially hit 2 billion users, almost a 17% increase from 2016 and making it the world’s most popular social networking site. Many people are literally addicted to FB and live in the FB world with endless posting. Its also increasingly acknowledged that many people get their “news” via social media and other online forums which also often creates a very distorted picture of what is going on in the world. 

The disassociated nature of social media platforms means  people can often blast out unfiltered thoughts that can result in all manner of negative  personal and business implications . In extreme cases individuals can find themselves in libelous situations and often  its possible to even destroy a business brand simply by not thinking before posting online. 

Social Media Backlash

Business owners, promoters and artists can engage in using social media to create all manner of distorted impressions often suggesting “big is best” and a level of exclusivity that is mostly manufactured by careful online manipulations. Sometimes companies can spent substantial amounts of money on adverts that can receive a massive backlash on social media.

Social media and other online discussion platforms create instant feedback opportunities and these can result in  a domino effect that just escalates and escalates, especially if there is a lot of negative feedback. A recent example is a new travel company advert which was a big budget production, but  generated a huge amount of negative press on social media, blogs and on forums. I feel sorry for the singer who now is forever negatively described on Google   This is a bit unfair as I know that singer has done far better work and this very short clip is not a true representation of her skills. Even worse many attributed the actress in the clip as being the singer, so her reputation similarly received a lot of negativity. This is another example of online perceptual distortions, which are increasingly common these days.

The acclaimed restaurant that didn’t exist 

Increasingly people look to review sites in making purchasing choices. Once again this can be used to great effect BUT also can create  a very distorted picture of reality and often people believe 100% of what they read online…

Recently a freelance writer created a restaurant in London which became one of the most highly rated restaurants in London with stunning reviews in TripAdvisor. It was talked about endlessly on social media. There was one small problem – IT DIDN’T EXIST IN REAL LIFE

According to The Washington Post

“He listed its location as the street he lived on with no address, calling it an “appointment-only restaurant,” to make himself less vulnerable to fact-checkers and would-be customers.

Exclusivity? Check.

And then, Butler writes, the first miraculous thing happened: It was approved by TripAdvisor to be listed in May. The restaurant started out as the 18,149th ranked restaurant in the city: dead last.

So he began having family and friends flood the site with fake but real-seeming reviews.

“Spent a weekend in London and heard through the grapevine that this place is a must-visit,” one chimed in. “After a few mildly frustrating phone calls I was in.”

Some reviewers included some vaguely unsavory details seemingly meant to enhance their credibility: one wrote about being offered a blanket with a stain, but still gave the restaurant five stars. Out of the 104 reviews left on the site by early December, more than 100 were for five stars, its top rating. The remainder? Four stars.”

See below

Grand announcements for imminent departures

Many people who spend significant times on social media can begin to attribute a quite ludicrous sense of importance to such platforms. FB in particular ban become their whole world and this again creates all manner of status and attention seeking. 

One of the funniest comments I have seen in recent times online was when someone suggsted

“This is not like an airport, you don’t need to announce any departures…”

This usually results in grand announcements of imminent departures, often I suspect hoping for mass calls of “PLEASE STAY!” This kind of behaviour of course assumes an extraordinary level of self importance. This is classic attention/status seeking behavior and in many cases such individuals can’t stay away for long as their sense of importance comes from their online participation usually on a daily basis. There seems to be a compulsion to announce all thinking without any kinds of filters.

Examples of this social media behaviour include

“I’m thinking of withdrawing from posting on this thread” (while posting this comment and adding to the thread content)

“I’m sickened by reading some of the posts here each day” (while continuing to read EVERY SINGLE post and pm others about them)

Of course simply not commenting or announcing one’s “thoughts” means that you don’t remain the center of attention…

Often even if such individuals they don’t have any actual “news”, they will post comments like

“I’m thinking positive thoughts” 

This maintain ongoing commentary and ensures that the poster remains in the spotlight for discussions. Its another sign of social media hyperactivity. 

 

Blocking on social media? 

Nick CodySometimes to preserve your own sanity with the craziness online its a very good idea to firewall or block those characters that endless contribute to the noise level. I am a fan of fire walling or blocking against such characters which makes social media a far more pleasant experience. Let me be clear I’m happy to debate with others with strong and different experience, but some people can’t manage basic good manners. I have absolutely no problem with people expressing opinions (although the above statement makes no sense on any level) but I don’t really have the inclination or disposable time to engage with such folks.

The strangest and funniest comment was from one character in recent times was – 

“NICK CODY – CHILL YOUR FUCKING BOOTS”

I’ve commented on this before as its more than a bit odd to say the least, especially as he is described as “a social media manager”  It will however appear as a lyric in a song at some point, so at least the exchange had some use! 

 

Keep your sense of humor and sanity

Social media is here to stay. The good news is that you can now literally connect with people all across the world. The bad news is that you can now connect with people all across the world. Personally I always welcome good debate and respect people who stick to their views even if I disagree. I have always found that a good sense of humor demonstrates good emotional intelligence and people who take themselves way too seriously tend to be too full of their own sense of self importance. 

I have met some terrific people online who are now friends in real life. Ultimately of course social media is simply a medium for communication. It can be used to great effect as well as being totally crazy and quite destructive. There’s no requirement to reply to questions online or feel “driven to comment” on other’s views. 

Conclusion

Social media platforms can be massively inspirational and useful. With the OUS platform we have over 3000 members and on the main OUS page (www.originalukulelesongs.com) there are 115 artists with their own individual pages. All those artists came from social media. In my view the key to useful interactions is ensuring there are respectful discussions and good manners. Also its useful to define the purpose of any group, so conversations are on topic. We can agree to disagree but nobody is trying to dictate to everyone else about how they should think and behave!

Finally to paraphrase Groucho Marx –

“These are my opinions. If you don’t like them, I have others”