Bates shouts, "Hey, you took my spot!" and one of the girls answers, "We’re younger. We’re faster."
Whereupon Bates rams their car and replies, "I’m older. I have more insurance."
Physical comedy aside, it’s analogous to a point that eludes the entertainment empire. Their magic demographic for maximum advertising dollars is the 18-24 age group. Whatever you’re selling, design a message to appeal to that group, and your ad is worth more money.
Somewhere, entertainment moguls decided their target demographic likes only "urban pop." Thus, we get that generic, ubiquitous, relentlessly annoying sh-thump-thud soundtrack. We get it behind, or atop, everything, including ads for senior citizen prescription plans and historical documentaries where the ambiance for the period depicted is destroyed. Thudding advertising promotes everything, even products 18-to-24-year-olds do not want or could not afford.
Does anyone believe squishy-drum-pad, generic-groove-driven thuds appeal to all, that it’s a lowest common denominator? To entertainment moguls, that question is irrelevant: they already determined they care only about one demographic, and they decided, on behalf of that demographic, that they know what it wants.
Except it’s all based on faulty, even arrogant, assumptions. And there’s plenty of evidence for this conclusion, including contradictions within popular entertainment.
If 18-24-year-olds have all the buying power and they can’t function without an incessant stream of urban groove thumping, then explain the following:
The closing of Tower Records, as the last big nationwide record chain. Mass marketing of a single-paradigm product to a single-paradigm market should be easy and profitable, shouldn’t it?
The explosive growth of the indie music movement, where every conceivable musical genre is represented, and literally every song that’s available for download on iTunes and its competitors, sells.
The popularity of "fourth network" youth-oriented TV shows that continue, after more than a decade, to showcase singer-songwriters performing acoustic originals. These include current or recent series like The Gilmore Girls where local acoustic singer-songwriter Amy Kuney has a recurring role, and One Tree Hill, Everwood, Dawson’s Creek, and more.
The mainstream network TV shows that feature indie acoustic music, like Crossing Jordan, ER, and the youth-oriented CBS Late, Late Show, which L.A. singer-songwriter Julie Gribble has done twice, playing acoustic originals.
Meanwhile, American Idol continues as a shill for the big record labels and their penchant for purveying more of the sound-alike same, all thumping pop cover tunes with incongruous vocal gymnastics. It gets ratings from karaoke wannabe viewers, yet the industry’s best efforts to homogenize consumer desire couldn’t save the record store chains.
Conflicting forces are at work in television, and that industry doesn’t know it. Good directors want songs with lyrical substance to support their story lines or create emotional context. Advertisers and the crop of 20-somethings who call the shots are oblivious to anything outside their singular target demographic. They’re on autopilot, and everything they do, programming and advertising alike, has that same generic sh-thump-thud urban-pop groove.
If we are as spied-upon as we think in the post-9-11 world, then why hasn’t this changed? After all, everything is about effective marketing, sending us like lemmings to buy their soap and want their outsourced, poor-quality, made-in-China-by-political-prisoners products.
Folkies of all ages have always been dismissed as just-so-many splintered niche groups, not worth the marketing dollars. With today’s Acoustic Renaissance reminiscent of the Folk Revival of the 1960s, it’s time to challenge the notion that we don’t count.
Back to Kathy Bates, and her character’s point: people over 25 have more insurance because they have more money. But it’s argued that people over 25 get out less because of kids at home, or they work overtime to afford outrageous mortgages, and that’s why films, for example, are geared to the 18-to-24-year-old demographic, explosions and urban thudding included. Strange that the same 18-to-24-year-olds watch all those youth-oriented TV shows with the indie acoustic music, no thudding, no explosions.
My impromptu, informal, non-scientific survey indicated people use their TV mute buttons quite selectively. Few seem to routinely silence all commercials, yet everyone is likely to mute anything that’s annoying, like the headache remedy ads that cause headaches, and anything with incessant thudding. Who, then, is getting the thudding advertising?
That pillar of TV, the TV Guide channel, has schedules for all the channels, but can’t be muted fast enough. It’s not just the insipid celebrity gossip and cocky attitude; it’s infested with sh-thump-thud, or in their case, thud-thud-thud, 24/7.
If people over 25 stay home more, aren’t they watching a lot of TV? – the ones muting all that pounding, thudding urban pop groove? – the ones channel surfing when brain surgeons or fur trappers or pioneer aviators or ancient Egyptians or Victorian lovers are thudded-out of the story’s context, it’s ability to hold attention destroyed by the pounding?
Meanwhile, where are the 18-to-24-year-olds, the universal marketing target? They’re busy downloading an astonishingly eclectic assortment of mostly-indie music, exercising their relentlessly courted buying power, ninety-nine cents at a time.
So, where’s the big spending for music? Look to Kathy Bates and the Baby Boomers. With more disposable dollars than Generations X and Y combined, Boomers have become the music industry’s new base. The over-45 crowd is now responsible for 25% of all music sales, up from 15% of the market a decade ago. Boomers now buy twice the music of any other age group.
It’s not just CD sales. Billboard magazine’s Geoff Mayfield says, "The older consumer is absolutely the force in buying MP3 players and buying digital tracks on line."
Boomers are embracing technology that’s in its infancy. NBC’s Janet Shamlian recently did some revealing interviews with Boomer music consumers. Boomer Joey Ford told her, "I got rid of all my CDs because I put all my music on my computer. Then I transferred it all to an iPod."
Concert tickets? Tickets for the latest show by Mick Jagger & the Rolling Stones went on sale at $450 apiece, and they sold out, but not to 18-to-24-year-olds. On top of that, the show was outdoors on a frosty night in Chicago.
Shamlian talked to Ann Summercamp, a 40-something soccer mom, "reliving her 20s, kicking it up at concerts," who began recounting a long list of who she’d seen in the past year, including Eric Clapton and George Thorogood. She was cut off by Shamlian, who asked, "How much have you spent on concerts in the past twelve months?"
Answer: "Probably a couple-a thousand."
Do you hear those green tomatoes frying?
Move over Britney Lopez, and the sound-alike pop thumper du jour. Last fall, Bob Dylan’s new CD debuted at #1. After that, though it makes Ross Altman cringe, Barry Manilow’s new CD hit the racks at #1. Rod Stewart is experiencing a resurgence, and Paul McCartney is as hot as ever. One of four are folkies, but none are thudding urban pop.
Will the industry catch on? In December, the return of CBS Records was announced. KTLA news observed, "They’re going to start small, signing a handful of singer-songwriters whose music is going to be used on the CW Network."
CW is the merged "fourth network" of WB and UPN, where all those youth-oriented shows use so much indie acoustic music.
CBS had sold its label to Sony in 1988 for $2 billion, because they were then pursuing a "broadcast-only strategy." CBS Records had a long, lavish history, as the home of Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra. KTLA opined, "Now, they figure, if they can get the young, hungry artists and use the platform of TV to cross-pollinate, who knows?"
Who knows, indeed. Will it be a new start, signing the indie acoustic artists who built a following on those CW-predecessor shows? Or will they infest the CW with generic thudding urban pop that even the targeted youthful viewers have already rejected? And will they program – and advertise – for the non-thud music consumers who already spend the most money on music?
Larry Wines is producer and host of an acoustic Americana radio show in Los Angeles, also called Tied to the Tracks. Offering live in-studio performers and recorded music from Maine to Mexico, New Orleans to Nova Scotia, the Rocky Mountains to the rocky coasts, Texas border squeezebox to Memphis harmonica, it’s blues to bluegrass, cowboy to Cajun to Celtic to Quebecois, new old, trad, alt and post folk, and the acoustic Renaissance, with local, national, and international roots/Americana artists. It airs Saturdays, 6-10 a.m. on KCSN 88.5 FM, simulcast at www.kcsn.org. Larry is a writer, songwriter, journalist, mountain climber, museum founder and former political pundit. He has restored steam locomotives, enjoys music festivals, good company, a good story and hearty laughter. His work has appeared "in lots of obscure places" throughout America.