These days, we’re obsessed with being “Liked.” Has it always been that way?
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There was a term that was created soon after the start of the children’s television show “Sesame Street” back in the late 60s-early 70s: the “Sesame Street mentality.” That term was used to describe the fact that children had short attention spans, and wanted and needed things to change very quickly.
The term “Sesame Street mentality” was a somewhat derogatory phrase. In fact, Sesame Street, the show, got the credit (shall we say blame?) for changing children in such a way that they no longer could watch or otherwise engage with something for more than 30 seconds. The Sesame Street mentality meant that information had to be doled out in 30-seconds-long chunks, or even shorter.
Of course, the Sesame Street mentality is mostly a myth. The makers of the show simply realized that children have always been that way: they learn best when activities are mentally stimulating, delivered quickly in short chunks of time. It’s DNA, not Sesame Street, that determines how children learn best. It’s simply that the makers of Sesame Street knew that fact, that children need things to change quickly.
There is another phenomenon that we blame on everything but our DNA: the “Like” button. Whether we’re posting something to a blog, to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or any other online service, it seems to be all about the “like” button. The phrase “Like us on Facebook” is one of the most ubiquitous online expressions of our time.
An online friend drew my attention recently to the article “Go Your Own Way”, in April’s “Sound On Sound” magazine, written by Editor In Chief Paul White. He makes a simple but very accurate observation: that in this day and age of technical excellence in the music industry, it’s possible to make your own recordings, to do so excellently, and to distribute them yourself without the need for a publisher, distributor or record company.
But though that may be true, up and coming artists are largely still producing the kind of music they think the listening public want to hear. The ability to craft you own music your own way and then distribute it with relative ease (compared to pre-internet days) isn’t necessarily resulting in more creative pop music.
In short, it’s all about the “Like” button. Many, in fact, are obsessed with it. Imagine if Bob Dylan had been subjected to the power of the “Like” button to raise up or tear down someone’s career. A “Like” button in the days of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Frank Zappa, when you consider how quickly music evolved from the mostly-fluffy 50s to the angst-ridden 60s, might have changed the course of music, and definitely not for the good.
But the thing is, we’ve always been fixated on being liked. Even before there was such thing as a “Like” button, we wanted to be loved. But in pre-internet days, you could make your slow and steady climb up without being confronted with the daily thumbs-up/thumbs-down tally. You could create imaginative music without worrying about who didn’t like your music. You’d be content to build your following slowly. The “Like” button has changed that forever.
Which leads me to offer an unofficial challenge: Can you release a song online, and not worry in the slightest about how many “Likes” it doesn’t get? Going in a new direction almost always means leaving others in the dust, and it’s not usually comfortable for an artist. Innovation usually means starting with more dislikes than likes. Can you do that?
Personally, I never click “Like” buttons when listening to music online, and I never click a “Thumbs up” or “Thumbs down” button either. I’m very opinionated about the music I like, but not so arrogant that I think my opinion should be permitted to sway others before they even get a chance to listen for themselves.
It is going to take courageous and innovative singer-songwriters to have the stamina and confidence to ignore the tally of likes and dislikes. But I encourage it. It’s time to take your music back from the worst that technology as to offer: our obsession with the “Like” button.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)