I firmly believe that if The Beatles were a band of our decade trying to get a start in the business, they’d probably not have survived the onslaught of negative opinions and comments that come hand-in-hand with social media.
There’s a really interesting video you can watch of young folks in 1967 — in their late teens — reacting on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” TV show, to two newly released videos from The Beatles. The songs, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”, are, of course, classics. But these students were barely more than lukewarm in their praise.
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Take the time to see that video of Dick Clark’s interviews, and if you haven’t seen the videos of those two songs for a while, watch “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” to see what they were reacting to.
What I find most interesting about the comments is that they don’t differ much from what you’d hear today about any music. Some like it, some don’t, and it’s what you’d normally expect. If you think you’re ever going to write a song where everyone loves it, you’re living in a dreamworld.
In The Beatles’ day, these sorts of comments (“I thought it was weird”… “Reminded me of Hollywood about a hundred years ago”… “They’re as bad as The Monkees”) were easy for music acts to ignore. The public would only hear the comments once, and only if they watched the show. There was little to no chance that these kinds of off-the-cuff comments would snowball into a collective opinion.
In other words, if you were an innovative popular music act, it was easy to treat these kinds of opinions as peripheral. Sales and position on Billboard’s lists were important, and as far as negative opinions were concerned, it was easy to shrug your shoulders and keep going as long as you still had a healthy fan base..
But today? Comments that were once peripheral are now shoved forcibly in your face, such is the power of social media. And a few bad opinions can quickly snowball into an avalanche of negativity.
If Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were around in the 60s, I doubt we’d ever get to hear “I Am the Walrus” — I suspect it simply wouldn’t have been written. We’re so afraid in today’s social media world of upsetting people, because one negative opinion can quickly explode into a public relations disaster.
And I think we’re seeing the results of that in Billboard and Spotify listings these days. There are good tunes out there — innovative and powerful — but you’ll not see many of them on Billboard’s Hot 100, which seem restrained, derivative and careful.
If you’re a songwriter or music performer trying to make it today, you can try to push negative comments aside, but even if you only see them in your proverbial peripheral vision, they will still attack and massively hinder your sense of creativity. What’s a songwriter to do?
It’s easy to say “ignore online negativity”, but it’s hard to do. If you’re trying to be innovative and creative (and you should be), you’re going to have to muster a superhuman ability to ignore negativity and keep going.
If your songs are at all the kind that stray off the beaten track for what people expect in your chosen genre, I hope you keep straying! Online negativity is hard to keep out of your focus and in your periphery, especially when everyone piles on.
But the music world needs you to stay focused on what you’ve chosen to do.
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