(Editor's Note: SonicNet Music News has four correspondents covering this week's CMJ Music Marathon, MusicFest and FilmFest in New York City. This 18th edition of the College Music Journal-sponsored conference -- the largest annual gathering of music-industry professionals, enthusiasts, musicians and film buffs in North America -- kicked off Wednesday and will run through Nov. 7. Slated to include film screenings, performances by more than 1,000 bands and 50-plus panels on various topics, the event is expected to draw thousands of attendees. The conference tradition of showcasing up-and-coming acts and exploring new musical frontiers has earned it a reputation as one of the best predictors of what's to come in music, evidenced by such past CMJ "unknowns" as Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Marilyn Manson. CMJ's opening-night party Wednesday showcased top turntablists and electronica acts as a tribute to the growing influence of DJ culture.)
Contributing Editor Dakota Smith reports:
NEW YORK -- Greg Graffin of punk stalwarts Bad Religion stood on the
stage of the New York City Hudson Theatre delivering a speech Friday that
made a correlation between pop star Alanis Morissette and -- get this -- a
"It's not a random chance that we have Alanis Morissette," singer/guitarist
Graffin said. "She didn't evolve out of a null and void. She came from a
former template," said Graffin, using the analogy of how animal species
"She borrowed styles and sounds from a very limited set of other artists."
The keynote speaker for the 18th annual CMJ Music Festival, Graffin was
drawing a parallel between biological evolution and music
evolution, as part of his speech Thursday afternoon before 300 or so
college students. Graffin, whose 20-minute speech dealt with the responsibility
of the music industry --
which includes labels, radio stations and retail stores -- in advancing the
state of music, called the subject of his speech a "very serious" topic.
Certainly no stranger to modern music, Graffin and his pop-punk group Bad
Religion joined such contemporary rockers as Rancid, NOFX and such veterans
as Mike Watt on this summer's Warped Tour. Bad Religion released their 13th
album, No Substance, in April.
Dressed casually in jeans and a corduroy blue sportcoat, Graffin made the
point that just as monkeys evolved from other earlier life forms, Canadian
pop superstar Morissette's music style evolved from the styles and sounds
of past bands.
But with the reference to Morissette, Graffin warned that the music
industry was in danger of only producing bland, repetitive bands. And this,
stated Graffin, was detrimental to the state of "music evolution."
Graffin warned that, as certain diverse animal species are in danger of
becoming extinct, the same can be said for certain unique,
original-sounding bands. Uncultivated bands will become extinct, said
Graffin, unless labels are willing to sign and support these diverse bands.
doesn't happen, added Graffin, acts such as Alanis Morissette will continue
to spawn future same-sounding bands, and on and on.
Graffin blamed the music labels for pushing "mediocre" groups such as the
multi-platinum-selling Matchbox 20, which, according to Graffin, lower the
standard of what is considered quality music.
"Lead singers are sounding identical to other singers on other labels,"
Graffin said, explaining that labels are rushing out carbon-copy bands to
compete with one another and ultimately offering listeners limited choices.
Claiming that Epic Records pushed Pearl Jam which in effect spawned BMG's
Creed, and that Atlantic's signing Little Kim has some correlation to Def
Jam's bringing on female rapper Foxy Brown, Graffin demonstrated that there
is an over-saturation of the same styles. In addition, Graffin pointed out
that producers employ the same styles, perpetuating the similarities
between songs and, thus, music as a whole.
"The question in the music industry is the same as the biggest question in
modern biology: How do we maintain diversity?" Graffin said. "If the
music industry doesn't cultivate a diverse array of artists today, it will
extinguish the possibility of a future musical revolution."
Graffin contended that it is possible to predict with some degree of
accuracy what the next stage of the music evolution will sound like, based
on what kinds of bands are being promoted today. He reiterated that the
future was going to look bleak unless things changed now.
"In order to maintain diversity, we need label executives who are willing
to stick their necks out and say this is good music, and this is poor
quality, this has integrity and this is a blatant rip off, " Graffin said.
"Artists need to be told when they sound like someone else, it helps them
recognize what is and isn't unique about their performance. In short, it
helps them develop....
"Bad Religion took a long time to develop into gold-record-status artists,
along the way we learned and applied our knowledge and Atlantic helped us
every step of the way, since 1993. And although we are still in a unique
situation, I think we proved that real development can occur in the
industry without sacrificing our sense of integrity."
At the end of the speech, Graffin took questions from the audience. Luke
O'Neil, station manager at WCHC (88.1) of Holy Cross College in Worcester,
Mass., questioned Graffin's stance that there isn't a need for
"Isn't there a need for the Spice Girls of the world?" O' Neil asked.
"Everyone can't be pushing the artistic envelope."
"I wouldn't say there's a need for the Spice Girls," Graffin said,
prompting laughter from the audience, "But I'd say there's a place for the
Spice Girls. There's certainly a place for them, but you don't promote the
Spice Girls at the expense of promoting what I think are good role models
for girls. You need to create some kind of equality. You can't take up all
the music bins at a CD retail outlet with Spice Girls CDs and leave nothing
for the Joan Jett catalogue."
Following Graffin's address, 20-year-old Merin Seifer, who attends
Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla, sounded a bit wary of some
of Graffin's points.
"I think he was taking away the responsibility that music buyers have for
them to find the really good stuff," Seifer said. "Just because every
major label is offering stuff, buyers can go find the quality stuff they
want to hear, rather than having it handed to them on a plate -- that's the
fun part of it, going out and finding the stuff you want."
Still, he added, Graffin's intentions are admirable.
"I think [Graffin] is really intelligent," Seifer added. "He's one of the
only people who's dedicated to getting his message across in music, and so
I have great respect for that."
While his speech drew some negative response, it drew much warm applause
as well, and as groups of college kids filed out of the theater, lively
conversations could be heard through the crowd.