CMJ Report #4: Bad Religion's Greg Graffin Warns Against Death Of Creativity

In keynote address at conference, says unless industry supports original bands, natural selection will kill the art.

(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

monkey.

"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

evolve.

"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.

If this

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

mass-appealing bands.

"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

debates and

conversations could be heard through the crowd.