Is Rock On Music's Endangered List?


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In the wake the recent Grammy Awards, Fred Jacobs bemoans the decline of rock music as a genre, something which has been on a steady downhill slide for years, but also carries with it the potential for a resurgence.

Guest post by Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media

Maybe the Grammys first went off the rails back in 1989, the first year they decided to honor Heavy  Metal.  Strangely, the award that year went to the flute-infused sounds of Jethro Tull.  For the Rock genre at this awards show devoted to music, it’s been going downhill ever since.

Sunday night’s show was no exception, a three-and-a-half-hour tour that continued to amaze and mystify.  Rock was virtually MIA on the show, except that musical poet/singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen posthumously snatched the Best Rock Performance award.  Even Ian Anderson is scratching his beard over that one.

And they had to be guffawing at the Rock  & Roll Hall of Fame down the road in Cleveland.  While that august group has honored Madonna, Donna Summer, and ABBA in past induction ceremonies, they’re at least an organization mostly devoted to celebrating artists who have excelled in the world of Rock.

The Grammys?  Well, in some ways, Sunday’s show was a microcosm of Rock’s weird trajectory over the past decade or so.  Like a music test for an Active Rock station where the old stuff holds up well while the new music rarely scores big, the Grammy’s followed suit.  They featured relics that included U2, Sting, and Elton John, while relegating the modern day 2000s period of Rock to undercard status.  Those awards were given out at a ceremony far away from the prime time spotlight reserved for Pop, Rap, and Country.

It’s gotten so bad that hard rockers Avenged Sevenfold announced earlier in the weekend they were boycotting the show because of its disrespect and stupidity, despite the band being up for “Best Rock Song.”A7X frontman, M. Shadows, declared the New York City event would be a “waste of time and money.”  He complained about being relegated to a “side venue” no one cares about, rather than being showcased along with the headliners.  All he missed was creating a hashtag – like #ScrewThis – that likely would have gained momentum throughout the boring evening on Twitter.

Speaking of which, you knew there was something wrong if you spent time on social media Sunday night.  Three of the savviest, most musically passionate people I know in the radio industry let their feelings be known with a pair of gritty Facebook posts.

First, the editor, publisher, and founder of The Sands Report, Richard Sands:

Not to be outdone, here’s one that rolled in earlier in the evening from the President of HITS Magazine, Karen Glauber:

And respected writer/producer/musicologist Alan Cross, who pens “A Journal of Musical Things,” took to Twitter to sum up his view of Rock’s fate at the Grammys this way:

As the Tweeter-In-Chief might have said, “Sad.”  But the Grammys were so lame that even Trump didn’t bother acknowledging the show – or its low ratings – on Twitter, despite a slew of political messages that wafted in and out of the show Sunday night.

But let’s not equate an out of touch awards show as a barometer of an entire music genre.  Sadly, however, there are other signs Rock is in the midst of a long recession, bordering on a depression.

A recent story in The LA Times by Mikael Woods features this blaring headline: “Coachella is going without a single rock headliner for the first time.” 

Obviously sharing the same consultant who advises the Grammys, Coachella’s headliners this April will be none other than Beyoncé, Eminem, and the Weeknd.  And like the Grammy awards, Coachella is loaded with Hip-Hop.  But while rockers like Tool, the Black Keys, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were main attractions in past years, the festival’s organizers are moving in a different direction – away from Rock.

Hopefully, they’ll have more luck putting butts in seats than the Grammy Awards. Sunday’s show experienced an alarming 24% ratings drop from 2017, attracting under 20 million viewers.

For the Rock genre, January’s been a tough month.  Hip-Hop/R&B passed Rock as the most popular music genre last year, according to Nielsen’s 2017 Year-End Music Report.  (Rock, however, continues to outpace Hip-Hop.)  You can download their entire report here.

What goes around apparently comes around.  Metallica – losers to Jethro Tull for Heavy Metal honors back in the ’80s – came up short again for Best Rock Song, along with the aforementioned A7X.  The Foo Fighters took top honors this year. Metallica lost out for Best Rock Album, too, as they have been their entire careers, symbolizing other bad performance for the Rock genre.

So, is Rock in trouble as a genre – or even a radio format?

Opinions are many, and mine is that despite its long slide, there will always be a desire for electric guitars, heavy drums, and a scream or two.  The success of Michigan born and bred Greta Van Fleet is a testament to the possibilities.  Ironically, they’ll be playing Coachella, and a prediction is that you’ll be reading about their performance.

The “rock is dead/rock is back” argument was well-covered in a well-written article late last year on by Steven Hyden, zeroing in on the Greta Van Fleet phenomenon, and what it may mean to rekindling the spirit of Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and Angus Young.

Of course, it would be more meaningful if Rock – like vinyl – experienced a true resurgence because of a groundswell of young teens rather than aging Boomers.  After all, that’s where true musical movements start.

A friend of mine in the industry believes that in another decade or so, small groups of us will be enjoying what we know as Rock in small clubs, much like what’s become of the Jazz and Blues genres.

I hope he’s wrong.  But in whatever case, I’ll be at that small table in the back of the room.

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