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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pills, Products & Penance For Past Pooh-Poohing

How much have you thought about the impact marketing and its kissing cousin advertising has on each of us?

As someone who has tried to resist consumerism, I've largely pooh-poohed the impact marketing has had on me. Over the last few weeks, while beginning the development of some music courses I'll be teaching soon, I've been forced to re-evaluate my smugness. I've played, studied and been immersed in music for over a half century. But these past weeks brought home how difficult it is to escape labels that are foisted on everyone, including this educated "immune-to-advertising" nincompoop.

Eating crow has been a lifelong pastime. Consequently, the duh-style revelation above would not alone be worthy of even a blog post. But something more disturbing crept up on me recently. Not only did I discover marketing labels for music had found fertile soil in my indiscriminate brain (is it pop? no, it's rock, or... jazz or country or blues, soul, rap, etc.), I also learned I have to consciously work at resisting the temptation to put an artist in a labelled box based on race.

Just one example of many - Living Colour plays loud, ferocious, balls-to-the wall music in a classic power trio with lead singer format; they happen to be four black guys. So are they "rock"? From the looks of it, sorry but no. Led Zeppelin or the Who or Green Day fit that label and look the part. I searched for a "rock" band with more than one black person. Closest? The Jimi Hendrix Trio (one black, two white at least to start) but marketers called them "blues" as often as "rock". OK, let's go race-appropriate: Living Color is "R&B", right? No, that label is more for Al Green or the Temptations or Usher. But wait, given their attack and volume, aren't they "metal"? Sorry, no black people in that box. Surely given their more narrow appeal and material and era they must be "alternative"? Wait, nobody black there either. "Funk" or "dance"? Clearly we're in the right box for race now but Living Color is not about dancing - way too many time signature shifts. OK, I got it, they must be "hip-hop or rap". Nope - they sing not speak and, no turntables. Want to try the reverse? Try Eric Clapton on for size and see if your racial glasses don't fog up a bit.

Longer post, I know. But I've rarely felt more caught in the sticky web of marketing than over the last month. I realize someone has to categorize product to help position that product which in turn helps sell product. Guess I'm disappointed I missed the racial angle for so long along with all that implies about keeping stuff separate. I ignorantly swallowed that pill. Is the pill part of the product or is it the product?

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