This is a thought that has been roaming my mind for the last few months. I’m a huge fan of music you can normally find at thrift stores and garage sales. I like to go thrifting when I can to find good music for cheap but through years of searching and sifting, I’ve also found my share of crap. It is within those limitations that I became familiar with artists, genres, or labels that were discarded in and/or by time. There was a time when easy listening music has its own Billboard album chart and there was a radio format in honor of the luxurious sounds of Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, and Bert Kaempfert. Call of lounge, call it exotica, call it rooted in jazz, call it the wonderful world of pop music that once was, some of it may sound cheesy to a few people but they offer a production and playing style that would slowly disappear with the changes in modern technology. You can arguably say easy listening was “of its time” but it is truly a timeless music. Dig into what you wanted to ignore and you’re sure to want to make your own 101 Strings T-shirts.
A good amount of this type of music (if you want to lump it all into one pile) came out on major labels but a healthy amount were released my indie labels, some of which managed to make a living by selling their brand of something familiar and popular while other labels were literally fly by night. On both major and indie labels, some of these artists were either one-offs or performing music under multiple named. There are collectors who will listen to an album on Crown or Coral Records, hear the piano or bass and immediately know who is on it, even if the album had little to no credits. With the budgets these labels had, they put it all into the creation of the music. As for the album cover artwork or photograph, or even the logo used for the cover, forget it. Maybe money was put into it but the whole point in budget music being released was to be able to fill a store, somehow being alluring enough to fill your void, leading to you buying a copy to fill your stereo cabinet or music room at home.
Fast forward to the 1990’s. Easy listening music had pretty much disappeared from the mainstream, although you may have heard its shadows in smooth jazz or some more adventurous electronic or hip-hop producers who liked to place a record on 33 at 45 and sample it in a new way to make it sound new. The format of choice for the first half of the 90’s was the cassingle, which originated in the early 1980’s. Whatever was the latest single, you may be able to find the same song performed by someone else. There were time when you knew that was not the version you wanted but occasionally, a label would make it appear like you were about to get the version you heard on the radio. This didn’t happen but let’s go back to when Madonna released her song “Vogue”. You see a cassingle at the store and it’s “Vogue”, there’s even a silhouette of a woman in a dancing position similar to Madonna’s but it’s by Maldawnha. You’d like to think most people would know the difference but these labels didn’t care, all they wanted/needed was one purchase and boom, it’s a copy sold. Some people might pop the tape in the car and realize immediately that that was not Madonna. Sometimes, it would be until they got home when it was discovered. Do you make the effort to drive back to the store/mall and return the tape or just deal with the “mistake”? The truth of the matter is these thinly-veiled covers had a minimal budget but they didn’t care. All they wanted to do was sell a few copies, enough for them to keep pressing them up, most likely under different names, most likely on labels you never heard of ever again. There is an industry-within-an-industry where an artist or a group of musicians recreate music specifically for the sake of having them in stores with covers of your favorite songs. Sometimes they were meant to fool people but it got to the point where people began to like the covers even more, and that goes back to the 1960’s. An example of this new budget music is the Kidz Bop compilation series, where you not only get new covers of the latest pop songs but they’re done in a way that is accessible/acceptable for younger listeners. Kidz Bop are a multi-million dollar company, all meant to suit your child’s fancy. It doesn’t matter if they may know the original song or not, they’re being entertained, they sing along, they’re happy.
Of course, I’m still talking about the compact disc and while Adele’s latest album has proven that there are millions of people still buying the CD, there are millions of others who aren’t. It leads me away from Adele and back into budget music. Who is making budget music in 2015 whose sole purpose is to fool or not to fool the buyer? With MP3’s, you don’t have to buy the cover just because the original has sold out. MP3’s do not sell out, a digital file is eternal. Yet who is making the budget music of today, creating new versions of Bruno Mars’ songs that are meant for someone to purchase for whatever random reason? This lead me to think of something else: with as many options of music out there today, are their any budget music artists that are actually getting hits, songs where the fan has absolutely no idea what they’re really listening to but come to find out it’s a guy whose regular job is a high school janitor and doubles his lawnmower shed as a recording studio? In 2015, no one has to be in a professional recording studio anymore. Some will say “what they will need is the equipment to make it happen” but anyone can just have the power and know how to make music and you can become a hit machine with a production crew that consists of no one but you. Is there someone ringing in the bucks for making music that may not cost as much as a major label artist but are bringing in the hits like a 3rd rate Rod McKuen? Post your answer below. This is not meant for a bigger article in the future, I’m just curious of budget-level music is still in power.