Monday, 21 October 2019

ARTICLE 2, Part 2: Lateral Thinking, Harmonics, & Music



“After the war of words has ceased

All that’s left is the deafening silence”


-Sturgill Simpson 


Motivation sometimes comes from the most unlikely of sources. Recently I have found myself re-listening to Sturgill Simpson’s entire Sound and Fury album. Listening to an entire song album is something I have not done in years. It made me wonder about what had changed since I used to look forward to buying a new album, and re-listening to it over and over again to better understand the underlying concepts, but I had not done so in so long…


The Disruption of the Music Industry 


The 20th century was filled with disruptions spanning just about every field, which included the music industry. As technology improved, so too did the ability to create new genres of music. Artists who exhibited lower associative barriers (see: book) combined various music styles with new technologies to create cutting edge music. These artists were subconsciously employing Lateral Thinking.

You can read more about this concept with the music industry in the book: The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. In it, Johansson explores Lateral Thinking (or The Medici Effect, as he calls it) in Shakira’s music that combines Mediterranean and South American cultures. As Johansson outlines, this strategy can be found throughout the music industry, as well as other industries he also identifies, during the 20th Century.

The days of streaming music means there are no shortages of collaboration between music styles, cultures, and even artists, since the ability to create and distribute music has now been made available to anyone.

But what about before the Internet and streaming services? Was there another disruption that occurred in the Music industry?


MTV, Technology, & Iron Maiden

In the early 1980’s, MTV, or Music Television, burst onto the scene, and music pioneers, like Iron Maiden, were the first to introduce the still relatively new style of Heavy Metal Music to the land of music videos:

https://loudwire.com/iron-maiden-introduced-metal-to-mtv-anniversary/

As technology improved in the 50’s and 60’s, and records, 8track tape, cassettes, and eventually CD’s came along, the idea of a “Concept Album” grew in popularity and eventually spread along all genres. A concept album means that all the songs in the album compliment and add to one another to explore a deeper underlying theme than what’s presented in the individual songs (at least, when it is properly executed).

Iron Maiden certainly did not invent the idea of the concept album, nor were they the first ones to introduce it into the Rock genre, but they were certainly one of the first to incorporate music videos within the concept.

Here’s a music video from 1984’s concept album, “Powerslave”:

"2 Minutes To Midnight"

The song and corresponding video on their own are enough to evoke powerful emotions, let alone if you were to listen to the entire album. Now, maybe it’s a bit too dated (and stereotypically 80’s) for some readers to really experience just how impactful art like this can be, so let’s instead look at an example of a more recent attempt by an artist to evoke powerful emotions in a single music video:

Childish Gambino - This Is America

Here’s another Lateral Thinking idea. Combining Country music with Hip Hop:

Lil Nas X - Old Town Road ft. Billy Ray Cyrus

Or how about a less known example. 
A mixture of Mongolian traditions like throat singing brilliantly mashed up with old-school rock and roll:

(and they release their songs in an unconventional manner – which we will get to in Part 3)
Lateral Thinking (such as combining cultural styles and artist collaborations) has become necessary for talented musicians to remain competitive since streaming services have kinda hampered the idea of a concept album, and heavily increased competition in the music industry since anyone now has the ability to create and upload music online. 

It’s not to say that streaming services and the Internet completely killed the concept album (quite the contrary, as we will soon explore), but it certainly disrupted the concept to some degree. The concept album model is just harder to pull off successfully these days, since artists like Kendrick Lamar have upped the stakes to such a ridiculously high degree: A Hip-Hop album that is so well written it won a Pulitzer prize:

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/watch-kendrick-lamar-accept-pulitzer-prize-for-damn-629162/

Even if you’re not a fan of Hip-Hop or Kendrick’s style, I’d encourage you to read the full lyrics of the album. They can certainly stand on their own merit without the addition of his musical talent adding further passion to his work:

https://genius.com/a/read-all-the-lyrics-to-kendrick-lamar-s-new-album-damn

All of the musicians and bands listed have displayed examples of Lateral Thinking – an unorthodox approach taken to create something new and unique – in order to be more competitive and successful in their industry.

It’s not to say well written music didn’t exists in the past. As a few other Iron Maiden examples, they wrote a historical song on Alexander the Great for their 1986 album “Somewhere in Time,” and updated an old poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge for their 1984 album “Powerslave.”

Keep in mind, this was written during a time when researching was not as easy as performing an Internet search. But maybe I’m gushing on them a bit too much. Here’s an example of a Lateral Thinking idea from Iron Maiden that had less success:

https://maiden-world.com/edhunter.html

A PC video game that was released in 1999 to accompany a ‘best of’ album. From what I remember, the game wasn’t that bad given it was realised by music artists, but the overall reception was less than favourable. Lateral Thinking, like organizational change, can lead to success, just as it can lead to failure. You’ll notice this with negative fan reactions when an artist decides to branch out and try something new. Have they truly ‘sold out’ or are they simply employing Lateral Thinking and some of their fan’s associative barriers are too high to understand what the artist(s) is doing. For more info on this, see Part 3 of this article.


Increasing the success rate of Lateral Thinking strategies

NOTE: “Lateral Thinking, or “combining fields,” or the “intersection of ideas,” or the “Medici Effect,” or the “Silo Effect in Academia,” or whatever else you want to call it. In my opinion, it’s pretty much all talking about the same thing.
If the creator of a Lateral Thinking idea does not locate an audience with Low Associative Barriers (SEE: book), then the idea has a much higher chance of failing.

The end product requires either something completely new, or something not necessarily new, but can easily be enjoyed combined and separate (thereby technically still being something new).

There is little doubt in my mind that music artists are creative enough to craft a successful video game. However, successful lateral thinking requires that the combination of the two fields to be expert level. Allow me to explain:

In Iron Maiden’s case, they were attempting to apply Lateral Thinking (something they have often done during their music career, as previously mentioned) in order to combine two fields: Video Games and a music album to create a new product: A “Concept Album Video Game.”

However, neither of the individual components of the concept album video game was new. The music was a ‘best of’ album from the band, meaning the music was not specifically created for the game, and the game itself was a rip-off of popular first-person shooter games of the time, like ‘Doom’ and ‘Resident Evil.’ Iron Maiden had not created something new. They had awkwardly combined two previously created products.

But imagine, if instead, they decided to start from scratch. They would record a new concept album and create a video game while writing and creating the music to accompany it. The music would inspire graphics, storytelling, and gameplay within the game, while the video game would inspire the tone and lyrics of their music. And both individual pieces would be good enough so that even fans with high associative barriers would enjoy the individual components. The music in the concept album would need to be good enough to be enjoyed sans the game, and the game should be good enough to be played even if you’re not a fan of their music.

Lateral Thinking Rule #1: 

Try to locate a market (those who will enjoy what you have created) comprised of people with Low Associative Barriers. These are typically “new” markets. As outlined in the book, The Medici Effect, experts typically have high associative barriers. In the case of music, “experts” have to do with a musician’s original fans, or fans of the genre. A musician employing Lateral Thinking will likely alienate a significant portion of their fans (or market). This is because they are now technically seeking a new market. I doubt any musician enjoys losing their original fans, so don’t think of this being something deliberate.

It’s a consequence of how human brains increase their Associative Barriers with the more knowledge they receive. That’s why children often have much lower associative barriers, and why they are more likely to entertain new ideas. To them, everything is still new, unlike us jaded adults. It’s also why famous inventors and discoverers like Albert Einstein and Bill Gates often preach the importance of curiosity.

What they are actually preaching is the reduction of your own associative barriers!


Lateral Thinking Rule #2:

The final product needs to be something new and /or the individual components need to be good enough to stand on their own merit. Preferably both.

It’s not just Kendrick Lamar’s award-winning writing that makes his music popular, the music has a very unconventional and captivating style to it.

It’s not just Shakira’s combination of Arabic and Latin sounds that made her a sensation when she released her first album, it beautifully blended the two genres to make vibrant music.

It’s not just Iron Maiden’s combination of powerful lyrics and emotionally-charged videos that made their music stand the test of time, but the seamless synergy of how the two compliment one another. Want proof? Re-watch the music video without the sound, and experience the emotion and themes behind the video:

"Two Minutes To Midnight"


Next up is a very recent example in the music industry that exemplifies Lateral Thinking well:

Sturgill Simpson Presents: Sound & Fury…


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References: 


Childers, C., (2019). Loudwire. 38 years ago: Iron Maiden introduced Metal to MTV.
https://loudwire.com/iron-maiden-introduced-metal-to-mtv-anniversary/

Petridis, A., (2019). The Guardian. Sturgill Simpson: Sound & Fury review – country’s outlaw catches fire.
https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/sep/26/sturgill-simpson-sound-fury-review-countrys-outlaw-catches-fire

Reed, R., (2018). Rolling Stone. Watch Kendrick Lamar accept Pulitzer prize for ‘Damn.’
https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/watch-kendrick-lamar-accept-pulitzer-prize-for-damn-629162/

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