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Style and Substance

May 8, 2010

KISS is not a very good band but damn it if they don't know how to put on a show.

There was a time when I would’ve dismissed groups with carefully constructed images as “style over substance”. It’s a pretty easy trap to fall in, after all, if a musician is devoting so much time to making themselves look a certain way then they’re not focusing on the music. Older, wiser and slightly less angsty, I almost expect a well thought out image to be a part of the musical package. That’s not to say musicality should suffer or be watered down in cultivating a visual component for a musical act but if a group is willing to put more time and effort on an art experience well then, more power to them.
And to be honest if you’re claiming musical integrity because you wear a t-shirt and jeans then you fail to see the inherent irony. The “no-look” look is just that, a look. The only difference is that thousands of people use it, to the point that it doesn’t carry any impact. It’s hard to remember a band of four guys in t-shirts and jeans making mediocre music, but you’re going to have a hard time forgetting a band of four guys dressed as Elven demon slayers from 16th century Mars even if they do play mediocre music.

Psycho le Cému is an example of a great image and great music.

Again, my point is not to say music should take a backseat to image but that the modern performer should be willing to invest time on their presentation. Presentation doesn’t just mean physical appearance though. It extends to releases.
These days a CD is just the middleman between a studio and a computer/mp3 player. The format has lost a lot of it’s value because all it does is store files. If artists, labels and distributors want keep up their sales, they should be wondering what would make their audience want another mass produced piece of plastic. Realistically, it’s a pretty hard sell.
There have been a couple clever solutions over the years though. Artists are releasing music on different mediums (vinyl, cassettes, 8-tracks, NES/Gameboy cartridges, USB drives) in attempts to engage their audience’s interest. Others are including various extras (DVDs, posters, miscellaneous swag) to make a CD purchase more appealing. I know that for me, those kinds of additions can mean the difference between my buying the product or moving on to the next thing.
More than a gimmick, more than something bright and shiny to distract people with, an image should be another chance for an artist to explore his or her (or their) own creative self, be it through elaborate Lady Gaga-esque costumes or a shirt and jeans.

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