Corporate-Backed Rock-n-Roll Is Dead. Long Live Rock-n-Roll!

Here’s What Rock Needs to Survive:

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam play rock-n-roll for kids and families. Jason says rock is not dead, but corporate backed-rock may be. Statesmen of classic rock from Gene Simmons to Steven Van Zandt and some journalists have weighed in over the past year to tell us that rock is dead, that you will never again see or hear a rock star as you did in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I partially agree. The mass media appears to have gotten out of the business of pushing rock as a genre, mostly sticking to pop and country.

But does this move really kill rock-n-roll? Let’s think about this.

Rock-n-roll came up out of roadside barrelhouses playing a rowdy version of the blues that drove kids and young adults wild. Parents hated that kids were listening to it and getting out of hand. Kids got so crazy for this music that DJ’s soon caught on and played it on the radio. Then came the record companies to churn out rock-n-roll records and put together tours. Then TV shows. Then MTV. Next thing you know, rock stars are signing multi-million dollar deals, boarding private jets and taking the finest drugs big money can buy. The point is, rock-n-roll was there before the corporations caught on, and it can survive now that the corporations have walked away from it.

For how rock can survive, we need only to look at the punk rock movement of the 70s and 80s. While big record companies were pushing slick, polished acts and hair metal, a punk movement was brewing without the help of the majors – and before there was an Internet. Passionate punk rockers made their own magazines (they were called “fanzines”) and used photocopiers to duplicate as many copies as they could. Punk bands got to know bands in other towns and swap gigs, sleeping on the floor in the houses of fans when they went out on the tours that they booked themselves. They were paying to get their own vinyl records pressed and then assembling the album covers themselves.

As for those bands trying desperately to get the labels’ attention, for every rock band from the 70s and 80s you heard of, there were hundreds that went nowhere. Some got signed to a record company and never had an album released. Others got their album released with little to no marketing support from the label, only to be dropped, or worse, shelved, which is the record company deciding not to release your album, but to keep you under contract so you can’t sign with anyone else either.

For those not waiting to be plucked from obscurity, rock was a DIY proposition all along. And so it is again. Rock lives in the same exact state it did before the record companies hitched their wagons to its stars. And rock will survive as long as bands have their fans – earned one at a time – in sweaty bars, at parties, at local festivals, in coffeehouses and online.

But why am I, a children’s musician, telling you this?

Because rock-n-roll is at the heart of the music we make for kids and families, and because I care deeply what happens with the future of the music that moves me. I have a sweet opportunity to share rock music with a brand new generation of listeners. If they carry these sounds and this energy in their hearts, they may develop an abiding love for the things that make rock-n-roll what it is: rowdy, a little rough around the edges, driven by big guitar riffs and pounding drums, to lyrics that might tell an epic story or make no sense at all but convey a feeling. Guitar solos that melt your face. More cowbell. Three chords, three minutes and a ton of personality.

Rock-roll will survive as long as you, the audience who grew up on it, continue to embrace it. Rock will survive as long as you still get those same chills from listening to your favorite record from your teenage years. But rock will thrive and new stars will bloom if you take a chance on them and let a new generation of rockers into your hearts, and encourage your kids to try out new musical experiences.

When that local band shares a link to their new video and it shows up on your feed, consider giving it 3 minutes of your time; see what they’re about. You don’t need a multinational conglomerate to tell you what you like. Find out for yourself. Keep the genre moving forward by taking in those new sights and sounds that are influenced by your old favorites. And yes, if you love the new video, buy the album. Yes, even though you can stream it for free.

In today’s music economy, passionate fans still buy their favorite bands’ albums – not  because they can’t listen to the whole thing via streaming (they can) – but because buying your favorite artist’s album helps pave the way for her to make more albums that you’ll love.

Rock will survive without corporations following mass market trends. It will survive because of its musicians’ passion – mixed with your passion. Will corporate-backed rock make a comeback? Depends on how the next quarter looks – and then the one after that. But I’m not waiting.

You’re invited to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Jason Didner
Jungle Gym Jam Music
for Kids and Families who Love to ROCK!
Get 3 free song downloads here.

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