To understand where this comes from, I ask anyone interested to listen to the radio and try to pick out the songs that you feel are good. By this, I mean songs that make you want to sing along, songs that make you feel better, songs that groove, songs that you can listen to again. Then, think of who sings them. If you do this over an extended period of time, you'll notice that a lot of the time it's the same people.
Now, anyone who studies music knows the the bulk of the really GOOD music never makes it into the popular scene. Why is this? Because the people who pick what gets played and what doesn't are dumbasses who know nothing about music? Because for music to be played on the radio someone has to PAY a shitload and kiss ass?
Well, yes. BUT. There's more to it.
Once you get to the stage of realizing that a lot of the new music is crap, there's another realization to make. A lot of it isn't. Why do music majors prefer older music? (And they do. Anyone who hangs around with music majors, and recording majors, and TEACHERS will find out this is true.)
It took me a while, and a few classes and seminars to realize this, but I think I know why. Recording technique. Now, talent is definitely important, don't get me wrong. Crap is crap, no matter how well it's recorded. But if all you have is talent, well, you can't sell it.
Listen to Motown. Go even further back if you like; listen to Big Mama Thornton, listen to Louis Armstrong.
Then listen to Celine Dion. Listen to Kelly Clarkson's newest song. Listen to (DO NOT ARGUE WITH ME ON THIS ONE) Green Day's "Beaulivard of Broken Dreams". They are good songs. But they leave you wanting something more. They leave you cold. There are a lot of songs like that on the radio, that just... make you feel like you want to crawl out of your skin. Lovers of the old music just chalk it up to "that thing" that old songs have that new ones don't. Rock lovers will say it's because they aren't being real, because they're posers.
I say, it's recording technique. I also say that rock, although a good genre, has done a lot to bring down the quality of music.
Okay, now let's get into what makes a good song, good. There are several things to consider. What it amounts to is human interaction. Why do we listen to music? To interact, albeit passively, with another human being. That's why MIDI's don't cut it. You CAN tell the difference between digital music and real music. It comes through as that cold, dead feeling that you can't understand.
Some will say this is wrong, and point to live recordings as an example. Well yes, there are a lot of crappy live recordings. But that's not because the music was crappy (not always, anyways). It's because live recordings are usually recorded by incompetents who don't know what they're doing.
Motown is the best example of perfect recording. Perfect song structure as well. I won't discuss the lyrics so much, because honestly they don't play a part in what I'm discussing. What Motown did, was take ENORMOUSLY talented musicians, and talented singers, and talented songwriters, and put them together to achieve the best possible mix. Motown used the same band almost throughout, the Funk Brothers. They were the basis for everything; talented musicians NOT SINGERS are the basis for good music. The singers were practically interchangable.
Here's the key thing though. Everything was recorded together. The musicians played in the same room. Many times the singer was there at the same time. They didn't have the equipment to create large amounts of multiple tracks and put them together.
I had a chance to listen to one of the recording engineers from Motown's studio. His lecture lead me to realize another key ingredient to a good song. On the spot mixing, rather than after the fact. This is IMPORTANT. Have you ever been to a live show, and then listened to the same song on CD? There is a huge difference. Want to know why? Because of mixing. Band people, think of it as dynamics; recording reduces everything to the same dynamic level. You have to physically amp up the important parts and tone down the rest. If you're doing this while the music is actually being played, you get a feel for what needs to be done when; you get into it and you get a better interpretation of the real thing. When it's done after the fact, it's clinical. You rely on your brain instead of your feelings, and you get something that may be intellectually okay, but it doesn't affect the senses the way something mixed live does. Human interaction.
Why is country so good? Yeah, don't say it isn't. Maybe you don't like the lyrics, or the singers voice, but the music is GOOD. Want to know why? Hired musicians. Kick ass hired musicians. Nashville, and other centers of recording, are absolutely full of them. Talented people... and you can tell when the singers are singing with them, and when it was added later, because the singer will interact with the musicians when it's recorded together. You can hear the difference.
The really strange thing about it all, is that the good music is very business oriented. But it's a balance, between business, creativity, and talent. That's why rock screwed everything up. It focused everyone on creativity as the sole ingredient for good music... and that's absolute crap. Creativity without talent is nothing. Neither of them are anything in mass media without good recording technique. The business comes into play in how it's all put together. Musicians have to be paid, singers have to be paid, and songwriters/composers have to be paid. No one will do it without the business.
Rock also made a mistake in combining the singers, songwriters, and musicians into one person. There are very, very, VERY few people with enough talent, or energy, or drive to pull of all of that. What we need is another Motown; a system that pulls these things together and combines them into the best possible form.
So recap: Human interaction, live mixing, talented musicians, creative writers, and a good business system to put it all together. Please note that singers are not listed. Singers are generally (not always) expendable.