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Premonitions: 20 Guesses for 2004

by Tim McMahan











We've glanced sheepishly at what happened in 2003, noticing the flat evenness of a creative musical landscape that seems destined to go on in its uniform pace into forever. If the '90s and early days of the millennium seeded hope for a future steeped in an "exciting new direction" within the musical community, that hope is beginning to wane as we creep toward the mid-'00s.

Downloading, the Internet, FM, MTV and the strip-malling of America has resulted in a sort of homogenous group-mind of pop culture. Radio music has been driven to a middle-class, urban common denominator made up of the most simplistic of parts: It must have an urban beat. The front-person must be clean and shiny and desirable looking. Lyrics must not be unreasonably controversial. Retro is good if grafted to the proper hip-hop rhythm.

If there's a musical trend in '04 it'll be toward an even safer, less interesting pop music.

Here are 19 more things to look forward to next year:


1. In the old days MTV was the launching pad for consumer acceptance, the jumping-off point between the bands that sold a few hundred thousand units and the ones that sold a few million. With the advent of MTV's schlocky all-reality all-the-time programming, Madison Avenue is the music industry's new proving ground. Today, the big-label marketing plan not only includes making a video, but insuring proper song placement in an uptrend television commercial, preferably pimping a high-tech gadget or fashionable alcoholic/nightlife food, beverage or lifestyle accoutrement . If you can get your song played for 10 seconds in the background of a Levis ad, you just pumped your CD sales by a cool 50,000 units. Product choice is everything. Designer fashions, malt beverages, cell phones = good. American-made automobiles, casinos, personal hygiene products = bad.


2. We now live in an mp3 world, and there's no turning back. When it comes to buying music, this generation of consumers -- the '00 generation -- has rooted itself in the convenience and immediacy of the Internet. From now on, it's all about acquiring music files (no longer called "songs") as quickly and cheaply as possible with little or no consideration to sound quality. Generation '00 is quite comfortable listening to music on the 1.5-inch speakers that sit alongside their flat-screen monitors. The days of hi-fi stereo worship -- when names like Pioneer, Kenwood and Technics were deified for bringing the cleanest, crispest-sounding playback of your gold-edition high-fidelity pressing of The Dark Side of the Moon -- are long gone.

Record stores as we know them will begin to disappear in '04. The huge music super-chains, which already have been badly pummeled by the industry's decline, will continue to go belly-up as consumers who still buy CDs -- mostly middle-aged technophobes scared away from downloading by the RIAA -- shift their buying habits once and for all from music store chains like Virgin and Blockbuster to high-tech equipment superstores like Best Buy and Nebraska Furniture Mart.

Independently owned and operated music chains and mom-and-pops will be forced to change their marketing strategy, targeting the high-trend must-have "collectors" and traditional audiophiles who can't live with mp3-quality sound. Surviving stores will turn into music boutiques, handling hard-to-find limited-edition releases, obscure independent labels, box sets and music fan "gift items" such as T-shirts, posters and assorted memorabilia. And when technology barriers are overcome, eventually allowing for quick, manageable CD-quality downloads, they'll quit selling pop CDs altogether.


3. Coast-to-coast subscriber-based digital satellite radio services such as XM and Sirius will fail to draw the subscriptions they need to stay afloat. Talk radio wonks won't see the sense in paying to hear Jim Rome and Rush Limbaugh when their blabber is available for free on the AM. Music lovers, on the other hand, will instead embrace the advent of car stereos with built-in mp3 players or adapters that allow them to easily plug in their portables.



4. Saddle Creek will officially announce the loss of one of its major bands to a break-up, but will gain an unlikely new act to its roster by releasing a CD by a well-respected '90s-era underground singer-songwriter who will make Omaha his new place of residence.


5. In other Saddle Creek premonitions, the label will get a taste of competition when a new label is launched by one of its own artists who feels hamstrung by Creek's democratic process for selecting bands to add to its roster. Both labels will deny that competition exists between them, but people will begin to wonder where allegiances lie.


6. Alternative weekly newspapers that cover the Omaha music scene, The Reader and Omaha Pulp, also will see new competition from yet another weekly newspaper that will launch this year. Meanwhile, The Omaha World-Herald will drop printing its Thursday entertainment supplement, Go!, and return to its more-traditional style of local music coverage -- none at all.


7. Having already left the gate at a rather languid pace, questions will finally begin to surface about the wisdom of building the new multi-million-dollar Qwest Center after it fails to attract the promised top-drawer entertainment. Sure, there will be the usual gaggle of country music stars, '70s and '80s Freedom Rock tours and hot-rod tractor pulls, but where are the Springsteen, U2, Radiohead, Rolling Stones and Coldplay concerts that the gullible expected? Watch for the beginning of the Qwest Center's financial downward spiral.


8. Internal band strife, questionable record sales and a fall from sobriety will combine for the downfall of Metallica.


9. While all the national music magazines are crowing for the rise of emo to levels last reached by Nirvana, the hot new music trend will continue to be no trend at all.



10. Child molestation charges against Michael Jackson will be dropped before a jury ever delivers a verdict.


11. Having already taken Hollywood and American politics by storm, everyone's favorite muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger will enter the recording studio with a superstar hip-hop producer and illusionist David Blaine to record what will become one of the year's most heard and annoying songs on radio and TV.



12. A major hip-hop artist will be shot to death while on tour. Unfortunately, it won't be Eminem. Another will "come out of the closet" and start a whole new trend of "gay hip-hop" that blends techno-club with rap for a dancier and more fun hybrid, sort of like disco.



13. Classical music will become the new prog rock.



14. Artists we'll be talking about at this time next year: Interpol, The Pixies, Beck, Nine Inch Nails, Prince, Bright Eyes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Her Space Holiday, The Good Life, Fugazi, The Faint, Built to Spill, Les Savy Fav and Grasshopper Takeover.




15. Artists we won't be talking about at this time next year: The White Stripes, Britney Spears, Metallica, Michael Jackson, The Strokes, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 50 Cent, Eminem, Madonna, Jessica Simpson, Linkin Park and Outcast.



16. The next "breakthrough" artist with Omaha roots will come from the hip-hop community, and will define a new Omaha hip-hop style.



17. With the shuttering of The Music Box, the stage is set for a showdown between The Ranch Bowl and One Percent Productions for local music dominance. No other major music venue will open in 2004, as smaller neighborhood venues will try to fill the live music void. The Ranch Bowl will begin to subtly shift its direction by booking more influential and adult (i.e. better) touring bands, including some of the indie staples that have been One Percent Productions' meat and potatoes. Meanwhile, still glowing from a taste of success from big-venue gigs like the recent Bright Eyes concerts at The Rose and Witherspoon Hall, One Percent will focus more energy on bigger, higher-grossing shows at a variety of venues including Sokol Auditorium, outdoor festivals, and once again, The Rose.



18. Look for a format change from one of Omaha's top radio stations -- Z-92, The Dam or The River -- from rock to urban. Don't expect a new indie-rock station or indie radio program in this market next year.


  19. Now that Bright Eyes has already done it, a non-Saddle Creek act from Omaha will make an appearance on a late-night chat show -- Conan, Carson Daly, Craig Kilborn, etc. Meanwhile, this year Bright Eyes will be a "special musical guest" on an episode of Saturday Night Live.

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Posted Jan. 6, 2004. Published in The Omaha Reader January 7, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.