The situation of Hungarian musicians and professionals in 2023.
If I were to write a short article, I would say, reflecting on the title, that it is lousy. However, if explained at length, there are a lot of components that make up this deplorable situation. As a small country with little influence, we are not really in a position to have any influence on global trends. Instead, we are always running after the train that always starts from the West. And for the first time, it looks like the West doesn't know which way the train is going.
One of the main problems is that the current system doesn't allow for real stars and star systems to emerge. A couple of decades ago you had Michael Jackson, George Michael, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, to name just the best known. Their music may be underdeveloped to today's ears, but it could be said of them that they were able to maintain their stardom for long decades because the system worked differently and because they could sing. The system at the time was not about riding a trend, but about giving listeners the widest possible palette of music to choose from. Obviously, there was a trend-following attitude, which was in line with the others. Today, however, algorithms dictate. If you listen to a song on YouTube or Spotify, it is almost a given that the system will recommend artists of the same style as the one you listened to before. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but at the same time you'll find less and less music of the genre you might want to listen to. If the listener is a less conscious music consumer, it's almost guaranteed that their musical tastes will only evolve in a certain direction. And the algorithm won't look at whether the song is good, but at how many people have listened to it. The most listened to music is typically picked up by young people, but they are the age group who are the most impressionable and whose musical tastes are the worst. I'm going off my own bat, at my age DJ Bobo and Dr Alban were the winners. This is a far cry from my taste today. But in those days we could listen to quite different music from eurodace. Prodigy, Frank Sinatra, Cure, Guns n' Roses. So we had the opportunity to listen to something else and find the good in it. That's no longer the case, because the trend-watching algorithms recommend what the young people pick up, and the bands, because nothing is certain anymore and who knows what the right direction is, start to ride the trend wave and produce the same rubbish as the algorithm recommends, saying that if it can make money, it will with this.
So that's the international situation. And because Hungarian music has always been trend-following, this negative effect is even more amplified in this medium. There are still good Hungarian artists, bands and songs, but the space where they can reach the listener is getting narrower and narrower.
I recently looked at the top charts on Radio 1. There were 49 foreign artists on it, with at least 30 with similar instrumentation and only one Hungarian. Frankly, it's a disgrace. Almost only on Petőfi radio have I heard any worthy new songs lately. I think that something really needs to be done about this phenomenon.
The other problem is that the profession has been diluted. It's a natural part of being able to do a complete piece of music on a laptop, but the very sophistication that the professionals are capable of has disappeared. Again, I can bring myself up, as a beginner I was just following foreign trends, but I didn't have enough knowledge to do it in a sophisticated way. At that time it didn't affect the professional community, because if my music was bad they would throw it back and tell you to take it to a normal studio. That's not the case today. The lack of money encourages the artist to do the whole production process himself, which is good in the best case, bad in the worst case, a mediocre mass-produced, forgettable product. What are the main characteristics of bad music? If the same word is repeated at least three times during a poem, it's a sure sign that the lyrics were not written by a professional. As a basic rule, we don't do frequent word repetition because it's amateur.
But articulation is also a problem. Americans can bite everything, but in a Hungarian context it sounds amateurish. I hear dozens of these even today, even from relatively respected speakers. But I could go on with the Auto-Tune vocals, it's a cool effect, but when used on the whole vocal range, it turns out that the singer can't sing at all. Again, this shows that the amateur medium is very slow to provide the opportunity for improvement, but since music is now almost really just following trends and barely making a living, no one is going to put any more work into it than they think is reasonable.
The third problem is money. The average Hungarian artist today does not necessarily make a living from royalties, but from gigs. By killing off the KATA tax form, it is almost guaranteed that most bands will be forced to close down. For a band to make the same money as the year before, they would have to work twice as hard. But how do you do that when municipalities are cancelling gigs one by one because of rising overheads? So far, a significant proportion of gigs have been funded by local authorities. Now this will be gone. Instead of bands, solo performers will come to playback gigs because there will be no money for anything else. All of this will lead to us moving down the quality ladder again. Of course, this can be seen as a purgatory in which the strong will remain and the weak will die out. But the strong can only survive if they are constantly on TV. And there are many things that can be said about today's television channels, but not that they are of quality.
The lack of money will also affect sound engineers, because even if a performer is willing to go for a higher quality, he or she will not spend the money. The medium-sized concert management companies will now work with cheaper hardware, the small ones will disappear or vegetate. Only the big ones will remain, and it will be like nothing ever happened. Same with the studios. Since the state is slowly deciding on a friendly basis whose music can go into rotation, the only survival tactic is to start making friends with people you would normally not even talk to.
The fourth problem. The role of the state in the cultural milieu. Something is wrong, but I can't define how to do it right. It is too unipolar. Today, you can only be somebody if you always push the government's bandwagon. What these people have realised is that there is no point in holding on to principles that seem nice and fair that nobody follows anymore. Is this the right way? Not at a societal level. On an individual level, however, I can understand someone who does so. It's easy to go down this road, because we're not killing anyone. In a normal social situation I don't think any musician should be politicised. Except that this is not a normal social situation and it is almost a law that all this has to happen.
So, in summary, the whole pop scene is in a downward spiral with nothing good at the end. How can this situation be resolved? It cannot be solved, nor can it really be alleviated. So survival is left to following trends, performing in low quality reality shows, scandal-mongering and reinforcing political affiliations. Today, only those who have the start-up capital and are working on their careers with such a degree of certainty that they can't think of any other choice will become respected performers on their own merits. But there is a problem with this too. The number of people in Hungary who want to go to sophisticated cultural events has fallen significantly. Many Hungarians have moved to other countries and those who stayed have become stale. As this trend will continue, there will be less and less demand for demanding productions. In another ten years there will be no point in speaking out against these trends.