My first article on this forum created a great debate in the political realm...but notice there aren't many posts yet on music (at least when searching the category "art"). I hope to get a lively debate going here. Here's a rant about just how lousy today's music is.
When growing up half a century ago, and I'm sure in many ages, it was almost a badge of honor to distance one's self from the art forms, especially music, that one's parents got into. Today, it's almost the opposite. One is deemed very cool if you turn your friends onto some music your parents exposed you to. I have two kids, 19 and 17, and see it happening. Not only that, they say many of their peers that like the junk that passes for music now, are deemed uncool.
In my work selling music related accessories, we have relationships with a number of "sponsored" acts who are all 22 or under. While these (mostly) girls do like artists like Taylor Swift, they are also proud to dust off and cover a song from artists like Dylan, Johnny Cash, etc.
Music seems to have mostly died somewhere around 1990. What has replaced it is something that befits our age of "all style, no substance". Author and music biz figure Hank Bordowitz gave numerous, very scientifically derived reasons for this in his book Dirty Little Secrets Of The Record Business: Why So Much Music You Hear Sucks.
It's important to note that it seems to have happened to most genres--one can't just say "Oh, rock and roll is dead, yeah, but hip-hop replaced it". One could say that about rock and roll replacing the bland pop in the 1950s. But today's hip-hop is awful too. Even Chuck D. from Public Enemy admitted once that when rap/hip-hop went from being dominated by groups like his own, plus Run DMC, NWA, etc. and became dominated by single performers such as you have now, it was all over. He has a point. I can listen to Public Enemy and be fascinated by the sonic achievements they accomplished. Ask most hip-hop fans what they think of The Last Poets, arguably the originators of rap. You'll get blank stares.
Country has become so embarrassingly bad ("Nickelback with fiddles" Tom Petty has called it) that performers that are true to the tradition of Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Cash, Haggard, etc. have abandoned calling themselves "country" and resorted to a new moniker, "Americana". "Americana" is also used to describe many "singer-songwriter" types like Richard Thompson who may live here in the USA, but his sound derives more from the British and World-music traditional folk than anything American. Joni Mitchell would be classed this if she came out today. She would not share radio airplay or tour with other rock acts, as she did years ago.
And speaking of Nickelback can someone eloquently tell any of us what makes them special? Other than the possible reason that among a generation of "rock", "alternative" or whatever category-artists you want to include, they put one to sleep faster than any others? How did rock and roll become boring? Any record execs reading this: I'm all ears, earn your pay. Why Nickelback?
It's true there are scads of great but little-heard talents out there. In age when one can, with about $500 worth of gear and software, convert their desktop into a fully functional recording studio that can do what traditional studios used to charge thou$and$ to do, much good can be recorded and then heard. But this embarrassment of riches often translates into a flooded market...of free goods. The really great artist now often has to give his/her product away in the hope of "exposure", paying gigs, or just slogging it out for the love of it all while holding down a day job and that's often the case. Even major artists like the ones I'm lambasting here find it hard to justify letting download and streaming sites play their tunes for fractions of a cent per play (Taylor Swift actually pulled her latest output from these sites).
So the main question is: Why is so much crap floating to the top? And why is it usually mindless (Florida Georgia Line) , boring (Korn) , vulgar (Lady Gaga or Beyoncé), or all three (the self described lord over it all, Kanye West)? Bodowitz makes a compelling case blaming Radio, Record Labels, Technology, Corporatization, etc. All very well and good.
However, the kids who grew up collecting CDs that never had a jewel box around them (they had their buddies' handwriting on the label side, in marks-a-lot red or black letters with name of the band or artist), who downloaded songs off the 'net (usually for nothing)...well these kids are now grown up and moving into their first apartments or homes. They want stuff. That's one reason for the vinyl rebirth...and sales of turntables, even of the frames that show off album jackets (one of my accounts says he sells as much of those as he does of vinyl LPs in general). But will this mean music recovers into anything good?
Will the dying off of the 70-80 year old execs at major (and indie) record labels bring back music, even if they were the same guys who replaced the Mitch Millers of the world 50 years ago?
Will the influence of satellite radio on traditional FM stations help bring back more interesting formats that mean you don't hear the same stuff over and over...and DJs tell you what they are playing? Which means you might seek out the disc or platter and actually buy it?
Here's something Bordowitz may have overlooked. Throughout much of the history of popular music since the mid-point of the 20th century, when things got congested...when music got stale or too complicated, there was usually a "back to basics" movement that took hold. The last time this happened was the huge success of the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. In another age, that may have caused everyone to go out and unplug, to delve into traditional music on a bigger scale (remember how Dylan's John Wesley Harding led to the Beatles quieting down a bit on their White Album, and the Stones' transition from Satanic Majesties to Beggar's Banquet). But O Brother Where Art Thou didn't have much followup. The album sold well, garnered many awards. But "country" music continued to sound like Nickelback with fiddles. Well at least "country" has fiddles. In other genres, you seem to only need 5 instruments: gtr, bs, drm, keybd, and a laptop filled with samples (today, that last one makes you a "producer", by the way).
Shameless self plug: I play in a band full of multi-instrumentalists with a repertoire 100+ years old, a "living history" band if you will. No, we're not rich. But we do attract a lot of attention, particularly with the odd instruments we play. We can have anywhere from 2 to 12 members at a time, and one of them might be our guitarist. He's usually the only one with a guitar.
I can safely say there are very few bands anywhere that do what we do. And whether musicians or not, few people can name the tunes or instruments we play. 50 years ago Brian Jones could have played each instrument we own. Kaleidoscope, The Band, The Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Ry Cooder, any of a number of artists back then, could easily come close to doing what we do. That's pretty exciting when you think about it.
How did rock and roll become boring? The answer might have something to do with why music seems to only mean gtr bs drms keybd and laptop. In an age of information, that is really, really sad.