There is something about music that we all love. By “music” I mean I’m going to discuss the popular stuff that people love to criticise. By “we all” I mean some people, since not everyone likes music, and even music lovers have tastes that differ from the norm. And by “love” I don’t mean the squishy kind. As a music fan, I feel the need to defend modern music, since I quite like some of it.
Recently there have been a number of people disparaging modern music. E.g.:
This isn’t a new argument. Much like the kids these days argument – wave your Zimmer Frames at the sky now – the modern music sucks argument is based around a number of cognitive biases. Survivorship bias is one part, in that we only remember the music that lasts, and we certainly don’t remember the bad stuff. One of the more interesting parts of our biases is how our musical tastes are formed in our teens and early twenties (14-24). In part, this is when our brains are developing and we are creating our identity. Another part is that everything is still new and exciting, so we get a rush from experiences that we won’t later in life. So everything after that short time period seems strange and against the natural order of things.*
Pubertal growth hormones make everything we’re experiencing, including music, seem very important. We’re just reaching a point in our cognitive development when we’re developing our own tastes. And musical tastes become a badge of identity. – Professor Daniel J. Levitin (Source)
But of course, rather than discuss the interesting dynamics at play, the discussion has instead latched onto a study that provides “objective proof” that modern music sucks. Rather than directly cite the study, the vitriolics have found a Youtube video that misrepresents the study to suit their preconceived ideas.
So what does the objective proof study actually say? Well, after a quick search – seriously, how hard is it for these whiners to link and read the damn study – I found the original study. But rather than provide proof that music has gotten worse since the 1960’s, it instead directly states:
Much of the gathered evidence points towards an important degree of conventionalism, in the sense of blockage or no-evolution, in the creation and production of contemporary western popular music. Thus, from a global perspective, popular music would have no clear trends and show no considerable changes in more than fifty years. (Source)
Kinda the opposite of the claim, huh! As a general statement, music hasn’t gotten better or worse, it has pretty much stayed the same over the last 50 years. Nobody has ever noticed that…
Other studies have looked into changes in music over time. A more recent study found that styles of music have changed, often becoming more complex over time. But it isn’t quite that simple. The more popular a style of music becomes the blander it becomes.
We show that changes in the instrumentational complexity of a style are related to its number of sales and to the number of artists contributing to that style. As a style attracts a growing number of artists, its instrumentational variety usually increases. At the same time the instrumentational uniformity of a style decreases, i.e. a unique stylistic and increasingly complex expression pattern emerges. In contrast, album sales of a given style typically increase with decreasing instrumentational complexity. This can be interpreted as music becoming increasingly formulaic in terms of instrumentation once commercial or mainstream success sets in. (Source)
In other words, music sucks because it tries to be popular. And it works.
So saying that modern music sucks is nonsense. What is bland and generic is popular music. Always has been, probably always will be. There is good music being made all the time, you just aren’t going to find it without looking.
* The full quote from Douglas Adams is:
I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
2 thoughts on “Modern Music Su….”
My opinions are always based on skill and musicality. I used to be a music reviewer and if I was sent to listen to a Bluegrass band (which I loathe) I had to review based on their skill and their performance within their genre. If they are good Bluegrass musicians, or Polka players (which I also loathe) they deserve a good review. I think the reason Pop music comes into question so much is that it is easier to “make it” with little or no musical skill (I hate using the word talent for anyone over 12 years old, ha ha) because there is a large visual component which lends itself to marketing. I think since the internet the visual component has leaked into the performance for other genres, too.
My son doesn’t listen to anything newer except for anime based music and theatrical soundtracks. He loves Metal but doesn’t listen to anything past Rage Against the Machine. He and his friends listen to either older stuff or guys on YouTube who play covers of older stuff. We had a discussion the other day about how if you need to create a sub-subgenre for your band or music it usually means it’s because you can’t cut the mustard, but you still think you need to be as popular as someone who hones their skills. I am so tired of reading comments from these sub-subcore bands on Facebook music pages saying that bands like Megadeth, Metallica, Faith No More, Black Sabbath, and AC/DC, etc are not “relevant” anymore. Someone replied on one page saying that just one of his YouTube channel vids of covers of ’80s Metal bands get more likes than their entire sub-subgenre channel catalog of originals, so what is actually more “relevant”. It is because those guys doing the covers are skilled musicians, and the sub-subcore guys are not.
I just jumped back into the music biz after a 25 year motherhood hiatus and I joined a Facebook gear group for female guitarists because I want to do some online collaborations and recording (all new tech to me) and I needed a place to ask questions where I wouldn’t be ignored like in the Dean Owners Association group. I was gob smacked by what most if those girls call “shredding”. They have these humongous pedalboards with 15-30 effects pedals on them and they wank on their strings and run it through effects (their favorite is looping) and then sway to the music. This one girl videoed herself kneeling in front of her pedalboard in her bedroom, she hit her open strings and looped it, and then just swayed back and forth hugging her guitar. Her post ended up getting 70+ likes and over 30 comments, but when another person posted a video of herself on stage playing a Santana solo it got three likes (including mine) and my comment of “brilliant” was the only one. Sad, very sad. I wanted to post the definition of “shredding” in the group, but I was afraid to because we were told not to post anything that coukd generate heated discussion.
So what my take on the problem with modern music is, is that the visual is counting for too much in most all genres, not just Pop (they think I am not professional because I only use a chorus and an overdrive pedal and don’t have a monster sized pedalboard) and that they “fanbase” each other’s music as in the sub-subgenre players are each other’s fan base. They equate playing what they call DYI shows, where they get several bands together to play for free (and as each band plays the other bands are their audience), with a professional musician getting paid for a gig because they are good and pull in a paying audience. Sometimes they pool money to rent a venue for themselves thinking they “play concerts” so they are talented professionals. Their praise of each other is breeding mediocrity at best. If they are criticized they tell each other that it is because they are so special they are misunderstood. I do, however, think there is hope with the kids that are practicing and playing covers of challenging music. I think at some point they will start making good original music. I have seen a few taking the chance. 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Wow, that sounds like a decidedly pathetic circle jerk. Unfortunately it isn’t uncommon since the bar for entry into any of the creative arts has been lowered now. But you’re spot on, they are still wannabes and are only kidding themselves. Not sure how representative that is of the larger industry though.
I tend to steer clear of that realm of mediocrity. Similar to you, I’ve always been attracted to talent/skill. Great musicians tend to create music that will entertain people across generations. AC/DC might cop flak, but when the Garage and Pub Rock revival occurred in the early 2000s you could have slipped in some Bon Scott AC/DC and had people wondering who was this amazing new band that were blowing their contemporaries away. So image may count but I’m not sure it lasts.
I think the sub-sub-genre labelling is more about the audience and marketers wanting to pigeonhole stuff than anything relevant. They want a nice easy label that they can push onto established audiences. There is a joke about one of my favourite artists, Devin Townsend, saying that he is his own genre since there is pretty much no genre (and sub genre) he hasn’t written a song in.
Pop is very much about image and being inoffensive/middling/mediocre. You still need a level of talent (see post linked below) but you can forego some aspects for others – be only an okay singer, only an okay song writer, but be sexy; be a good singer, be reasonably attractive, but have the song writing ability of a starved monkey trying to eat a xylophone. There’s a balance…. of sorts.
My defence of Britney Spears: https://tysonadams.com/2014/07/10/my-art-is-better/