“Why Has Modern Music Lost So Much Impact?” asks John Degrazio of Kings of A&R. He suggests that the overall quality of music has declined in recent years and that great music and artists are harder to find. I don’t agree with all of his points. However, I am happy to see him bring the topic of changes in music brought to discussion. There are a large number of responses to the article, some of which are quite well thought out, including even some comments that could be articles themselves.
<p align="center"><a href='http://localhost:8888/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/istock_000004832160xsmall.jpg'><img src="http://localhost:8888/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/istock_000004832160xsmall-300x299.jpg" alt="" title="Music degrading" width="200" height="200" class="alignnone size-medium wp-image-422" /></a></p>
Degrazio notes a general progression of music, which prior had been very clear. Since the 50’s and even earlier, the styles of music had evolved. For example, there is an emotional resonance that one can sense when there is talk of 70’s or 80’s music. Though, it may not be readily put into words, the feelings of those times somehow present themselves in discussion.
Contrasting this, however, is the notion that since the late 90’s, music has somehow been in a downward spiral. Or at least, “indeed there has been great music in the past 8-10 years, but we all know that something has changed.”
Something does seem to be happening to music, though I am not sure that there is a degradation of quality. Rather, it is likely the relationship between the increased accessibility of music in both production and reception and the limited resources of time and attention for the individual listener that is the hub of our concern.
Addressing some points of the article:
The Limits of Attention
<blockquote>"Too much information. People don’t have time to sift through a billion myspace pages"</blockquote>
One commenter’s response is apropos: “there’s no such thing as too much information. There is such a thing as not enough filtering of information. Or perhaps poor filtering.”
The resource of attention is too often dismissed or even not considered. We would like to think that our attention is unlimited, but it is, in fact, very limited.
Though major labels are often the touchstone of musical scorn, they did do a service. In providing a much more limited assortment of channels for listening, the types of music were more organized, there were fewer genres, sub-genres, etc. A smaller selection of music meant that more people heard the same songs with a similar frequency.
The choices they made towards presentation may be up for discussion, but that is not the point here. It is the limitation of availability to choices of music that is important. “More is better” is a false truism. We can see the opposite concept clearly in the success of the iPod for example, which presented only the necessary components to access music in the most conventional ways.
Presently, with the wide open space of the Internet, one can create any form of music without editorial. We can consume music from any direction. The latest rise in music has been in control of type and quality. Sites such as Pandora, Lastfm, and theSixtyone all aim towards directing attention to those works best suited for the individual listener.
A Limit to Creativity?
<blockquote> “I have heard several people who are of the opinion that music and creativity has maxed out because there is only so much you can do and it’s all been done. Is music like a natural resource? Can it be depleted? If so, can it grow back? If it can, we need to start some music cultivation farms (oh wait, they used to be called major labels).” </blockquote> <blockquote>"It’s harder to be original and it’s harder to stand out"</blockquote>
I disagree here. Music, when done well, is a direct expression of self. And, with this, I believe that there are no two people alike. We are each completely unique though we all share somethings that are universal. Improvisation and composition are practices of accessing these aspects of the self in communication with an audience.
As long as this theory holds true, then I believe that strong unique work that communicates on a deep level will continue. Without a doubt, I have heard some amazing music in recent days.
Reduced Time to Produce and Distribute
One thought raised is that the creation of music was once a process more cultured, taking longer to create and eventually be presented to the public. The time to produce and distribute music has definitely been reduced considerably. Music may be recorded and uploaded to a site with good traffic within minutes.
The pressure to get music into the public sphere quickly is perhaps a reflection of the general business model of trying to get a product on the shelves before competitors. Though the products of music are specialized, this pressure may yet influence this realm. Working against that pressure takes some effort that could have better been spent in creative tasks.
An artist can voluntarily decide to hold off presenting a work, however, just having the option to present quickly can alter the production of a piece as doing so requires some psychic energy. This was not even a consideration in prior times when getting music to an album or radio took many months to years of not just recording and distribution, but also gaining access to those very channels.
One could argue that there was time and energy spent in gaining the attention of big labels that is no longer of central concern. But, if anything, this has only changed in form. Now, rather than only attempting to impress the industry, an artist needs to do the real work of convincing an audience directly that the music is worth a listen before a play button is even pressed.
The Changes of Cost
<blockquote>"Music is free."</blockquote>
The concept and modes of purchasing music have shifted considerably. I list music for sale at my store, but if you can get it in other ways, that’s fine, too.
Music shared can be considered promotion. A purchase through the mp3 store (subtle advertising: it’s awesome) now has the additional sense of a “tip.” Though an artist would very much like to be compensated for work, they know that it can be had for free. Historically, musicians have not been known to be well off. It is only in the last century with the relative invention of the “star” that they have even had financial security.
Perhaps the advent of the Internet and the ready accessibility of sound files is returning musicians to a financial state that is somehow more natural (though perhaps not comfortable).
Having said that, the concept of price for music, or perhaps more generally, the price of something readily copied and distributed without cost, is continually being studied as, for example, in this study reported by Ars Technica.
The Changes of Value
<blockquote>"Music has become devalued…why? Because it’s free."</blockquote>
Quite possibly true. There is so much free music, some of which is extremely good, that a consumer is in a position less ready to actually purchase music. The cost of music is not only in money, but also in the time one listens to music. For a good piece of music, one happily spends a considerable amount of time listening and re-listening. Having spent that time on free music also means less money spent on purhcased music.
And, of course, there is the real psychological concept that the value held for an item is related to its cost. In this case, it is not music that has declined in some inherent quality of art, rather our perceptions have changed as what is spent declines.
<blockquote>"Sonically, music is waaaay too compressed and loud, making it very fatiguing to the ears for any extended period of time- the burn-out rate is fast"</blockquote>
Agreed. Read more about the phenomenon of over-compression here. In my opinion, music should be compressed only to the point where a listener is not forced to manually adjust volume and can still appreciate the sonic hills and valleys.
Most compression is done to compete with other stations, by making the song seem “louder.” This is unfortunate as I believe that amplitude of sound is a largely unused, yet powerful dimension of the sound medium which can generate a rich sense of tension and emotion when used well.
<blockquote>"Music and arts programs have been removed from our public schools. So many children have been growing up without ever having a chance to not only learn and study music, but understand its history."</blockquote>
I could go on for quite a while with this one. Music needs not only to be taught in schools, but given significant priority. Music is food for the soul.
In Conclusion …
The most direct comment to the issue is by GZiemann:
<blockquote>“Music will be fine. The business, not so much.”</blockquote>
Perhaps. We’ll just have to see …