The landscape of music is an ever evolving assortment of ideas and opinions. Like a distant ominous mountain, the musical world has been shaped by the passing of time and given meaning to those who have turned the clocks. The notes, melodies and arrangements meticulously spilled throughout our favorite songs have been ingrained in our DNA since the dawn of man with or without our own personal awareness. Throughout our history we have become conscious of music that surrounds us. We have studied, manipulated and categorized each resonating tone and developed their own individual qualities to the point of near perfection.
With such a vast history of the music echoing throughout the world it is only natural to ask ourselves where we are in our journey as music enthusiasts. What have we accomplished? Where do our downfalls lie? What improvements could be made? In short, what is the state of the music world? This is the specific top that I hope to unpack.
Before I dive any deeper into this affair it is important to note that I will be dealing exclusively with what is widely considered to be the “modern age” of music and the music industry. This, I would argue, begins circa 1960 and runs through our current time period. This is not to say that the origins of certain genres that will be mentioned were insignificant before this time, however, it is a solid baseline to begin examining the history of the “modern” music world.
Pop / R&B / Hip-Hop
In the year 2016, popular music has found itself pigeon holed into nothing more than dance tracks and club music. Your favorite Top 40 hits evoke feelings of “I just want to dance!” rather than a deep level of lyrical appreciation. Why is this? To put it simply: money.
The music industry, especially in the pop world, is one giant corporation that leeches of the shallow attention span deprived minds of the consumer. If the track doesn’t consist of a strong rhythm in an even 4/4 time signature and repetitive clichés or catchy one liners then the listener becomes bored and overwhelmed by the stress of… thinking.
However, popular music was not always in this depressing state. It was not long ago when every car and household radio was leaking the thoughtful arrangements of Stevie Wonder, the
innovative delivery of Michael Jackson, and the culturally empowered rhymes of A Tribe Called Quest. These were some of the most popular musicians of their time, so what has changed? Why have we opted for club music over thought provoking lyrical content and talent filled musicianship? Again, it’s quite simple: money.
It has become a fine tuned system for record companies today. Gather a team of “writers” and give them the task of writing a handful of generic pop tunes for various artists on their respected label. Spend as little time and as little money in and on studio time so that said label can pump out single after single. Release said singles in a specific time frame where front covers of magazines, music videos and interviews can be produced seemingly overnight and you have yourself the perfect formula for luring in parents to spend hundreds of dollars on concert tickets for their children to see their hero live on stage.
In the days of Whitney Houston, Elton John and KRS-One, record companies were hobbled by fact that the act of promoting an artist, album or tour required a substantial amount of time and effort. Phone calls needed to be made and documents had to be mailed, signed, and… mailed again. The artists of yesterday and their management staffs did not have the luxuries of social media and email. They were simply prisoners of the times. The combination of all of these factors have systematically ensured that the major record labels will continue to produce underwhelming and generic artists with a catalog of “next number one hit” songs. There are, however, a handful of truly talented mainstream Top 40 artists who have successfully blended the worlds of corporate music and meaningful song writing. Although these artists are few and far between, it is important to recognize that Pop music has not driven the nail completely into its own coffin quite yet.
Rock / Metal / Alternative / Etc.
The 1960’s and 1970’s gave birth to some of Rock’s most inspiring artists and bands. It is unthinkable and, quite honestly, a waste of our valuable time to concern ourselves with the
impact that artists such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd had on the music industry. These bands, along with a host of others, set the standard for what it meant to write, record and perform as a single unit.
Moving into the 1980’s, Rock music seemed to transform itself into an entity which contradicted its original goals. Artists began opting for “Turn up the volume and rock!” lyrical content, formulaic song structuring and Halloween costume appearances rather than innovation and musical exploration. These changes essentially stripped Rock music of its “against the establishment” aura and subsequently veiled itself a louder style of its nemesis, Pop music. Similar to the current state of the Pop music world, there were a small number of stimulating bands throughout the 80’s. These bands, although very much overlooked and forgotten, stayed true to their innovative roots rather than attaching themselves to fads such as Hair Metal and the British Invasion.
The landscape of Rock music began to shift in the 1990’s with the rise of Alternative and Grunge music gaining popularity. The three-piece outfit Nirvana reluctantly broke onto the music scene
and gave their audience a much needed voice. Bands like Nirvana reintroduced the ideas of thoughtful musicianship as well as meaningful lyrical content which seemed to revolved heavily around drugs, sex and alcohol for much of the previous decade.
Let’s fast forward to the current state of the Rock music world. Although the mainstream music world and the corporate record companies push the public into believing that Rock is dead, the exact opposite is the case. Yes, we still have generic bands who seem to force themselves into the Top 40 charts with mindless Pop songs disguised with “heavy” guitar riffs, but more and more bands who have decided to take the independent route have emerged through the fog. It is of my opinion that Rock music has never been stronger and filled with more talent than it is today.
Metal bands such as Between the Buried and Me, Animals As Leaders and Meshuggah continue to produce some of the most thought provoking and complex albums we have ever heard. Rock bands the likes of Circa Survive, The Dear Hunter and Coheed and Cambria have found a way to incorporate massive conceptual aspects to their already masterful playing and arrangements. Indie/Alternative outfits Augustana, Jukebox The Ghost and Death Cab For Cutie have mastered the art of writing approachable melodies and hooks while still offering the listener thoughtfully crafted arrangements.
Perhaps the most obvious example of talent and innovation has stemmed from the Progressive genre and recent label, Djent. Bands like Scale the Summit, CHON, Polyphia, Native Construct and host of others have placed virtuoso guitar and bass playing on the fast track to a level mind-boggling imagination that we have never before experienced. In short, the Rock music world has never been a better place.
It is imperative to remember that each person has their own individual likes and dislikes when it comes to the music that they are surrounded by. Music, no matter than style or genre, has the ability to speak to the soul and to save lives. It always has and it will continue to do so. Criticizing the musical opinions of others simply to affirm your own only creates a more pronounced disconnect between musicians and their audiences. However, it is equally as imperative to know that without a clear understanding of where we have been it is impossible to recognize where we are. Do your research. Listen to the artists that speak to you. And finally, construct your own personal views and opinions on what the state of the music world is. Just don’t take my word for it.