I’m no 20-year-old SoundCloud rapper
February 5, 2019 11:40 PM   Subscribe

I am not the next big thing: on creativity and aging

The Creative Independent is 'a growing resource of emotional and practical guidance for creative people.' There are a number of interesting and useful pieces on the site, including a guide for how to balance full-time work with creative projects.
posted by naju (107 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
I hate to blame the audience (I include myself, but only because I am the last man on Earth who ever at any time wanted to hear "Ben Folds meets Blink 182," sorry, bro) but I think the issue is that most people who are 40+ don't listen to new music at all. The interest isn't there. You can't blame the main consumers of new music (young people) for not being into a sound that would have had marginal indie appeal twenty years ago, but...I do, I really do, think you can blame people who would like that music but are too busy still listening to whatever they listened to in high school.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:33 AM on February 6 [24 favorites]


My background is very different but as I grind my way into cultural irrelevance, I find myself musing on the inexorability of it; how much I would like my creative pursuits to mean something to someone other than me and a couple of friends, how increasingly unlikely it is they every will, and how I can’t really stop, either way. This resonates.
posted by Sokka shot first at 3:36 AM on February 6 [19 favorites]



...but I think the issue is that most people who are 40+ don't listen to new music at all. .
...too busy still listening to whatever they listened to in high school.

I'm pushing 50 and do listen to new music but, I'll concede, it's largely because I'm looking for new music that sounds like what I listened to in school.
posted by faceplantingcheetah at 3:53 AM on February 6 [18 favorites]


The whole having to maintain a constant presence on social media thing adds (for me) an added level of sadness and desperation to the efforts artists have to make to attract audiences. A little while ago I had a YouTube playlist on in the background and one of the songs was followed by a message from the two young band members imploring people to follow them on every social media platform I’d heard of and some I hadn’t, hyping little contests and prizes for people who did so and (most importantly) practically begging viewers to forward the video to everyone they knew, all while maintaining an air of forced joviality. It was almost half as long as the song itself and made me feel terrible for them.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:16 AM on February 6 [29 favorites]


I'll be 61 tomorrow, and, while I don't listen to music as much as I used to, when I do it's almost always in search of new sounds. One of my favorite sources is the local high school student radio station. The other is a nearby university student radio station. They can be hit-or-miss, but they never fail to introduce me to something new whenever I listen.

I've also been exploring Pandora for off-the-beaten-path stuff. Just plug-in the name of a new act you heard about and see what happens. It's kind of fun to try and stump it.

I avoid social media like the plague, so Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/whatever is of no use or consequence to me.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:22 AM on February 6 [10 favorites]


>I do, I really do, think you can blame people who would like that music but are too busy still listening to whatever they listened to in high school.

It's almost as though middle-aged people have bills and shit, and can't sit around all day doing fuck-all except scratching their asses and deciding what flavor of currently popular music best defines their identity. I find my identity is very thoroughly defined by a constant fucking stream of existential crises; if somebody wants to deal with them for me, I'd be more than happy to sit around listening to some music, I really would.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 4:37 AM on February 6 [43 favorites]


I think the identity-defining aura around bands just fades away as people age. My favorite artist is XTC; yours is Bruno Mars. In high school, I would have thought that meant you were a cretin and a dupe of The Man; now, I don't care.

There are some obvious reasons why it's good to support new artists, but it is kind of weird that there's a cultural imperative to value novelty above all else in music. At a certain point, keeping up with new music starts to feel like work to people, and they just listen to what they like.
posted by thelonius at 4:47 AM on February 6 [28 favorites]


It's almost as though middle-aged people have bills and shit, and can't sit around all day doing fuck-all except scratching their asses and deciding what flavor of currently popular music best defines their identity.

(a) Perhaps some listeners having always been more interested in defining an identity than in the actual music is part of why a certain proportion of folks don't listen to any new music after a certain age?

(b) In these days of music streaming services that algorithmically generate suggestions, it is trivially easy to find new music. I have a 50-hour/week job, other stuff I volunteer with, various "adult" responsibilities, etc. I specifically spend time seeking out music I haven't heard yet (some from new artists, some that is merely new to me) because I like music. But even when I'm particularly busy I tend to listen to new music at least once a week by simply scrolling through the "Recommended for you" new selections on Google Play and queuing up a few that look potentially interesting. Plus, there's the radio. It's almost harder to only listen to specific artists I've heard before.
posted by eviemath at 5:06 AM on February 6 [10 favorites]


Cultural irrelevance is a total red herring. You’re only irrelevant to the marketers. And they are irrelevant to you. As far as human culture goes, novelty is not, in and of itself, relevant.
posted by Jode at 5:12 AM on February 6 [19 favorites]


Much of the writing about "creativity" focusses on overcoming your fears and finding your voice and developing a practice, but very little is about failure. Sometimes failure as a stepping stone to success is discussed, but not coming to terms with the fact that no one will give a shit about the work you care about the most.

It seems that Pace finds the process of making music engaging enough to continue even though no one cares about the result--that's one way of dealing with it.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:34 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


It's almost as though middle-aged people have bills and shit, and can't sit around all day doing fuck-all except scratching their asses and deciding what flavor of currently popular music best defines their identity.

Um, so some people listen to music in a competitive way that makes sure they aren't uncool or behind the times, and some people listen to music because they like it. I'm not sure why this is, relative to other art forms. I don't know a lot of middle-aged movie buffs who resent that there are new movies! Whereas with music, there is often...this. If this was how I felt about music, I'd be happy to never listen to it again at all.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:37 AM on February 6 [20 favorites]


I recorded and released two solo albums containing some of the best music I’ve written (as it should be?) that has been heard by hundreds and purchased by dozens.

The post-release blues usually begin once the analytics, which were rarely a concern in the past, start rolling in... and it’s apparent how many people aren’t listening.

YES THIS THANK YOU.

I get monthly updates from Spotify telling me I have three fans, which is up 50% from the previous month (curiously it said that three months in a row). My five albums have "earned" $2.40 in streaming revenue in a year, minus the $17.99 fee for DistroKid. I still do it just so I can stream my own music and gamble on "discovery" (I also buy lottery tickets sometimes). Bandcamp has been better, but go ahead and strike the s from "dozens."

I make music way outside the mainstream and I don't do any promotion, so I can't expect much more. It's still kind of a slap in the face, though.

Deep down I care more about my work than anyone else ever will

Yeah. An artist has to care more than everyone else or their art is going to suck. Coming to terms with that is crucial, and it's a continuous and often difficult process rather than a one-time epiphany.
posted by Foosnark at 5:48 AM on February 6 [24 favorites]


it is kind of weird that there's a cultural imperative to value novelty above all else in music

Yes; I suppose in most historical periods people would have heard and played a lot of the same songs all their lives. Perhaps that is still psychologically the mode we drift back towards.

I do sort of think it might be good if the paradigm shifts away from the mega rock star whose hits are played by teens all over the world (for about a month). A world where music was sort of local, sort of amateur, less big business and more varied, might be quite agreeable.
posted by Segundus at 5:49 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]


I'm 43 and enjoying something of a second wind with new music. I listen to new stuff almost constantly and am passably in the loop on current indie sounds. HOWEVER, I'm increasingly convinced that it's not so much that I've magically gotten cool again just as I'm hitting the age of prostate exams and calcium supplements. Rather, it's that the sounds I loved twenty years ago are old enough to be experiencing a little echo in people roughly a generation younger than I am.

I'm guessing that means I've got a window of a few years before I age but all over again, but until then I'll be the silver haired guy in the back of the show, quietly minding my own business.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:50 AM on February 6 [13 favorites]


We need a new flag for posts. Instead of Fantastic Post, "Spawned Fantastic Conversation"

(The post is good too, but the comments make me feel seen, and hopeful)
posted by DigDoug at 5:54 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


> I'm pushing 50 and do listen to new music but, I'll concede, it's largely because I'm looking for new music that sounds like what I listened to in school.

If I'm being honest my favourite current band is The Courtneys, who sound so much like 90s bands I loved back in the day that the first time I heard them (in a bar) I lost a bet over whether the song we were listening to was new or old (I was certain it was old). Production techniques these days are such that you can make your music sound like it was produced during any era you'd like, and when I hear music I'm not familiar with at a listening group my friends and I have I often guess wrong about whether it's new or vintage.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:01 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


but I think the issue is that most people who are 40+ don't listen to new music at all.

I'm 43 and can't imagine living like that. There's a lot of stuff I go back to for certain moods or because it helps me focus, but I am always on the lookout for new music, new sounds, innovation. I don't want to listen to new stuff that does the same thing - I wasn't a big Nirvana fan because I was already in love with the Pixies and Sonic Youth, that kind of thing. In the last few years, my biggest discoveries have been stuff my other old punk friends have sent me, because while we all hole up and play The Damned on repeat sometimes, other times we need new shit.

This morning's has been Miike Snow's "My Trigger" which is great and even better with the video.

And now once again I'm mad that my work doesn't allow streaming.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:19 AM on February 6 [10 favorites]


Cultural irrelevance is a total red herring.

Eh, disagree. When you're young, your aesthetic sensibility / emotional output is naturally in sync with the zeitgeist. I mean good songwriting is good songwriting and stands up regardless of era imo (if we're talking about pop songs vs eg experimental electro. I mean you could rip off a chord progression from any classical composer and have it work, Beethoven's stuff is as good today as it ever was). But production, style of playing/vocal delivery, choice of synths - all that is subject to fashion and totally dates, sadly. Even more so when you're relying on the loops and bloops and bleeps that get packaged with music-making software (I know people who can ID which Ableton package/era was used in a song). Example, the massive influence of "urban" music everywhere (which imo is for the good, I'm mostly done with guitars, personally. In fact I'd be quite happy to never hear a guitar solo again). Vocals, sometimes, too, especially if they're iconic viz a particular movement - Eddie Vedder's voice, I can't take as more than a historical artifact at this point. I think if you want things to sound fresh, you've either got to strip a song down to absolute essentials so the surface details don't distract or else train your ear to the new stuff and work in the newer palettes of sound. And I guess, I do think sounding "fresh" is semi-worthwhile (in that having a certain novelty-to-familiarity ratio helps to prevent boredom).
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:21 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


From the music industry's point of view, the pressure to keep up is marketing and planned obsolescence. You can't have an industry if people are satisfied with what they've got.

But it's natural (apparently) for people to prefer the music they liked when they were young. I see no shame in it. If someone grew up on Ella Fitzgerald, I'm not going to tell her she ought to listen to Cardi B in the name of progress. People growing up on Cardi B are going to like Cardi B fifty years from now.
posted by pracowity at 6:22 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


I've always been an uncool nerd in terms of my music listening, so I certainly don't worry about that now.

While everyone around me in middle and high school was into AC/DC, Bon Jovi or Run DMC, I was listening to classical music and jazz fusion. In college I was listening to Celtic and Nordic folk and some darkwave and industrial.

Around 1992 or so I started hating pretty much all the pop I heard, and it's gotten worse since then -- I still honestly think it's the music, not my age biasing me to like the pop I grew up with because I mostly didn't. (I do remember being excited about one particular Duran Duran song at the time, which I kind of can't stand now.) Some post-punk and New Wave was okayish, but that's not what the popular kids at my school were listening to.
posted by Foosnark at 6:23 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


I feel this, because in my mid thirties I'm coming back to writing and recording music. Among the differences between me and the author, though, is that I never had any kind of an audience. I had a band in my twenties; our friends came to bars to see us play, but I don't think anybody who didn't know us personally ever supported our music - came to a show, bought a CD, etc.

I think the author is confused about the feeling of loving to do something even though he's not getting any attention for it - and I'm not sure if he learned or concluded anything from his situation, though.

I have, from mine. I'm often reminded of something my music teacher told me in high school - "Don't go to college and major in music," he said, "You're not good enough." Which sounds really harsh, but it was also true, and it was something I wasn't used to hearing. As I've translated this to myself with the generous lens of time I realize that he was saying "It's okay to love something, and do it, without making it the center of your world; it's okay to hold back so that you keep your passion instead of destroying it on the grindstone."

And what I've taken from that is that it's okay to do stuff that you're not The Best at - it's okay to do stuff that isn't productive, that nobody pays attention to, or hell, maybe isn't even very good at all; it's okay to do that stuff if you like it anyway. It's good to do that.

That's enough, for me. I have a day job; I have another hobby; I have relationships that take care and time and maintenance. I'm not a hustler or a personal brand or trying to monetize everything I do.

A few friends listen to my soundcloud; a couple really like one or two songs on there. Sometimes I sing them in the shower; I'm proud of them. And yes - I'm also working on a novel.
posted by entropone at 6:31 AM on February 6 [17 favorites]


I wonder if the ongoing (last decade or so) fashion for revival tours and reunions is a part of the ennui that eventually comes to dominate the 40-something musical brain; it's music that's new but simultaneously old in that it harks back to the heady emotional connection you had with music in your youth. This piece seems relevant here: Why the music we love as teens stays with us for life. What's interesting is that many of these reunions (to these ears at least) have sounded just as vital and passionate as earlier work - Ride, Swervedriver, and Slowdive in particular all had great recent albums (MBV seem to have disappeared again). This particular article did resonate though - perhaps the author should start posting on MeFi Music. For those of us happy noodling away in the musical margins, MeFi Music provides vastly more positive feedback and support than anywhere else.
posted by srednivashtar at 6:31 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


When you're young, your aesthetic sensibility / emotional output is naturally in sync with the zeitgeist.

didn't finish this thought - meant to add: so young people can't tell the difference between what's new and what just is, it is just the cultural air they breathe. Taking time out = losing touch for sure. Also with age, you have comparisons you're endlessly making (the Strokes? That's just the Kinks repackaged, etc). It's all new and all natural for young people, we have old ears. Which can be a benefit in that you're able to make choices more consciously. But I think making good choices does take a minimum level of investment in what's going on. And that's hard when you have dishes to do or, yeah, just care less about music than you do about getting through the week. And I think that's because listening to music - the way we often do here and now, as an individual person's curation of mood and taste vs as a vehicle for social bonding/cohesion (as might have happened or happens elsewhere in time and place) - is imo a little indulgent, it's about dipping into the well of emotion. Who really has time for that? (It's the same for me with fiction - dug it massively as a younger person, was desperate, in a way, to involve myself in fantasy and imaginative projection, to make sense of the world... whereas now, IF I read, it's going to be something facty and useful and probably short [attention span is increasingly short, thanks internet]. I give fiction maybe 20 pages and if it doesn't ring true enough [or isn't pacy enough, thanks again short attention span], I'm putting it down.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:34 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


On aging and music:

When you're young, everyone likes music and keeps up, even people whose real passion is [tabletop gaming/baking/skiing/etc] because we tend to have more time, parents and older relatives tend to be healthier, and there's a lot of social support for talking about music. When you're older, the people whose real passions are not music tend to focus on the real passions due to limited time - if you really, really like gardening, you're going to spend your free time on that and just listen to music at odd moments. To me, this seems reasonable and not a personal failing. No one is obliged to listen to music, any more than they're obliged to garden.

So naturally I think the audience for music is going to attenuate as people age.

The most readily accessible [widely distributed, on the radio, etc] new music tends to be made by and speak to young people. For me, I'm not really thinking about falling in and out of love, figuring out and learning to ask for what I like sexually, figuring out what my basic values are, separating my identity from my family and my peers or negotiating my emotional and moral relationship to money, material possessions and work. Those are all important things that consumed a lot of energy for me when I was younger, and music that talked about those things really spoke to me.

It's not that I never ever listen to music about those topics now, or that I switch it off if it starts playing - but what really draws me to Music With Words is different now, and so my incentive is to seek out different kinds of music than I did before, to seek out music by older musicians, to seek out different genres, to listen to Music Without Words, etc. So "new" music for me might be genuinely new, but it's also fairly likely to be new to me and produced in 1975.

Also, the older I get the more impatient I get with songs about terrible relationships or creepy dude behavior or songs that are all "I demand that you do X". When I was younger and falling in and out of terrible relationships, those songs spoke to me. Now they just provoke "dump the fucker already" and "okay Mr Misogynist". So this means I've deep-sixed a lot of my old music(I used to really like Elvis Costello, for instance, but I very clearly remember thinking, "Elvis, you are too old to have a spooky girlfriend" and it was all downhill from there) and get really impatient with many love songs, etc.

I guess I'd say that I listen to a lot less new music now than when I was 25, but what I listen to I really, really like.
posted by Frowner at 6:35 AM on February 6 [19 favorites]


There's a big difference between "my musical tastes were set during my adolescence and early adulthood, when hormones were still running high and everything was supercharged with hyperfeels and therefore conveyed a greater resonance" (i.e. the first link that srednivashtar posted above) and "I don't listen to anything that came out after I turned 25, period." I am regularly looking for something new that can grab me; I rarely find it, and treasure it when I do.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:36 AM on February 6 [10 favorites]


I've just disengaged from a little duo I was in for a lot of these reasons - we would get maybe 40 people at a show, but the sheer amount of *hustle* we had to do just to get that was insane. It didn't help that my co-conspirator wanted to make it her full time job, and it was job number four for me.

But I will say, there are so many people out there trying to make music and get noticed, in all genres, and so few spots at the top. It comes down to knowing the right people, getting that gatekeeper to pick you over all the others. Frankly, as much as I adore making music, that's a bridge too far for me, and I'm OK with that.

And for what it's worth, I love discovering new music. Foosnark, do you have a youtube channel? I wanna hear your stuff. :)
posted by LN at 6:41 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


I listen to less new music than I used to but as we speak I'm playing a vinyl from The Great Wight. Other recent finds include Camp Cope and Hinds. Janelle Monae? Etc etc.

I don't know. A lot of my 35-year-old music tastes are nostalgic but there are people saying things with more political resonance today and I was open to liking this guy's stuff but . . . is it saying anything that makes it necessary? Was it ever? I'm a 35-year-old artist too who has realized that coasting along lines of saleability were not enough and that in order to make an impact I have to really dig deep into things like identity and trauma. Part of that is the market today. But it's also made my art a lot better and worth consuming. Music is different, I get that, probably extra hard for parents. Writing is largely done alone in your living room for everyone. But I don't feel like it's time to give up yet. Ask me again in five years, I guess.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:50 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I get monthly updates from Spotify telling me I have three fans.....
I make music way outside the mainstream and I don't do any promotion, so I can't expect much more. It's still kind of a slap in the face, though.


Hello, is this me? Am I foosnark? Except, I'm not *way* outside the mainstream. I just can't stick well to a genre, other than "alternative rock/electronic" with a side-helping of meandering long-form instrumental.
posted by tclark at 6:54 AM on February 6


I'm pushing 50 and do listen to new music but, I'll concede, it's largely because I'm looking for new music that sounds like what I listened to in school.

Same, sort of. I listen to internet radio like the Current (part of Minnesota Public Radio, and they actually play a lot of old stuff, too), WMSE, BBC's 6 Music, and 3WK to hear if there's anything that sounds new. But I'm going to see an Aussie band called Parcels in a couple of weeks, and one of the reasons why I like them is exactly because they remind me of being 10, with their late 1970s dance pop sound.

When I was younger, I wanted to be in a band, but after having been poor, I was unwilling to be that poor again just to "chase a dream", so I made a conscious choice to get a full time job. I saw too many talented friends in NYC try and try to gain a toehold in a ruthless industry, and get no traction at all, and soon they were 29 and still surfing couches from town to town. Even so, I totally snapped back at my therapist last year when she said, in response to my saying how I'd like to sing, "Why don't you join a choir?" NO! I don't want to join a choir. I want to be in a band and sing lead, the same way I did when I was 22.

I'm not expecting to be a Sharon Jones (and she'd been in the business for many years, it's just that her come-up took her until her 50s). I just like singing and creating melodies and it would be nice to play with others. If a former minor league rock dude is able to find some fulfillment by creating music and doing some local gigs, then fair play to him, I say. Then again, I have no kids, so I could start a band. There's really nothing stopping me except me at this point, you know?
posted by droplet at 6:54 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


The fundamental problem (whether it's actually a problem is debatable) is that the internet associated to digital production technologies have opened the floodgates when it comes to creativity. Back in the old days, it was possible for a person to keep track of good / culturally significant new things, because there was not so many good new things created each year. Not only there were barriers that limited access to creation (ie one couldn't easily hear songs, watch movies/TV shows or read books that were not physically distributed where you were), but, as noted in the FPP article, creating things was much more demanding (it's still difficult of course but the entry fee is much lower). There are 20 million creators registered on SoundCloud: even if one reduces Sturgeon's law by a factor of 100 (-> 99.9% of everything is crap), that's still 20K potentially good music creators - enough for several lifetimes of listening - and they're all competing for 3 minutes of your time. Likewise, the production of movies, TV shows and books have exploded in the past 20 years, way past anyone's ability to sort and process. And it's a worldwide phenomenon, where a 10-year Taiwanese kid with a ukulele can get millions of views (and a FPP on MeFi), so we're no longer limited to art created in our culture. In a nutshell, there's way more shiny needles to find in the haystack, which is great, but the haystack is now the size of the Everest.
posted by elgilito at 7:04 AM on February 6 [16 favorites]


As someone who was birthed by a musician, raised around musicians, and has friends/artistic collaborators who are mostly musicians currently (despite not being one myself) nothing grates my nerves more than middle-aged people pining about how having to pay attention to "life" (i.e. typically a relationship and a "real job") got in the way of their true love, i.e. being able to sit around alone playing music or tour or whatever. Yes, art, and particularly music for some reason, requires you to be alone inside your own head with your emotions and ponderings and muses. Yes, having obligations that one doesn't have in youth tends to encroach on that. But then the people I know who are in their mid 30s, who still believe that their art cannot evolve beyond what it was in their 20s or who are still chasing those "rock star" dreams, are quite possibly the saddest individuals I've ever met. They are often broke, alone, and left behind by the world, and are hung up on the identity of being the cool person that was in some bands once. They seem stuck in some "golden years" mindset that usually motivates them to avoid accepting and embracing their age and thus integrating it into their music. This may be rooted in my personal experiences, but I can't say I understand it. I also don't get the duality of either "giving up" music/art for something less artistically inspired or staying stuck rather than letting it evolve. I imagine most people give it up because their inspiration died when they grew out of certain mindsets, traumas or experiences that don't align with the world and reality of middle-age. That the only motivation was the rush of being someone to be admired and noticed by a crowd or a following. This article reads in this tone.

As an extraordinarily lazy visual artist myself, the reason I stopped working with musicians is this bummer attitude of "NO ONE CARES THO I USED TO BE SO POPULAR WHY DO I BOTHER" rather than simply adoring the creation process for the sake of it. I found this obsessive need for a mass following to taint my own desire to create, which is just to...do so. If people like it, fine, if not, I do. But then there may be an external validation component of music in its performative nature that I can't relate to or empathize with.

Personally, I'm 35 and I still seek out new music regularly but, I'll be honest, I am not as moved by certain genres as I used to be when I was younger.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:12 AM on February 6 [12 favorites]


I make words, not music, but this still resonated a lot with me. Thanks for posting it.
posted by cage and aquarium at 7:20 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


I’m 43. It’s possible I listen to more new music than old music at this stage in the game, in part because so many of my touchstone bands from years past are angry young white dudes yelling about women and for real, in Trump’s America, I just can’t anymore.
posted by thivaia at 7:22 AM on February 6 [18 favorites]


I'm just about to turn 50, and if anything I'm far more active in seeking out new and interesting music/art/writing/whatever than I was when I was younger (and at the same time orders of magnitude pickier about what 'interesting' is -)I look back on some of the things I liked when I was younger with actual horror now! ). Though a good part of that time and energy investment is that in a space where everyone is shouting 'look at me!' at the top of their voices you have to look more diligently for the quiet, articulate whisperers in the shady corners.

I agree with Young Kullervo above that music is a field that tends to attract narcissists who need an audience more than they need to actually do the work for itself. This is not going to change anytime soon - the internet and social media ecosystems do reward this sort of behaviour. Of course these people burn out and drop out if and as interest wanes, but there is no shortage of others waiting to take their place.

The most interesting work is invariably done by people who just keep their heads down and get on with the actual work, regardless of whether anyone is looking or listening.
posted by remembrancer at 7:29 AM on February 6




> It’s possible I listen to more new music than old music at this stage in the game, in part because so many of my touchstone bands from years past are angry young white dudes yelling about women and for real, in Trump’s America, I just can’t anymore.

That sort of thing is definitely an issue with a lot of "classic" rock and other genres these days. As the author of this list of Rolling Stones songs put it, "I do not miss the days when rock bands took jailbait as standard lyrical subject matter." I have a hard time listening to a fair bit of golden age hip-hop for the same sorts of reasons, the last time I thought about throwing a Michael Jackson album on I thought better of it and considered getting rid of them, to enjoy their music you have to set aside the fact that James Brown and Miles Davis beat up women, etc., etc., etc..
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:38 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


most people who are 40+ don't listen to new music at all. The interest isn't there.

I certainly can't speak for others, but for me, it's not a lack of interest so much as a lack of time. In addition to the usual scheduling woes, it takes work (time, really) to maintain a relationship with music you have already discovered and enjoy - and so that leaves less time for discovery of new stuff.

TLDR : The interest is definitely there. I just can't spend hours in a record shop like I used to.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:00 AM on February 6


TLDR : The interest is definitely there. I just can't spend hours in a record shop like I used to.

You can do a ton of new music discovery these days on instagram. While you're pooping, even!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:04 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


The Fest should be announcing its initial lineup in a few weeks and my mid thirties ass can't wait. The headliners will be some punk bands you (might) remember from high school. Lagwagon and Piebald were the big names last year. And that's cool. I hear Dillinger Four might play this year and if so I will Sherman March my way to Florida if anyone tries to keep me from going.

But on top of that will be about 300 (seriously) other bands most of whom you've never heard of and that's what makes it great. It's not only a chance, it's a demand to let yourself be surprised. I have found so much new music behind this thing that I can't help but sing its praises.

A Vulture Wake was one of the best shows I saw last year.
posted by East14thTaco at 8:07 AM on February 6


That the only motivation was the rush of being someone to be admired and noticed by a crowd or a following.

A performer needs an audience, full stop. Playing to empty rooms is sad. Playing to full rooms is exhilarating. Interaction with the crowd and feeding off of that energy is what makes being on stage so addictive. Every single professional performer, be they musician, thespian, film actor, acrobat, standup comedian, whatever, does it because they crave attention. Every one! Some have a healthy relationship with that need and others are pathological. People who don't have that personality trait generally don't understand it, which is fine, but without it you wouldn't have performers.

That said, I also hated this article because you know what? If nobody cares about your music, it's your fault. It doesn't matter how proud you are of your brilliant work or how many hours you spent on it or what you gave up to practice your instrument to the point of virtuosity. If you're not making something compelling that resonates with people, nobody will listen. And it's fine to make stuff for yourself, but complaining about your Spotify stats (and legitimizing that complaint here in the blue by blaming the audience) is pointless and whiny. Make stuff that is interesting or STFU.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:10 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]


The thing is, a lot depends on how you listen to music.

It always takes me time to listen to things - very often the stuff that immediately grabs me when I play it once or hear a snippet isn't actually what I like once I've listened more seriously. I really have to listen to new music with some intentionality and attention, or I don't really get anywhere. "Just click around on Bandcamp!" doesn't work, unless I actually dedicate time to assiduously clicking while not doing anything else. And I absolutely have to listen to things multiple times to get anything out of them. I'm easily distracted, so just clicking into something in the middle of reading something else doesn't work well for me.

As I've gotten older, I've become a better listener and can appreciate things that would have been too slow or too rebarbative when I was younger. But - and maybe this is different for people who are naturally good at music - slower and more complicated pieces take more attention for me to enjoy. I'm not at all good at music. I can't play an instrument and (as was revealed by yesterday's post on the blue) I'm far more tone-deaf than most people.

For instance, I'm kind of into The Holy Presence of Joan of Arc, by Julius Eastman. When I was younger, I wouldn't have had the attention span to appreciate it, and it's not exactly a sing-along. To listen to it, I have to devote a certain amount of attention to it and I have to be relatively calm - I can do chores if they're quiet chores, but I can't, eg, scroll through Twitter or have an internet spat.
posted by Frowner at 8:13 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Make stuff that is interesting or STFU.

I'll mirror remembrancer and say the people who are making interesting stuff don't really care if anyone else cares.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:13 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Maybe finding new music is like finding new friends. When you’re young it happens readily, without effort (have I got rose-tinted nostalgia glasses on about that?); later on, well, it’s possible but for some of us it takes more work.
posted by Segundus at 8:15 AM on February 6


Metafilter: I have to devote a certain amount of attention to it and I have to be relatively calm.
posted by Segundus at 8:17 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Also, the older I get the more impatient I get with songs about terrible relationships or creepy dude behavior or songs that are all "I demand that you do X". When I was younger and falling in and out of terrible relationships, those songs spoke to me. Now they just provoke "dump the fucker already" and "okay Mr Misogynist". So this means I've deep-sixed a lot of my old music(I used to really like Elvis Costello, for instance, but I very clearly remember thinking, "Elvis, you are too old to have a spooky girlfriend" and it was all downhill from there) and get really impatient with many love songs, etc.

This entire comment, and especially this section. I did recently rediscover "She" by the Monkees (returning to the comfort music of my toddler years); in addition to being super catchy and excellent, it's got some fun misandrist fun role-reversal where the woman is the one being awful. It's especially good in contrast to "Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones (which, if I had to wildly guess, has received more critical praise than the Monkees song).
posted by witchen at 8:19 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: While you're pooping, even!
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:22 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Virtually everyone I know these days has extremely incredibly different tastes in music than I do so it's pretty much impossible to get new stuff from them. I have TRIED and it was very painful for everyone involved, because of course when you share something you love with a friend you want very much for them to love it as much as you do. And gentle readers, I did not. It was Bad, every time. The genre of "white men whining nasally about their lives" has as much appeal to me as that of "small children shrilly singing repetitive songs off-key".
posted by poffin boffin at 8:26 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Yes; I suppose in most historical periods people would have heard and played a lot of the same songs all their lives. Perhaps that is still psychologically the mode we drift back towards.

Actually, Haydn write 104 symphonies because no one wanted to hear the same music twice back in the 1700s. Music is energy propagating through air, it is literally the least tangible, most temporal and impermanent creative medium we have. Culturally, it only entered human imagination to separate the song from the singer, the performance from the composition, about a hundred years ago, with the spread of recording/playback/broadcast technology. Music has been the most disposable medium for most of human history (we had no other choice). So things like genre and specific styles and sub-styles and fusions—even musical ‘taste’ as we conceive it—we’re not ideas in listeners’ minds, because there was no consumption of music like we know and experience.

Make stuff that is interesting or STFU.

I disagree completely. The value of creative activity is in the doing, not the outcome. People should make music because it’s a joyful act, and a rewarding thing to do. Turning music completely into a product for consumption is a disgusting invention of our own age; music is a verb, an essential human activity.

Also, I can share just oodles of great, brilliant music that not many people noticed. Just because something is good (or even great), does not mean that it will ever be noticed. My sense is that a search for ongoing musical novelty becomes quixotic as one ages—while I am still thrilled to find new and compelling music, my greatest rewards have come from learning to be a better listener, listening more deeply and with better understanding, to music I already love.

Having said that, it’s a great advantage that my co-host (music podcast) is about 15 years younger than I am.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:35 AM on February 6 [12 favorites]


Make stuff that is interesting or STFU.

I disagree completely. The value of creative activity is in the doing, not the outcome. People should make music because it’s a joyful act, and a rewarding thing to do. Turning music completely into a product for consumption is a disgusting invention of our own age; music is a verb, an essential human activity.


"STFU" refers to whining about nobody listening. It doesn't mean stop creating.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:41 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


One thing I've found as I've gotten older is that new stuff that grabs me REALLY grabs me in a fairly de-stabilizing way. I mean, I can hear something while I'm working at the office and need to go for a walk because I get all weepy. Or I feel the need to dance like a maniac or run. Maybe that's a normal, healthy reaction to music that affects you and my brain has just now figured it out. Whatever the case, my brain and body are certainly processing music differently than they used to. This does limit my willingness to seek out new stuff -- sometimes it's just too distracting and I need to focus/stay calm.
posted by treepour at 8:43 AM on February 6 [7 favorites]


We're all drinking out of the fire hydrant, now, to the extent that we want to, anyway. We have been since Napster, iTunes, and AMZ music became household standbys. This is without even touching upon the democratization of production tools and channels (Insta, SoundCloud, &c.)

This means a) there's never been a better time to find new or new-to-you music and-but b) the old joys of sharing musical tastes with others, getting tips, giving tips, that's kind of over, more or less. Because we all have a fire hydrant to sip from, trivially. You don't need hours of crate digging or to know the right people, read the right magazines anymore.

This often means that there is no longer consensus about what is cool, or relevant, or (most importantly) what moves any given listener, even among long-gelled social groups. Music's role as a sort of social filter and adhesive is not what it used to be.

Me, I'm ok with this. I just want to put on drone concerts by myself, for myself, when spouse is out, anyway.
posted by salt grass at 8:50 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Is he whining about nobody listening, or just talking about it? That's the spirit in which I took it, anyway.

"I sold 50 units last year" is a fact. "I sold 50 units last year, and it's All The Youths' Fault" is whining.
posted by cage and aquarium at 8:50 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]




Not a musician, but I feel a bunch of this. I came into my creative hobby relatively late in life (low/mid thirties) after years of doing fun 20s stuff while bouncing from hobby to hobby. Of late, I've had a bit of success (a gallery show last summer, space in a few shops, successful vending events, and a Kickstarter that got funded in 48 hours this weekend) and I'm happy for it because it feels like something I made. My friends and family are not that interested in medieval woodcut style scenes of alien abduction (and who can blame them? It's a niche of a niche at best), so everything I have now, I built through work - getting better at my art, reaching out to people, taking risks asking for things - but even when I have a success, I wonder what would have happened if I started earlier?

Not that being younger is a guarantee. There's so much more work to do than just the work to be successful now. One of the downsides of social media, a necessary evil for promotion, is that the cost of getting your stuff out there is seeing other people's stuff, of feeling the weight of the slothful demon on your shoulder whispering jealous and defeatist commentary. "You're stuff is better than that, but they're young and hot and can go to all the right places, so it doesn't matter what you do. Why bother?" "Oh, hey, look, a screengrab with a meme caption got 10x the likes your piece that took you 20 hours to carve did. Why bother?" "Ooh, according to your shop metrics, you are less popular by 30% this month! Why bother?"
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:59 AM on February 6 [9 favorites]


I'm over 40, and just the other week, I went to a wonderful concert of Bach concertos for solo violin that I had never heard before. I always love discovering new Baroque and early modern music.
posted by jb at 9:02 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


A few years ago, I got a ukulele in a yankee swap. Since I'd started an AmeriCorps Year of Service, I needed a cheap hobby, and I started learning the instrument. This led to posting a cover song a week for a year, which led to playing all the cover songs I've learned in a busking "tour" across Boston public transit, which led to my writing my first real song a few days before I turned 40. In the year and a half since, I've written 120 songs and have demoed six for an EP I'm recording in March.

I have mixed feelings about this. I'm a non-sexy woman starting an avocation in a time of my life when other women my age are taking care of their families and/or further along in their careers. I have less to lose, since I don't have children and I don't own a house; I can play shows without worrying about a babysitter. At the same time, playing opening acts with kids who are biologically old enough to be my children is weird. There's not a huge precedent for women my age releasing music, which makes me nervous.

With the EP, I don't know what kind of audience it will have. The music calls back to college rock (especially bands like the Marine Girls) in what I hope will be a pleasant way. I've booked some shows, but I don't know if this will have any appeal outside my friends and family.

At the same time, I remember how insufferable I was when I was trying to get a film career off the ground in my 20s. I'd been trying to make something that I can look back now and say was unsaleable. If I'd tried to get a music career off the ground, I would have alienated a lot of the people whose work I admired in my formative years. There aren't as many options open to me now; I'm not going to headline music festivals or have a big pop hit or appear on MTV or anything. In some ways, though, that's more liberating. I don't have to chase those things; I can just make what I want and hope others will like what I'm doing as well.
posted by pxe2000 at 9:18 AM on February 6 [16 favorites]


I think this couple of paragraphs from Chapter One of Carrie Brownstein's book adds to the conversation. She's suggesting that maybe part of the problem is hearing the meaning in the sounds themselves, rather than finding it in the combination of the sounds + our lives at that particular moment--the importance of those sounds as glue for key friendships in that time and place:

"Once, in high school, I went to see the B-52s. I pressed myself against the barrier until bruises darkened my ribs, thrilled to watch Kate Pierson drink from a water bottle, only to have my best friend tell me that to her the concert wasn’t about the band—it was about us, it was about the fact that we were there together, that the music itself was secondary to our world, merely something that colored it, spoke to it…

…That’s why all those records from high school sound so good. It’s not that the songs were better—it’s that we were listening to them with our friends, drunk for the first time on liqueurs, touching sweaty palms, staring for hours at a poster on the wall, not grossed out by carpet or dirt or crumpled, oily bedsheets.

Now I can’t listen to some of these records alone, in my house that I have cleaned and organized, books arranged just so, sheets washed. The sounds don’t hold up. In these cases, fandom is contextual and experiential: it’s not that it happened, it’s that you were there. It’s site-specific, age-specific. Being a fan has to do with the surroundings, and to divorce the sounds from that context often feels distancing, disorienting, but mostly disappointing.

I think of all the times I’ve had a friend over and pulled out records from high school or college, ready for the album to change someone’s life the way it changed mine. I watch my friend’s face, waiting eagerly for the “aha!” moment to arrive, only to realize that my affection for this intentionally off-key singing, saggy bass sound, and lyrics about bunnies isn’t quite the revelation it was fifteen years ago. “You had to be there” is not always a gloat or admonishment—often it’s an explanation for why something sounds utterly terrible."
posted by umbú at 9:21 AM on February 6 [23 favorites]


Jesus, what a sad testament to mediocrity this whole article is.
I think the author's real question was asked and answered right in the piece:
"Have I always just been a middling type of guy who, to quote a memorably critical VICE review, “gets a couple As and a couple Cs?" Clearly, signs point to yes. You made _choices_ , (e.g. having a family and making that your focus) because you clearly didn't have the burning drive and/or talent to keep music and creativity the top priority in your life above all else. You saw this as an option, decided other things were more important and chose your path, so you don't get complain about your eventual, inevitable irrelevance. If you even have to question the nature of your creativity at any age, it's clearly not what motivates you to keep living, and you're probably just plain old not very good. Truly outstanding, driven, focused, talented people simply find a way to _get on with it_, until they can't anymore, because that's what motivates them to be alive. "Ben Folds meets Blink 182"? Keep your day job. Make music as a hobby, enjoy the process, throw it on the internet if you want, but please, spare us the white whine.
posted by vectorbeam at 9:48 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Wow. Interesting to see what people think.

Well, I'll survive somehow despite your No True Scotsman contempt. Have fun with that, y'all.
posted by cage and aquarium at 10:08 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


I just turned 51, and I have always adhered to the Lemmy school of music appreciation, which is that there's only two kinds of music in the world, the kind I like, and the kind I don't. I'll listen to anything if it's good, and Pandora has helped me find all manner of awesome new (and old) bands that slipped under my radar. I don't care who makes it, and I especially don't care how old they are.

But the WAYS in which I find music these days have changed dramatically. In some ways it's easier (Pandora/Amazon/etc., social media, what have you can all put you in touch with music you never would have found otherwise, including folks like this guy I guess), but in many ways there's so MUCH out there that it can be extremely hard to wade through the stuff you don't like to find the stuff you do like (it used to be if it wasn't your friend's band, or a signed artist, there wasn't all that much else to choose from. Now anybody can put music out).

But I DO still listen to what I used to listen to as well, because I LIKE THAT MUSIC. Yes, partly because of what it represents and what it reminds me of, but also just because I genuinely like it. That's why I listened to it back then, and that's why I still listen to it now. And I keep finding OLD music that I like. And I'll listen to that too! So yes, I keep adding to my super-eclectic playlist (called "the kind I like" because Lemmy), but there are some artists who are always going to be on that playlist, because I LIKE THEM.

My late best friend was a musician, and he struggled throughout his too-short life to "make it", and I wonder if he hadn't taken his own life if he'd have found a way to reach more people with his music if he'd just held on a bit longer. Or would he have ended up like this guy?
posted by biscotti at 10:16 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


...but even when I have a success, I wonder what would have happened if I started earlier?

I wonder this myself, but I also realize that the art I create now I couldn't have created when I was younger as it is inspired by having lived and developed my style into something I truly enjoy. That and the technology to have a wider audience without spending a ton of money just simply wasn't around at the time (although that seems to not be the case anymore thanks to THE ALGORITHMS).
posted by Young Kullervo at 10:19 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Man there is a whole lot of viciousness in here.

I played bass and guitar and even sang a little and was in some garage bands and played house shows and such. Music was a lot of fun and I still enjoy playing. But I can’t imagine trying to make a life of it in my late 30s when the floor hurts my back and I really do need to preserve what’s left of my hearing. There’s nothing rock and roll about sleeping with a C-PAP.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:21 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


people who can keep touring, even if it's in a bus, into their 40s, are a special breed of human
posted by thelonius at 10:24 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


I am not and never have been a very creatively-driven person, but I would imagine it must be difficult to be that sort of person, pour your heart and soul into whatever your creative endeavor is, yearn for and perhaps feel like you deserve success, and then watch as someone like, say, Tekashi69 grabs that brass ring.

I also don't think this guy is whining; there's a bit of middle-aged melancholy, but he expresses gratitude for the success he did enjoy and the day job he wound up with, makes it clear that his true love lies in the creation of music itself, imparts well-meaning advice to younger artists without rancor, and gives thanks for the many good things he's been blessed with in life. May we all be so mediocre.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:29 AM on February 6 [9 favorites]


people who can keep touring, even if it's in a bus, into their 40s, are a special breed of human

I remember somebody online saying that they went to see Nik Turner from Hawkwind - who would have been in his 70s then because he's in his late 70s now - play, and he was asking around for a couch to sleep on afterward.
posted by atoxyl at 10:29 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


If you even have to question the nature of your creativity at any age, it's clearly not what motivates you to keep living, and you're probably just plain old not very good.

Wow, it is my turn to vehemently disagree with a statement. If you really believe that all True Artists With Talent have zero self-doubt or never have crises regarding their life choices, career or creativity, then boy howdy have I got news for you.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:49 AM on February 6 [22 favorites]


I've got nothing against preferring a particular era of music, what gets me is the people that turn that into contempt for everything else.

I'm tired of the pseudo-scientific theories about Pop Music These Days--it's all the fault of the Loudness Wars, or the Two Producers that Churn Out All the Hits These Days, or the Lack of Real Instruments, or the Kids that Rap 'cause they Can't Sing.... And somehow it's all linked in with whatever's wrong with the the world these days, or with the younger generation.

Just, enough. If somebody shares something with you, it's nice to make some effort to figure out what's interesting about it, otherwise it's OK just to say "I've never really had the time to get into [hip-hop, EDM, whatever]".

For myself, I like to seek out that kind of thing because I know that for me the best investment of time is often in something that a bunch of people like that I don't--it probably means I'm missing something!--but, I understand if someone doesn't want to. Then just recognize that you're probably not the best judge if you haven't put in the effort.
posted by floppyroofing at 10:56 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


METAFILTER: In high school, I would have thought that meant you were a cretin and a dupe of The Man; now, I don't care.
posted by philip-random at 11:02 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


It's almost as though middle-aged people have bills and shit, and can't sit around all day doing fuck-all except scratching their asses and deciding what flavor of currently popular music best defines their identity

Hey, if I didn't sit around all day doing fuck-all except scratching my ass and trying to decide what flavor of currently popular music best defines my identity, I'd be even more of a constant fucking stream of existential crises.

I think the issue is that most people who are 40+ don't listen to new music at all

My guess is this is generally true, but varies widely. And "doesn't listen to new music" and "listens to new music but not outside specific styles or comfort zones" are two different things. I probably listen to a fairly remarkable amount of new/newly re-issued music for a 50-something not employed by a music-related industry, but even in my case, the new music I'm most likely to seek out is related by similar styles/generic characteristics—I don't seek out a lot of new metal or punk or dudely guitar rockers. OTOH, my 50ish brother listens to almost nothing that he didn't listen to in the 90's or which doesn't sound like something he listened to in the 90s! That's at least partly because he's a strapping husband and father with a family, house, and career and animals and I spend my life practicing varieties of the queer art of failure.

Anyway, I don't think the author of this piece has anything to apologize for or worry about. He sounds exactly like a lot of my friends who had locally or regionally successful bands, then went on to families and careers and podcasts with occasional DJing/performing gigs on weekends and holidays. More power to him. (Tho, I think the phrase "arguably Brooklyn’s last real indie rock band" could not sound any more Brooklyn or "indie.")
posted by octobersurprise at 11:03 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


When's the next article going to be published on how no one cares about their podcast?
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:13 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I liked this essay. I also don't think he's whining – just coming to terms with how his creative life is different as a working parent in his 40s compared with being a dude in his 20s in a touring indie band. Not solely due to his age, but also modern technology and social media. Imagine 40-year-olds in 1989 who'd been in punk bands in the mid-'70s ... they might record stuff in the basement or play at local dives, but might have even fewer listeners than this guy in 2019.

I'm not a musician, but for part of my career I edited record reviews and kept up with new music. Now I rarely do that kind of work, and as a listener I often go back to my favorite artists from my 20s. On the other hand, suddenly I like ... jazz! Beyond being a Sun Ra fan for years, most of that world's new to me. (This came about thanks to listening to a great local jazz station while driving my kid to school. In Trump's America I can't start my days with NPR anymore.)

I know a lot of artistic people in their 30s-50s in similar situations. My creative field is photography, and in my late 40s I'm at peace with the fact that I'll probably never storm the high-end art world. Occasionally someone wants a print of mine and that's gratifying, and I've liked finding fellow artists online (first Tumblr, now Instagram). And I have a great art group with local friends. But mostly I keep lugging my big old camera around on my walks because I love it. Like this guy says, if something is in your heart and bones you have to keep doing it.
posted by lisa g at 11:15 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


You made _choices_ , (e.g. having a family and making that your focus) because you clearly didn't have the burning drive and/or talent to keep music and creativity the top priority in your life above all else. You saw this as an option, decided other things were more important and chose your path, so you don't get complain about your eventual, inevitable irrelevance.

Eh, so anyway, it's also possible that a lot of people throw themselves into a vocation because they are fundamentally incapable of living life -- holding down a real job, making a relationship work, raising kids. A spouse of a friend has devoted themselves to their Art and, as a consequence, has created an immense financial burden for their SO and placed a huge strain on their marriage, no doubt terrible for the children. Once you have kids, in my opinion, your art can go fuck itself if it gets between you and providing for them (note: I feel adults have a great responsibility to their children, which is why I don't have children).

Is art somehow more important than having a family? Art is selfish. I'm inclined to think people who prioritize art over family are probably narcissists who would be terrible family people, but that doesn't make them passionate, it makes them self-centered.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:25 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]


Man...I guess I'm glad I never had to worry about relevance. I just make music because it won't leave me alone. I learned how to do it in school, learned enough theory that my brain could work on and conceptualize and take apart and put together rock-band arrangements in the background, while I'm supposed to be working or learning things or paying attention to what's in front of me. Now part of my brain just does that from time to time whether I want it to or not.

Often I get fixated on musical ideas which I don't even think are particularly interesting. But the pieces are coming together so tightly and agreeably that I have to get it recorded. Otherwise the pieces will start coming together shrilly and aggressively and it will keep me up at night or drown out everything else during the day. Other times, I'm very much in the mood to work on some music and my brain just says nah. It seems to prefer the first few hours of a day when I have to be at a job.

I suppose I spent a fair number of days during the senior year of high-school skipping school and learning how to use my first DAW, so it's my fault. I trained my creativity with bad habits as a pup, not realizing at the time that it will probably live as long as I do. Of course, I used to dream about it outliving me. Now I just try to take comfort in the fact that it's not going to leave and that we've got a lot of memories together.
posted by es_de_bah at 11:31 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Eh, so anyway, it's also possible that a lot of people throw themselves into a vocation because they are fundamentally incapable of living life -- holding down a real job, making a relationship work, raising kids.

These people do exist and that's fine.

Art is selfish. I'm inclined to think people who prioritize art over family are probably narcissists who would be terrible family people, but that doesn't make them passionate, it makes them self-centered.

Also fine. But I've noticed people like this tend to be loners for this very reason and despite that people still try to force them into relationships and jobs and roles they aren't equipped for only to be shocked and hurt by their rigid self-centered nature. These people annoy me so far as they are lacking in self-awareness and harm others rather than just, y'know, live alone with their art or what have you.
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:51 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Anyway this seems like it says a little more about what it means to have once thought you might be the next big thing than it does about being a hobby musician in your 30s? Maybe I'm too young to feel it at almost 30 but I was certainly planning to spend the next decade making fairly niche electronic music of the sort where plenty of the people making it are also thirtysomethings with day jobs who aged out of being ravers or whatever. I see a lot of metal guys in their 30s and 40s, too.

I mean I guess it's "thinking you had your finger on the pulse and feeling like you're losing it" versus "knowing you were going to be pretty niche (and aging into a particular niche that suits you and probably caters to an audience that has something in common with you)." Though it sounds like he's probably doing that last part - it's just not always what he thought he'd be doing.
posted by atoxyl at 11:53 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


During the day Mike works in music licensing managing Pond5’s production music library.
If you've been a Brooklyn indie, managing music licensing is becoming The Man, yo? I can't tell whether Pond5 is a minor RIAA scalawag or a good-enough-sublunary alternative, though. Or whether the point of Brooklyn indie was always to have an exit ramp into The Man's offices.

This thread did remind me to check if anyone had recorded an interesting-to-me interpretation of Art of Fugue in the last decade. Yes! Score! My youthful disdain for putting any strings in it has relaxed, win-win.
posted by clew at 12:25 PM on February 6


As a 45-year-old, I'm just not going to apologize for not being into music enough to make a point of listening to new stuff. That's not a priority of mine. I like books a lot more than music, and most of my consumption of new creative works goes to that. Likewise, I also haven't watched more than about 20 hours of television since September, but Netflix isn't "blaming the audience" because they're still getting my money.

People's responsibilities very well may change as they get older, but so will their interests. You might be a music connoisseur who eats nothing but Captain Crunch and chicken fingers at age 20, and then be a foodie who experiments at home with Asian fusion dishes and barely ever turns on the radio at age 40. So what? Musicians complaining that people aren't checking out their music? How old does someone have to be before they understand that they're not entitled to an audience?

Of course, I can turn right around and complain about a few particular authors who've been letting their hallmark series languish in the void for 6, 8, 10 years and counting. One could just as easily say that an audience isn't entitled to an artist's work either, and they'd be just as correct. So I'd say that this is just the tangible border where one person's interests and motivations comes into conflict with another's, on a large scale.
posted by Autumnheart at 12:39 PM on February 6


(So was that the Laibach version of 'Art of Fugue'? Just curious.)
posted by ovvl at 12:42 PM on February 6


I don't know if it's just me or if this has some more universal application, but somewhere in my mid-30s my brain broke in a weird way and I can't listen to music while I work anymore. It completely stumps my synapses and either I don't hear the music or I don't get any work done. Even for the most mindless work or the least-intrusive music. This really sucks, a lot, but also I do in fact need to be employed and eat food and such, so yeah, no more all-day music dives for me.

So, I mean, I work like 70 hours a week, which is a LOT of time of not-music. And sue me, when I finally can indulge in listening to music, I do tend to gravitate toward stuff I already have and like.

But I gave up on being a "real" music fan back in college and just have ever since listened to stuff I like, when I can and want to, and if that's sad to someone then someone can talk to their therapist about it.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:48 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


(No, the Podger/Brecon Baroque recording. Do you like the Laibach? Reviews seem to be pro-ish by basically Bach fans and bored-ish by basically Laibach fans.)
posted by clew at 12:48 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


You made _choices_ , (e.g. having a family and making that your focus) because you clearly didn't have the burning drive and/or talent to keep music and creativity the top priority in your life above all else.

what? really? did you miss the part where he spent a good part of his 20s doing music professionally?

yes, he made choices - he chose to recognize that he'd already had his run in a business where practically no one gets more than 5 years of real success, followed by, if they want to and they're fortunate, a godawful long tour life doing oldies circuit shows at county fairs, casinos and such - (and an indie band probably wasn't going to ever get on that circuit)

for pete's sake, how many of the genuine superstars of rock from the 60s and 70s are still making music their TOP priority? many still do it, but they do other things as well

yes, music does require some sacrifice, but not for your whole damned life

most well known musicians have that 5 year run and that's that - some may do minor work afterwards, but very very few take it into their 40s and 50s on a non-nostalgia basis

frankly, you don't seem to know much about the music business - more disturbing, i don't know if you know much about life, either
posted by pyramid termite at 1:04 PM on February 6 [7 favorites]


I enjoy the idea of Blaming The Audience as a title for something.

#ffu
posted by salt grass at 1:06 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


If you've been a Brooklyn indie, managing music licensing is becoming The Man, yo? I can't tell whether Pond5 is a minor RIAA scalawag or a good-enough-sublunary alternative, though. Or whether the point of Brooklyn indie was always to have an exit ramp into The Man's offices.

Pond5 makes stock music for use in commercials and stuff like that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:23 PM on February 6


...but even when I have a success, I wonder what would have happened if I started earlier?

I wonder this myself, but I also realize that the art I create now I couldn't have created when I was younger as it is inspired by having lived and developed my style into something I truly enjoy.


I admit that I sometimes daydream about getting a wish granted that I could be 15 years younger with all my skills and memories that I have now, but better able to pursue my art. I don't think I'd do it if actually offered as I love my family and the life we've built, plus I'm pretty sure the wish would be Moneky's Pawed somehow and I'd end up promoting the Fyre Festival or some other fate worse than death/obscurity.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:33 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


50 here. I listen to new music all the time! Of course, it’s all cover versions of 70s and 80s songs, but still....

As for my creative pursuits, I still feel the creative impulse like I did in my 20s and 30s, but haven’t produced anything in years. Mostly it’s that i feel tired and jaded. There was a time when I felt like I had something interesting to contribute to the world, but lately I feel bored with everything, including whatever I might have to say. I’ve also grown increasingly bored with art made by men, and since I’m a man that includes my own art.

I think it’s difficult as you age to maintain the desire to engage with the world the way you do when you’re young. It is for me, at least! I very much envy those who are in their later years who keep plugging away and keep their creative fires going.
posted by Enemy of Joy at 1:52 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Meh. I was excited to read about how his relationship to art-making changed as he got older but the insights as presented seem pretty shallow. I'd be more interested to hear how his inspiration has changed (or hasn't),whether the source of the 'passion' differs what it was, and how those things may be impacting on audience interest, rather than simply relaying a dawning realisation that the bell of irrelevance was indeed tolling for he.

On listening new music after 40: I'm 43 and I hear new - to me - music constantly, just out and about in the world in shops and cafes and atriums and airports and cinema foyers and what have you. An interesting sonic texture, or wordplay, or chord sequence, or rhythmic bombast will frequently turn my ear. And it's amazing how much out there is not mainstream. I've many a time tracked something down by just asking in the moment what's playing, or catching a lyric and googling it. Shazam has also been a total joy in the past few years because it lets me catch songs from the air like an butterfly net, resulting in a massive eclectic playlist that constantly refreshes.

There's also I think a more objective angle to be explored on relevance - a few months ago I was mooching in a newsagents waiting for a train and read a rave review of a new death metal album/band I'd never heard of, in a magazine I hadn't read before. I downloaded the album out of vague curiosity (how good could it be?!) and LOVED it so much that I went to see said band live last Tuesday and had an utter ball. The audience had a massive age-variance. This group has been releasing music for twenty years but I'd never heard of them til that review because I know very little about death metal, but jeez that was some top-notch musicianship with brilliant (ironically?) life-affirming tunes.

My point is that 40yr+ artists can absolutely maintain relevance when they are a) masterful at their craft; b) consistent in producing and distributing strong material, and c) understand where their target audience is at. These are not easy things to attain in any age. People half-heartedly churning out diluted versions of their 20-year old introspection/rage have never held currency, regardless of tech and social shifts. It is sad but true for most of us non-geniuses that early output in music is eventually mothballed by the market, because being young and naively confident and 'look at me' actually IS the product for the most part - it's vicarious - the tunes are simply vectors for transmission and thus subject to the prevailing mode.

This isn't to say he (or anyone else) shouldn't keep making music for himself of course - explore by all means, keep on rockin' til you can no longer wield an audio interface, but don't lament the loss of the wider ear without at least some introspection as to whether what you're selling is actually relevant outside of the fact that it was made at all.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:13 PM on February 6


As a college music professor rapidly approaching 40, some of this resonates with me, some of it doesn't. I never had the level of indie popular success that the author did so I don't feel the fall as hard, but I do have some of the same nagging thoughts about my continued "relevance" or whatever. As an academic-ish composer I can take comfort in the fact that I was never really cool anyway. Plus my students keep me honest, and it's fun to play the part of the embarrassing oldster who still attempts to do memes and stuff.

Some other disconnected thoughts:
-One thing that's largely missing from this article is any discussion of community. Okay, so his internet metrics aren't great or whatever, but what about friends from the scene or longtime fans? What happened to them? A lot of what makes being an artist of any kind tolerable is having people who support you and have your back through the lean times, artistically speaking.
-The corporate curation of music on the internet via Spotify, Youtube, etc. has eroded a lot of the sense of musical history and context. (I had a student call Ray Charles "rockabilly" recently.) I don't know what the solution is to this except... uh... better, more widespread music education?
-A lot of people in this thread shitting on people who make art a priority, what's up with that? Is everyone here just old and capitulated now?
posted by speicus at 2:23 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


-Also, pop music trends just move incredibly fast, especially today. Recently a friend of mine was complaining about all the hype about the "first virtual concert" in Fortnite, and that no one remembered the "contributions of vaporwave" like the virtual concerts organized by SPF420 around 2013. I thought this was interesting since a) the whole point of vaporwave was to be a celebration of ephemerality! and b) virtual concerts go back at least as far as Second Life in the mid-2000s.

So yeah I guess the olds can at least take comfort in the fact that before long the youngs will become olds and it'll be their turn to feel these feels.
posted by speicus at 2:35 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


(I have mixed feelings about Laibach, and some mixed feelings about their interpretation of Bach, but I must say there were a few sections that I really got a kick out of. I think Bach's music is unstoppable. I just glanced at a bit of Podger/Brecon, sounds good so far...)
posted by ovvl at 3:17 PM on February 6


In case it's up anyone's alley, this went from a paid subscription model to a free model a few days ago, and seems pretty good: Get Free Ambient Work Music With Flow State. Of course, this hinges on you being receptive to ambient music while working, which is probably fairly niche because most people seem to not get the point of or care for ambient music at all, which is their prerogative - but if you are receptive to it, then there you go. One option for new-to-you (maybe) music, every weekday, and not too obtrusive to mess with your productivity. (Hopefully they'll take note of Lifehacker's criticism about the lack of women artists and remedy things there - there's no shortage of ambient musician women, in any case)
posted by naju at 3:30 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


I looked at his description of his work --

"His new album Smooth Sailing has been described as “if Runt-era Todd Rundgren had a baby with Hejira-era Joni Mitchell, delivered by Jeremiah Johnson-era Robert Redford, and then Mike Pace burst into the operating room yelling, ‘hey guys, listen to my new tape!’” "

-- and my, what a lot of signifiers as to who he wants his audience to be.

Sometimes it's screamingly evident to an audience that the artist isn't interested in you. It has nothing to do with age. It has everything to do with approach.

There's a reckoning going on right now with music writing and whether it's even viable in this day and age (it's a nice chunk out of this Baffler piece on the evils of Spotify), and that seems a lot like the flip side of what's going on here.

When part of your identity as a creator or a cultural critic is to have your finger on the pulse and use that position to pass judgment on everyone else, what do you do when mainstream media gatekeeper culture drowns under a tsunami of social media and successive generations who grew up on fandom as a participatory remix culture decide that how they create and critique things is different?
posted by sobell at 3:39 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


I actually think part of what's happening there is that 1) no one is really interested in reading music criticism any more, and 2) tastemaker music sites realized they don't get any hits or sweet ad revenue from discovering or writing about obscure small artists, so e.g. 3) Pitchfork has pivoted to covering stuff like mainstream hip-hop/R&B and running thought pieces that get clicks, and 4) every quietly toiling undiscovered musician hoping to get a record reviewed or get some moderate press to gain a few dozen fans kinda had the bottom drop out from underneath them, and 5) the more savvy/knowledgeable musicians out there decided to do the work of music criticism and name-checking/categorizing/narrative-framing for their own music to get some eyeballs on it, since no one else was going to do it for them - something musicians usually relegated to journalists and label promo people (and bloggers, remember those) while mostly letting their music speak for itself, but which increasingly seems like a recipe for willful obscurity in today's environment, which 6) leads to people like Mike Pace describing their music in a way that's really cringingly on-the-nose and over-explanatory and wonder-ruining and kinda-SEO-ish which just makes me feel sorry for musicians who now have a double job as full-time verbose self-promoters, 7) none of which is to complain or make excuses or anything else, it's just, holy hell, the landscape for music discovery and music exposure got even more weird and depressing in the past decade than it already was
posted by naju at 3:55 PM on February 6 [11 favorites]


I still listen to a lot of College Radio; it's a mix of genres & timelines, including: old stuff I like, obscure vintage old stuff that I've never heard (much of it quite fascinating), retro style new stuff that often sounds like decent pastiches of old stuff I like, and new stuff which is genuinely innovative. Sometimes I miss catching the names of artists, so there are some new songs that I really like but only have a vague idea who they are?

I've been fortunate in that my artistry has never been commercial enough to consider a real career, so creating it is often just a personal struggle against myself. Mostly fun, not always.
posted by ovvl at 4:50 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


You know where they have some dandy music criticism? The Quietus! Almost all my new music comes to me either from reading about it there or from listening to something on Bandcamp that they reviewed and then finding other related things. (For instance, Bees mode, by Christian Fitness. )
posted by Frowner at 5:00 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


I’m 49 and I barely listen to any music, old or new. I play a lot of music — gypsy jazz, Celtic, Cumbia, soul music — and playing keeps me full. Listening to recorded music feels lame by comparison.

I do agree with Carrie Brownstein that the social conditions that made music exciting once long ago do not obtain now. No one cares about my new favorite band, nor I about theirs.
posted by argybarg at 6:03 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


naturally in sync with the zeitgeist. Methinks your rather exclusively defined zeitgeist constitutes my ephemera.
posted by Jode at 4:24 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I'm not a musician: I'm a moderately-successful 54-year-old novelist, and this still resonates.

We expect authors to be experienced—the cult of youth doesn't apply to anything like the same degree as it does in music—but at the same time, working on my 30th novel means I'm never going to be new again.

My breakout potential has ended, unless I work feverishly to build up a pseudonym/fake identity, with all the associated social media marketing effort and also the reduced expectations for the first 2-3 books (relative to plodding along in my well-worn, comfortable trail, selling to my regular readers, watching them gradually change as the older ones disappear and, hopefully, new ones come along).

And knowing I'm never going to be new again is its own weird kind of onerous.

(David Bowie reinvented himself every decade throughout a career that lasted from his teens into his mid-seventies. I don't have words to express how much I admire that aspect of his life, even leaving aside the amazing music he made. I'd love to be confident enough to emulate his risk-taking, but risk-taking is a young person's game ...)
posted by cstross at 4:27 AM on February 7 [8 favorites]


"Popular music is none of my business" - Marge Simpson

For me, music went from being a carefully selected set of albums for a long drive to a faucet that I turn on for coding work. Then forget to turn back on after a conference call.
posted by condour75 at 6:14 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Of course, this hinges on you being receptive to ambient music while working ...

I am extremely receptive to ambient music while working, thx!
posted by octobersurprise at 8:31 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


A lot of people in this thread shitting on people who make art a priority, what's up with that? Is everyone here just old and capitulated now?

Mostly in this thread --with one notable exception-- I see people saying that for various reasons, making art a priority isn't feasible/practical/desirable FOR THEM. Saying you personally don't have the ability or desire to make art a priority in your life isn't shitting on people who do. People are allowed to be different and want different things. Being old is also allowed, actually.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:43 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


(David Bowie reinvented himself every decade throughout a career that lasted from his teens into his mid-seventies. I don't have words to express how much I admire that aspect of his life,

but even Bowie eventually lost most of his audience -- certainly for his new stuff (up until the end anyway). Let's Dance was a mega-hit. Tonight did okay as well in its wake, but after that, it was all decline commercially speaking even if the music itself was often ambitious and daring.

Getting on twenty years ago, I had a damned talented musician friend (who'd always made a point of staying on top of what was fresh and cool) suddenly start losing interest in what he called "young people's music", for the simple reason that he wasn't that young anymore himself, that he (and music itself) was better served if he focused on what genuinely compelled him as opposed to bothering to keep in touch with whatever was fashionable with people at least a decade younger than he was. Talking to him about this recently, he said that A. it led inevitably to him no longer being a pro musician, and B. it's probably the best thing that ever happened to his mental-emotional health. Enough with banking on the zeitgeist, it can wear a man out.
posted by philip-random at 9:59 AM on February 7


Commercial success and cultural relevance are not the same and seem to me orthogonal.
posted by Jode at 10:41 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


One interesting aspect to creating recorded music, that it shares with composed (i.e., notated) music, is that it doesn't strictly need a contemporary audience. After a point, David Bowie didn't need commercial success to continue living well while working as a full-time musician; he could make whatever kinds of music he wanted, once he earned the material means to allow complete creative freedom, and sort of leave it for us to find. The composer Charles Ives specifically avoided placing the strain of earning income on his music in the first place, he went into insurance sales because he sought creative freedom--Ives would actually finish writing, say, a symphony, put it on the shelf, and start a new piece with a blank page. Imagining and reifying the thing is enough for many musicians, even if that's found first as comfort, then as contentment. Fortunately, in the age of Firehose Culture (love that analogy), the tools and means to make and share music facilitate this more than ever, and it doesn't demand wealth or life-long skill development to make interesting music. (Like, an Ableton Push is kind of complicated to learn to play/use well, but the learning curve is way longer for a violin.)

But this really is a particular struggle for musicians, and I think it goes deeper than Carrie Brownstein's emotional/experiential signification mentioned upthread: music is entirely temporal and intangible, and thus is intrinsically the most abstract of our creative media/modes. Artists who are progressive, innovative, significantly different in music almost always struggle to find any kind of contemporary audience, moreso than in other media, I find. Edgard Varèse said something like 'an artist is never ahead of their time, but most people are far behind theirs,' and I think that sums up the emotional and existential challenges for vocational musicians pretty well.

I guess the question for any musician, for emotional wellness if nothing else, is how important are listeners to you? Are you making music primarily to find an audience with whom to share, or are you making music because you want to make the thing itself, your song or recording or composition or etc.? Or, where, on a continuum defined by those poles, does your primary interest lie? Among the many, and many kinds of, musicians I know, some have large audiences and some don't, some of the lousy ones have lots of listeners and some of the geniuses can't even get a decent gig, but almost to a person, the ones who are content with a life in music are the ones who are fascinated and motivated by the phenomenon of music itself, and are mostly occupied by the work.

Maybe that's small comfort or rationalization for never 'making it,' but I do know that the impact of one's music is almost never proportional to audience size, and the primary value in making something should reside in the thing that you made, and the experience of making it. Looking to other people to ascertain the value about anything as deeply personal, subjective and experiential as music seems like a sure way to break your own heart.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:41 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


Commercial success and cultural relevance are not the same

overall, I agree, though in the context of pop, I suspect you can't really untangle them. And even here, timing seems to be a huge factor, some pop-cultural moments being way more hungry for challenging stuff than others.
posted by philip-random at 12:04 PM on February 7


Lord Dunsany:
The Assignation

Fame singing in the highways, and trifling as she sang, with sordid adventurers, passed the poet by.

And still the poet made for her little chaplets of song, to deck her forehead in the courts of Time: and still she wore instead the worthless garlands, that boisterous citizens flung to her in the ways, made out of perishable things.

And after a while whenever these garlands died the poet came to her with his chaplets of song; and still she laughed at him and wore the worthless wreaths, though they always died at evening.

And one day in his bitterness the poet rebuked her, and said to her: "Lovely Fame, even in the highways and the byways you have not foreborne to laugh and shout and jest with worthless men, and I have toiled for you and dreamed of you and you mock me and pass me by."

And Fame turned her back on him and walked away, but in departing she looked over her shoulder and smiled at him as she had not smiled before, and, almost speaking in a whisper, said:

"I will meet you in the graveyard at the back of the Workhouse in a hundred years."
posted by clew at 2:48 PM on February 7 [7 favorites]




I really like High Hopes, and I think it's an interesting counterpoint to the article because while the guys in Panic!At the Disco are not especially young and have a very pop-y style -- like the article writer -- but unlike the writer, they're looking back at the gamble of Trying to Make It Big in Art from the angle of having achieved massive commercial success.

Honestly, a lot of my favorite artists are reasonably new to me, but aren't new as musicians. Lots of them produced most of their music before I was born and plenty are now dead. Asynchronous communication is the new hotness :P

A weird way that I have picked up some very cool music is from online dating profiles. There are plenty of guys who I never even met but who had some pretty awesome musical recs. I would never have heard of Sun Ra if not for one of them! Another introduced me to a bunch of underground rock/house that's pretty cool. And I don't really know shit about music except that I go through many periods of listening to it incessantly. It's so easy to fall down musical rabbit holes now that if you're at all curious about Go Go or hear of some esoteric band, you can discover whole new ouvres and/or genres while just sitting in your house all afternoon.
posted by rue72 at 6:37 AM on February 8


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