Old music is killing new music
January 19, 2022 2:50 PM   Subscribe

All the growth in the music business now comes from old songs. Music writer Ted Gioia traces the decline of new music in a changing consumption landscape, observing falling Grammy ratings, a frenzy of labels buying up the back catalogs of legacy artists, and the continued commercial interest in vinyl records. He examines the forces behind this state of affairs and where music can go from here.
posted by chrchr (165 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ted Gioia’s newsletter is some of the best writing on music, jazz, and related issues.
posted by The River Ivel at 2:53 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


I think older music was always more popular than newer music, it's just that newer music [by which I only mean newer pop music] has a publicity arm that far outweighs its cultural importance.

"Just consider these facts: the 200 most popular tracks now account for less than 5% of total streams." this is a good thing.

"The entire business model of the music industry is built on promoting new songs. As a music writer, I’m expected to do the same—as are radio stations, retailers, DJs, nightclub owners, editors, playlist curators, and everyone else with skin in the game. Yet all the evidence indicates that few are paying attention"

That's kind of a bad model, and radio, retail, DJs, playlist curators probably disagree. Radio doesn't mostly play new music. It seems to mostly play music from my childhood, ergo it doesn't care much about new music.

"Just consider the recent reaction when the Grammy Awards were postponed. "

The Grammys have always sucked.

"In fact, nothing is less interesting to music executives than a completely radical new kind of music. " I mean, I don't disagree. I don't listen to music to be at the cutting edge of genres, I like what I like. I don't see that being a problem for anyone but those in the industry. I think new music is actually finally being appropriately valued, and that the hardwork of building a fanbase being rediscovered organically, which would be a positive thing.
posted by The_Vegetables at 3:13 PM on January 19 [10 favorites]


As he points out, it's not the decline of new music, it's the decline of a bubble in fungible music tokens. There are plenty of good artists out there doing amazing things. Working. Creating. The inability of corporate assholes to capitalize on it is not on my list of things to be concerned about.
posted by klanawa at 3:17 PM on January 19 [40 favorites]


Catalog sales started outselling new releases in 2015. Sounds like that trend has accelerated.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 3:19 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


I think older music was always more popular than newer music, it's just that newer music [by which I only mean newer pop music] has a publicity arm that far outweighs its cultural importance.

When I was a teen in the late 70s, old music meant music from the late 60s and early 70s. I didn't know anyone who listened to anything more than a dozen years old. There were oldies stations that played fifties music but no one under forty listened to that. Now I'll see teenagers with Led Zeppelin shirts on; that would have been the equivalent of my being a Al Jolson fan in 1977.
posted by octothorpe at 3:22 PM on January 19 [77 favorites]


"The hottest technology in music is a format that is more than 70 years old, the vinyl LP. There’s no sign that the record labels are investing in a newer, better alternative—because, here too, old is viewed as superior to new."

This struck me as just such a weird framing, on a long list of weird, weird framings, but it's clear that this is his elaborating industry perception rather than boots-on-the-ground reality, where the thing that actually replaced the CD is huge hard drives and wifi.

"The same thing is happening everywhere. A country record needs to sound a certain way to get played on most country radio stations or playlists—and that sound dates back to the last century. And don’t even get me started on classical music, which works hard to avoid showcasing the creativity of the current generation. We are living in an amazing era of classical composition—with one tiny problem: the institutions controlling the genre don’t want you to hear it.

So the problem isn’t a lack of good new music. It’s an institutional failure to discover and nurture it.


This is immediately, obviously true, even though I didn't see youtube, soundcloud or bandcamp referenced once in his article. We're in the middle, right now, of the greatest musical golden age in the history of human civilization and the only people who don't seem to know what to do about that are in the music business.
posted by mhoye at 3:23 PM on January 19 [89 favorites]


And, given sampling, and how much "new music" is covers of old music, this is not particularly suprising.
posted by Windopaene at 3:24 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


A similar phenomenon has been happening in movies as well, yes? So much money is involved that TPTB don't want to take risks, don't want to nurture new talent, and don't want to explore new technology.

Gioia didn't mention radio monopolies - that plays a big part in the decline of the new music popularity as well. iHeartRadio (formerly Clear Channel) owns 855 radio stations in the US. It pushed out scores of local radio stations in the 00s and won't play any music that challenges its puritan values. Public radio stations will be the next to go if conservative politicians get their way.

Also... a lot of successful people in the arts, especially music, come from money and got to where they are not from pure talent, but from their relatives' money and connections. Look up your favourite artist, there's a good chance they come from wealth. We need more diverse voices and perspectives in the arts, and that won't happen until the industry is willing to take chances on people who don't fit the mold. People who don't have a parent who can just hire them a producer or buy them a music studio. People who haven't been seen by multitudes of dentists, dermatologists, plastic surgeons, estheticians, stylists, dance teachers and vocal coaches by the age of 18.
posted by Stoof at 3:27 PM on January 19 [19 favorites]


I’d like to note that prior to digital music finding old releases was a. Amir pain unless they were a super mega hit record. The record stores would get incentives from the record labels to just stock they new stuff so they did and the record labels responded to the signal they created by just not pressing the older stuff at all.
posted by jmauro at 3:34 PM on January 19 [8 favorites]


I've definitely noticed how common old music is in the young cafes out here in Brooklyn — it's pretty nice as an old myself, but also somewhat confounding. The article has some good insights, though it's definitely an industry-focused piece. He does not give any space to systemic and technological contexts, which limits how deep the analysis can go.

Given the great archives of music that are available to everyone these days imo it makes sense that over time the marginal value of a new tune vs an old one would decline — sooo many moods sounds feelings ideas and perspectives have already been articulated, really well, in the 6 or so decades of music; go digging, you'll probably find something that resonates. New music has to work harder over time to provide value above/beyond what a consumer can already experience in the vast archives.
posted by wemayfreeze at 3:37 PM on January 19 [10 favorites]


Echoing mhoye, above, there is so much great music being made now that it would require multiple lifetimes to grasp even a fraction of it...

The "music business" has always been clueless and slow compared to what is happening on the ground, and has probably never been less relevant than now, and amen to that.
posted by remembrancer at 3:40 PM on January 19 [7 favorites]


Music is more disposable now. 20 years ago, you had to take some minimal effort to find a good song and while not terribly expensive, it wasn’t exactly cheap either. Now, five seconds into a song, you can swipe right and tag them as done for.

The old man in me also notes that a lot of music now sounds the same and is from cultures that neither want or need my participation, criticism or enthusiasm. It is marketed solely to younger listeners who have their attentions being pulled in all directions simultaneously, but less disposable income.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 3:44 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


the only people who don't seem to know what to do about that are in the music business.

they won't make a move until they can restructure ripping off artists for this era.

streaming vs mechanical rights are a travesty.
posted by j_curiouser at 3:51 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


I'm personally in a 40s-50s delta binge. blind snooks eaglin is on my radar, thank god.
posted by j_curiouser at 3:54 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


I feel like Taylor Swift re-recording all her albums in order to gain control over her music fits in this story somehow, but I'm not quite sure how.
posted by clawsoon at 4:06 PM on January 19 [14 favorites]


Is it possible that this is largely because the evolution of music has slowed considerably since around 2000?

You can't look at any decade from 1900 to 1990 without immediate, massive, super obvious shifts in the sound of popular music. If you hop two decades, it's even more staggering. 1930 vs. 1950? 1950 vs. 1970? 1970 vs. 1990?

But after grunge, hip-hop and to an extent turntablism became more normalized... I'd be hard-pressed to think of a hit song that comes out today that doesn't sound like it could have been produced a decade to 20 years ago. Sure, frontiers are still being shifted and music is still moving forward incrementally, but not in giant slabs of new sounds, new instruments, radical reinventions.

A lot of the new bands I hear and hear talked about today are just refinements of old sounds. And a lot of it is music I absolutely love! But looking at the last five albums I got off Bandcamp, they all sound like bands that could have been recording in anywhere from the 1970s (Black Mountain, Matt Berry) to the 1990s (uZiq). I love Wet Leg, but if "Chaise Lounge" had come out in 1995 it would have slid right into the Cibo Matto kinda groove. The new Japanese Breakfast is fantastic, but again, if it'd come out in the mid-'90s I wouldn't have really batted an eye.

So if the musical landscape is flatter, the prerogative to listen to new music is greatly reduced. The new isn't that new, and the cultural weight of new music is more about the culture surrounding it than it being a particular leap forward in sound.

And if music's evolutionary curve is flatter, and digital access means there's no scarcity of the old -- I'm not walking into a record shop and being faced with a wall of the new must-buys and can't get an old Pink Floyd album because it's not in stock -- really good "old" music is just as easy to access as really good "new" music, plus it has the weight of existing fans, positive reputation, and the glow of legend. If I'm a younger person and YouTube or Spotify is just throwing music at me... Led Zeppelin is still really good, and why shouldn't I listen to Led Zeppelin rather than a dozen more recent bands that sound like, but not quite as good as, and are way more overproduced than, Led Zeppelin?

I feel like I'm rabbiting on, and I'm not a musician or a musical historian, but this is something I think about quite a bit.
posted by Shepherd at 4:13 PM on January 19 [47 favorites]


Adding to the nightmare, dead musicians are now coming back to life in virtual form—via holograms and deepfake music—making it all the harder for a young, living artist to compete in the marketplace

One thing I'll say for Covid is, it seems to have killed the Zappa hologram tour
posted by thelonius at 4:18 PM on January 19 [8 favorites]


The evolutionary curve is not so much flatter - it's that the pop ecosystem (like the mainstream cinema ecosystem) is narrower than ever.

The interesting things as always are going on outside of that ecosystem.
posted by remembrancer at 4:21 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


octothorp: When I was a teen in the late 70s, old music meant music from the late 60s and early 70s.

Today I listened to the INXS album "Listen Like Thieves," from 1985. (Still very solid pop. Lots of good feels.)

That album is now...*counts on fingers*...37 years old. That's like if I was listening to music from 1948 when it was released. Which, come to think of it, I was! Jazz, of course, but still.
posted by wenestvedt at 4:24 PM on January 19 [15 favorites]


I haven't bought an album in a decade; I just pay Spotify $10 a month and once in a while I have to find something on youtube instead (I'm 45, so solid middle age at this point). Age data on who is buying albums would be interesting, I'll bet it skews older.

Kind of agree that it's getting harder to make new sounds - in part that is something a middle agreed person would say, but even with synthesized music, which can in theory produce any waveform desired, I feel like we're getting into a place where the final frontier is atonal stuff, which is a bridge too far for some.
posted by MillMan at 4:31 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


I feel like Taylor Swift re-recording all her albums in order to gain control over her music fits in this story somehow, but I'm not quite sure how.

I know little, but I think she is basically operating in much the same way as smaller acts like Sarah Jarosz are, except that the music business gave her a massive boost up, and the genre she works in and her genius for connecting with a loyal fan base keep her there. If she were recording these records for the first time now, without her family wealth and previous commercial success, she'd be in the wilderness, creating new music and probably being dismissed as not viable (in the fucked up, through-the-looking-glass way that the record business measures viability).
posted by klanawa at 4:46 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


I don't feel like I know enough about music in general to opine about the new and the old, but this article did point out the whole London jazz thing and I have come here to recommend Melt Yourself Down in general but in particular Crocodile. The Sons of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming are also very good.

Indeed, if you want new music (that probably isn't making the artists any money), you could do worse than work your way through the 2021 best of from the Quietus. I like things on the more boring and normie end of the Quietus spectrum but almost all my favorite music in recent years has come from their lists.
posted by Frowner at 4:49 PM on January 19 [18 favorites]


As a 50yo on YouTube (and earlier, Google Video) trips through the past, I've occasionally pondered how the Long Tail of quality 80s-90s media could easily kill the current day if allowed to do so.

Now, even LoTR & HP-era special effects don't hold up very well, but for music that's the bees knees for me!
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 4:50 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


I've thought we've had sufficient music for some time now.

No, you're old!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:52 PM on January 19 [8 favorites]


Not to pick on anyone, but there's a couple comments about how new music all sounds the same, or sounds like older stuff, or whatever. You know how if you eat a certain type of food a lot you get REALLY tuned into the differences between two different versions of it, even if someone else who doesn't really love it that much thinks they taste the same? That happens in music too.

To draw a further parallel, you probably might not hear much about a particular cuisine because your social sphere doesn't include people who know about it. I'm not sure who I'd go to for recommendations for either good Ethiopian food or good EDM music. That doesn't mean that I'm right in saying either one of them doesn't have any innovation or variation.

I mean, look, maybe you're right, but in response, allow me to present the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts this week, 20 years ago, and 40 years ago:
Adele
Destiny's Child
John Lennon

I mean, yeah you'll find groups that sound like Destiny's Child or John Lennon performing today, but you won't find Destiny's Child in 81 or Adele in 2001, because there were and are advances and innovations being done. Just not where you or I might hear them until they become main stream, at which point they're no longer innovations, and just something people have been doing forever ya know?
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:52 PM on January 19 [29 favorites]


20 years ago, you had to take some minimal effort to find a good song and while not terribly expensive, it wasn’t exactly cheap either.

20-40 years ago, acquiring music was positively painful for me; we're talking hours of wage labor for one album . . . this is why my extant CD collection is mostly "Greatest Hits" . . .
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 4:54 PM on January 19 [12 favorites]


There's a whole (not so) cottage industry around putting together quality reissues of music that is otherwise impossible to find. I love me some original vinyl, and have a healthy collection...but I actually listen to all of them, so justifying a several hundred dollar record is difficult. It is really nice actually being able to purchase and listen to music that's been out of print for a million years and otherwise unobtanium. One of my favorite records of all time was impossible to find for less than $200 bucks for the longest time until it was reissued; there weren't even digital copies of it that weren't ripped from scratchy vinyl. It got reissued and rereleased by Sacred Bones and they did a great job with it. Until even recently it's been difficult to find lots of high quality digital reissues of certain items, but that list keeps shrinking, which is great. Shigeo Sekito's catalog would be so great to have as a reissue, but I've not seen anyone pick it up yet. Typically when you start to see records hit the $150+ mark on Discogs, you can almost bet that someone's gunning to reissue it.

Numero is another consistent star in the high-quality reissue game; buying up full back catalogs of old defunct labels, and holy hot damn I am grateful they re-release what they do. They've reissued a great deal of Valley of the Sun's catalog; many of which were never even released as CD's, and thus, not well preserved or digitized. Or like their Eccentric Soul reissues; Ya'll know how much drop dead gorgeous soul there is out there that never hit a chart? Our local low power radio station had a phenomenal DJ a few years back who would play the most amazing soul hits. Nothing new, all originals. It was the greatest hour of radio each week, and I was so bummed when she moved onto other stuff. Lots of it was impossible to find even a few years ago, but is slowly being reissued on various smaller labels.

Missiippi records do a great job too!! Awesome tapes from Africa have released stuff that is actually impossible to find or even listen to on most streaming services, and would otherwise not exist. Light in the Attic's releases are harder to track down, and their runs smaller, but still re-release a number of extremely difficult little buddies to find (I monitor their pre-orders pretty regularly). Now Again has released some Zambian rock that, again, is functionally unheard of in America and is some of the best guitar rock that has ever graced human ears!

It's a good time to listen to music because there's so much of everything and there is a lot of good out there that either got underappriciated, underproduced or just overlooked the first time around....and it's actually obtainable! You don't have to deal with gatekeepery assholes anymore! You too can listen to all the 90's new age tapes you want without diving through hours and hours of record store tapes to find the one you're looking for but it's all fucked up on one side.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:56 PM on January 19 [35 favorites]


That's like if I was listening to music from 1948 when it was released. Which, come to think of it, I was! Jazz, of course, but still.

Buddy Holly was 1952, so that's only a few years later. I mean, I think people were still listening to Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Fats Domino et al throughout. It wouldn't have been strange to be listening to old pop music in the 1970s or 1980s.
posted by The_Vegetables at 4:56 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


The 2021 figures in the article work out to a roughly 30/70 split for new vs catalog music. In a streaming world that sounds right to me. I don't buy albums anymore, I just pay $15 a month and listen on a streaming service which gives me access to what seems like almost everything. So if I hear a new song that I like I'll listen to the rest of the album, if there is one, which adds to the new music streams but then if I'm liking the album I'll check what else the artist has put out and listen to that as well, and that'll be the catalog music. Unless it's a new band like Wet Leg that doesn't have any old stuff to listen to pretty much anything new that I like and listen to will also result in me listening to a lot of catalog music.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:00 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


I love Ted but this isn't a well-argued piece. Lots of things have changed, but he seems stuck in the old model of "new release + radio play = new music success." The amazing change is listeners of every generation now have equal access to almost 100 years of recorded music, so of course the proportion that's brand new will diminish.
posted by PhineasGage at 5:02 PM on January 19 [28 favorites]


I feel like Taylor Swift re-recording all her albums in order to gain control over her music fits in this story somehow, but I'm not quite sure how.

There are now boiler plate clauses in recording contracts to prevent an artist from ever doing that again.
posted by jmauro at 5:07 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


I'd be hard-pressed to think of a hit song that comes out today that doesn't sound like it could have been produced a decade to 20 years ago. Sure, frontiers are still being shifted and music is still moving forward incrementally, but not in giant slabs of new sounds, new instruments, radical reinventions.

Dunno, I think if anything things are accelerating (but also fragmenting). Possibly if you narrow things by "hit song", but even then I'd have a hard time saying Montero (Call Me By Your Name) "could've been produced in the 2000s".

But you're also bringing in Bandcamp, and let me tell you, every time I dip into that well I'm getting fantastic stuff that's also wildly different from previous things. Most recently, Howie Lee's Birdy Island - "Morphing Chinese traditional music with bass, Chicago footwork and AI-manipulated birdsong".
Before that, Ex Eye, which takes Colin Stetson's instrumental saxophone work & fuses it into instrumental metal of its own sound.
The Garages, which I've posted about before & who are up to 46 albums & EPs in just over a year, scattering across a range of genres & blending them into new things.
Keygen Church, which true to its name sounds like sticking 1000 old torrent keygen chiptunes in a blender with a church organ.
Black Dresses, for when 100 gecs is too mainstream & you want all-pain & heartbreak.
(100 gecs themselves, if you want something that *definitely* couldn't have existed 20 years ago)
Gabber Modus Operandi, for some Indonesian dangdut-electronic.

Looking at Bandcamp's "2021's Essential Releases", it's exhilarating.

Much of this is happening outside 'traditional' distribution channels, sure. But with this, as with many things, if things aren't changing you might not be looking at where the change is actually going on.
posted by CrystalDave at 5:12 PM on January 19 [44 favorites]


Is it possible that this is largely because the evolution of music has slowed considerably since around 2000?

You can't look at any decade from 1900 to 1990 without immediate, massive, super obvious shifts in the sound of popular music. If you hop two decades, it's even more staggering. 1930 vs. 1950? 1950 vs. 1970? 1970 vs. 1990?


This isn’t remotely true. If anything the whole musical landscape fragmented and has been evolving considerably faster since 2000.

What has happened though is the whole gatekeeper structure of the old model went kaput so the rapid changes you remember don’t appear to happen anymore because they’re no longer trying to push the new “it” sound anymore as everything is just accessible. Those new sounds always existed, but were readily shareable outside of their origin area. The whole process has lead to lots of new and interesting things that never pop up to the mainstream but can find sustainable niches via the internet.

Radio and the like sound the same due to consolidation, cost cutting, and increase in prices for broadcast licenses. So they stick to generally the same as not to piss off too many listeners driving that would drive their ad rates down. So they don’t take risks and just play what the data says people like.
posted by jmauro at 5:15 PM on January 19 [20 favorites]


I think any portmanteau in a storm might be onto something here. We used to measure music by record sales and radio play. Under that system we had no visibility into how much old music people listened to. Once you bought your Green Day album and took it home, nobody had any clue how much you were listening to that compared to how much you listened to your old Beatles records. Now, we measure primarily by streams and those Beatles streams are newly visible. I haven't mathed it out, but it could be within the realm of possibility that the old music vs. new music balance is unchanged.

Still, changes in how we measure things can have profound impact. In the late '80s we switched from a system where Neilsen asked record store clerks what was selling to one where actual sales of records were tracked and the world found out that rap music and country music were extremely popular and old rock bands actually weren't that hot.
posted by chrchr at 5:16 PM on January 19 [26 favorites]


@chrchr - Country and HipHop music was the same way before SoundScan came into the scene in the 1990s. Basically the wider industry had no idea on how well these records were doing because the sales numbers were on the honor system, until SoundScan started measuring actual sales and told everyone the old favorites were just wrong and they’re missing a huge market.
posted by jmauro at 5:21 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Oh and on the metrics front, I am sympathetic to the argument that the Grammys broadcast rating has declined but the story of television for the last ten years is that ratings for broadcast TV have plummeted outside of a few categories. Without comparing it to that overall trend I don't think it says much.

Well this is convenient. The Oscars broadcast had almost exactly the same decline, from 40 million viewers in 2012 to 10.4 in 2021.
posted by chrchr at 5:23 PM on January 19 [7 favorites]


I recently watched a Youtube video of the most streamed music of 2021. (Or maybe it was 2020? Don't quite remember.)

Anyway, 90% of it was post-2000 music. There were just a handful of older songs mixed in.

And you'll notice in the article that the posterized statistic counts anything from more than 18 months ago as "old music".
posted by clawsoon at 5:25 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]




I wonder how the popularity of TikTok plays into this trend, too - TikTok memes often drag older songs into the spotlight (as they notably did for the Mountain Goats' "No Children" a few months ago. And "Wellerman," though that's a new cover of a quite old song so I'm not sure it counts!)
posted by Jeanne at 5:28 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


Heh, my wife teases me, telling me that post-punk (my main-ish jam) is geezer music. I refuse to pay a streaming service and I probably drop a couple hundred dollars on music per month. I personally don't have a problem with "old" music. There's so much that I missed that I'm now discovering. Betty Davis? Wynonie Harris? Susumu Hirasawa? The Black Monks? yes, please.
There's just SO MUCH out there and since the digital revolution of the late 80's, it's often hard to tell when something was made anyway. I played "Sleep" by This Heat for a friend and asked her if she thought it was old music or new. She was surprised to find the song was older than she is.
posted by black8 at 5:35 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Not to pick on anyone, but there's a couple comments about how new music all sounds the same, or sounds like older stuff, or whatever. You know how if you eat a certain type of food a lot you get REALLY tuned into the differences between two different versions of it, even if someone else who doesn't really love it that much thinks they taste the same? That happens in music too.
[...]
I mean, yeah you'll find groups that sound like Destiny's Child or John Lennon performing today, but you won't find Destiny's Child in 81 or Adele in 2001, because there were and are advances and innovations being done. Just not where you or I might hear them until they become main stream, at which point they're no longer innovations, and just something people have been doing forever ya know?


I don't know if you're trying to take the mickey or what, but are you seriously advancing the idea that Adele's "Easy On Me", a (good!) song where she sings with barely more than a piano accompaniment is a sonic novelty that couldn't have existed previously in the history of music (including 14 years ago on her debut album)?

If you're advancing the more limited idea that a woman singing with a piano wouldn't have been a top-selling artist in 2001, Diana Krall for one was doing alright at the time - platinum albums and Grammy nods; sure, she wasn't on MTV, but the expanded metrics of streams are also capturing more of the audience today than new single sales were back in the day.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the longer leadup to discovery now that there isn't the same small set of gatekeepers. Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" was maybe the song of 2019 - and every single play that year would be counted as an old song, since it was originally released in 2017. "Call Me Maybe" was inescapable the summer of 2012; it was released the fall of 2011.
posted by Superilla at 5:38 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


Didn't Squeeze also re-record an album of their old songs, to get the rights to the new recordings of them? I think it was called "Spot The Difference". I listened to it, it sounds great, although I bet it takes a bit of Protools etc to get a vocal performance that sounds like the one you made when you were 28.
posted by thelonius at 5:59 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


Kids these days! They have no respect and the music they listen to is just recently steamed freeze dried vegan pork rinds!
posted by y2karl at 6:06 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


I'd be hard-pressed to think of a hit song that comes out today that doesn't sound like it could have been produced a decade to 20 years ago.

Wet Ass Pussy begs to differ.
posted by clawsoon at 6:13 PM on January 19 [40 favorites]


I simultaneously agree and disagree with the article's premise. There's something that feels intuitively correct about the premise—it's not that there's no good modern music, it's that the record industry and the people who follow it seem singularly uninterested in finding and supporting it because it doesn't pay the bills like the back catalog does.

But at the same time I think there's still some conflation between what the music industry does and what the audience for music cares about. Like, there's zero mention of Tiktok in this article, even though lots of people discover music new and old through it now. It's managed to resuscitate a parade of older, sometimes very obscure songs on a regular basis, but it also drives the popularity of new music. Meanwhile, the number of songs downloaded via iTunes gets mentioned as if it's a relevant metric, but is it? Maybe the reason the most downloaded list is full of artists from the previous century is because only people who listened to music from the previous century are downloading it, and that the people listening to new music don't bother buying and downloading from iTunes.

And I imagine the author's response to this would be: well, yes, that's the point. Old people drive the music industry, not young people. And as long as the music industry still has some tastemaking potential, you'll still have that diner of people under thirty who nevertheless listen to songs from the 80s. But the part I find difficult to grasp, as an old person myself, is just how big the "other side" of the industry is now: the side that experiences music through Tiktok virality, lo-fi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to, Bandcamp recommendations, and random online friends telling them about, say, Japanese netlabels. It feels like having a top 40 hit means less now than ever before, but HOW much less still hasn't been quantified yet from what I can tell.
posted by chrominance at 6:14 PM on January 19 [7 favorites]


To some degree, old people have always ruled the music industry financially. When Jimi Hendrix was at his peak the top single of the year was “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree”. The 80s charts were dominated by aging 60s stars like the drummer from Genesis. The albums that I loved most in my life came out in 1989 because that’s when I was in high school. I try to listen to new stuff, but there’s so much! I love some of it, but I don’t have the time to really explore it all. Of course the music people buy is going to be weighted towards the entire past of all music compared to the sliver of brand new things that just came out.
posted by snofoam at 6:31 PM on January 19 [9 favorites]


Here are the top 10 streamed songs for 2021 from that Spotify video I posted upthread:

Glass Animals - Heat Waves (released Jun 29, 2020, so presumably on the "old music" list)
Doja Cat - Kiss Me More
Justin Bieber - Peaches
The Weeknd - Blinding Lights (released November 29, 2019, very old music)
BAD BUNNY x JHAY CORTEZ - DÁKITI
Dua Lipa - Levitating
Olivia Rodrigo - good 4 u
The Kid LAROI, Justin Bieber - STAY
Lil Nas X - MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)
Olivia Rodrigo - drivers license

Having been partly raised in a religious bubble, I'm not as familiar with the history of pop music as most people. For those of you who are: Which previous decade would each of these songs best fit into?
posted by clawsoon at 6:33 PM on January 19 [9 favorites]


I dunno how to feel about this. I’m in my mid-60s and grew up in the classic rock era, and survived disco as well, and have never been ashamed of being a musical theater fan. Then I went to sleep for a few decades. I deeply love classical music, soundtracks, epic music, and ABBA, but also Taylor Swift, Shakira, Lady Gaga, Florence Welch, and Purity Ring (among others). And I find chillhop delightful.

But I don’t much time or energy to spend looking for new music. Most “new music” stations on the streaming services are nothing but hip-hop and R&B. Sure, there’s some R&B influenced music I like, these really aren’t up my alley.

I guess I’ll just like what I like and not worry about what the rest of the world is doing.
posted by lhauser at 6:39 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


but are you seriously advancing the idea that Adele's "Easy On Me", a (good!) song where she sings with barely more than a piano accompaniment is a sonic novelty that couldn't have existed previously in the history of music (including 14 years ago on her debut album)?

Yup. I’m saying it sounds recognizably different than anything released 20 years ago. For the same reason dudes singing with guitar, bass, and drums sounded different when it was the Beatles than when it was Metallica. Recording, mixing, and listening technology is different, there’s 20 years of musical trends to account for, etc. it adds up.

I mean a woman singing with a piano has been a
Thing for as long a pianos have been a thing, but that doesn’t mean Nina Simone sounds like Adele sounds like someone singing Wagner’s wesendonck-lieder.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:47 PM on January 19 [7 favorites]


You see this across the board in the arts now, with movies all remakes, reboots or adaptations of comics from 60 years ago, and TV shows heading in the same direction. Something that sold once already is always going to be a safer bet than something no one has seen or heard of before. It's not a creativity problem, it's a capitalism problem.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:03 PM on January 19 [8 favorites]


If old music is doing so great, why is Eliza Carthy having to hold a fundraiser to keep her parents Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, folk royalty, financially afloat?
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:05 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


I think this is a rather interesting and eye-opening article, and even if it takes a few shortcuts on specifics (Grammy viewership or vinyl sales are small potatoes or misleading data points), it has identified something truly interesting big picture (that catalog sales are not just higher than new music sales, but trending even more in that direction).

There's a real open question as to why that is the case, and I think we shouldn't nitpick the article instead of engaging with its point.

There are three ideas that stand out to me as possible explanations.

One, recording quality improved dramatically from the 1920s to the 1960s. What that means is that basically all well-recorded music is not public domain (and that will remain the case for decades). It also means that as each year goes by, there is more music that fits into the catalog vs new music category. If anyone wanted to listen to music in 1965, most existing recorded music was frankly low-quality in terms of technical recording; new music like the Beatles was competing against relatively little. If you want to listen to music in 2022, there's all sorts of great recordings for sale; new music has to compete against the Beatles. And countless other musicians.

Two, the structures of music discovery, promotion, and sales radically changed in 1999. The music industry has tried various ways to rebuild itself (mp3 sales, streaming), but perhaps it just hasn't quite worked. There simply isn't as much money to build a young artist into an accomplished musician -- and rest assured, it takes money. Those predatory contracts that artists signed forced them to sign away their lives, but record labels were indeed investing money in them; what was predatory about them was how they made it back in the end. There's less investment in new musicians, and therefore less sales.

Three, the prominence of electronic music (not just as a genre but as an instrument) has, possibly, decreased the musicianship of many popular-oriented musicians. What started as a tool to expand musicians' abilities has, perhaps, lead to many young musicians who can throw together an effective-sounding track on GarageBand but simply have lesser chops than the Beach Boys et al. There's less jamming, less people who learned musical chops in gospel choir and piano lessons and garages, and more people fiddling with apps. The result is pop songs that feel more and more familiar. I don't know if this third possibility has any basis to it, but I think it's a provocative idea -- obviously not referring to all musicians, but as a generality referring to many of those trying to make popular music.

(Look, the "music sucks today" argument is the oldest and dumbest and most blinkered argument in the books. I'm aware of that. But when I hear a lot of the forgettable breathy pop and SoundCloud rap that makes it onto the airwaves, I just do have to wonder. I'm curious what others think.)
posted by lewedswiver at 7:41 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


If they're fiddling with apps isn't that just a different way of jamming?

Also a lot of pop music sounds forgettable today because a lot of pop music has always been forgettable.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:51 PM on January 19 [16 favorites]


Old music used to be hard to find. I always use the Velvet Underground as an example. Everyone who bought one of their records may have started a band but there weren't that many Velvet Underground records pressed. And they weren't getting played on classic rock radio! They existed in my world as more of a myth than something I could have enjoyed, the first VU record I was able to purchase was Another View (meh) in '92. If you didn't have a used record store in your town (I didn't) you were not getting access to anything beyond the BIGGEST hits.
posted by monkeymike at 7:56 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


lead to many young musicians who can throw together an effective-sounding track on GarageBand but simply have lesser chops than the Beach Boys et al.

Hard disagree with this, even if considering just pop musicians. Players nowadays are way more talented, with youtube and computers able to slow down musical clips and lessons and learning from around the world to lighter gauge strings on guitars. Look how many literal young children are tearing up Led Zepplin and other rock tracks. Also the big players of the day relied just as much if not more on studio pros.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:01 PM on January 19 [16 favorites]


This isn’t remotely true. If anything the whole musical landscape fragmented and has been evolving considerably faster since 2000.

What has happened though is the whole gatekeeper structure of the old model went kaput so the rapid changes you remember don’t appear to happen anymore because they’re no longer trying to push the new “it” sound anymore as everything is just accessible.


The synthesis here is that, for all the talk about the breathtaking diversity of the “long tail” of the internet-enabled power law distribution in the likes of Wired in the 00s, they seem to have found it less exciting to discuss what the head looks like - a dozen artists that dominate the charts and a huge share of critical attention as well. Given that the mainstream still exists and is in the sense I described about more mainstream than ever, though something does seem wonky about the the function of the “next big thing” mechanism, though. Pop music is dominated by the influence of hip hop. No surprise there, but hip hop is as old now as rock was in the 90s so… where’s the next one?
posted by atoxyl at 8:02 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


Making any argument based on the Grammies seems silly, though. Isn’t the whole complaint about the Grammies that they aren’t very good at representing new music? Wasn’t the last Grammy controversy one of the biggest pop musicians (The Weeknd) saying he was going to boycott the awards in the future due to their failure even to nominate his 2020 release (one of the most successful of the year, and otherwise acclaimed?)
posted by atoxyl at 8:07 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


more people fiddling with apps.

As someone who regularly "fiddles with apps" to make music, I can assure you that it is hard work and requires a ton of training or self-teaching and years of practice to get right. It's not like I just flip a slider from "Top 40" to "Techno", turn the volume to 11 and hit "Record".

I can also play guitar but it rarely fits into the style of music I make.

(Look, the "music sucks today" argument is the oldest and dumbest and most blinkered argument in the books. I'm aware of that. But when I hear a lot of the forgettable breathy pop and SoundCloud rap that makes it onto the airwaves, I just do have to wonder. I'm curious what others think.)

Have you heard all the stuff that made it onto the airwaves in the 80s? Not the hits and cult classics you can find now, but ALL THE STUFF? Trust me it was just as horrible and forgettable. So was all of the 3rd-string Disco in the 70s and all of the poor-mans-Nirvana-grunge of the 90s.

Personally I listen to a lot of techno and house music, and there's a wide variety of weekly DJ shows that play the latest tracks. You might say they all sound the same but to me it's a firehose of unique and interesting music. Critically, though, you won't usually find it on "the airwaves."

...and not on the Grammy awards, although it shows up in the Oscars as soundtrack music sometimes...
posted by mmoncur at 8:29 PM on January 19 [19 favorites]


Like, there's zero mention of Tiktok in this article, even though lots of people discover music new and old through it now. It's managed to resuscitate a parade of older, sometimes very obscure songs on a regular basis, but it also drives the popularity of new music.

Right now my TikTok feed is 10 "We don't talk about Bruno" videos for every one of anything else, so it doesn't surprise me to find out that it is #4 on the Billboard Hot 100
posted by eckeric at 8:36 PM on January 19


New music overall is amazing - so much of it, so easy to discover and enjoy. And breakthroughs to fame and fortune are still possible which is nice. (I love great music enough it pisses me odd when great musicians are poor or obscure.)

New heavily promoted pop songs are as a rule terrible. That its audience share is declining only makes sense. Music is simplistic, monotonous or tuneless or both, lyrics insipid or offensive but always 100% certain to transgress nothing the great and beautiful hold sacred.
posted by MattD at 9:14 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


I hate to admit that I am now in the demographic that buys a vinyl box set for the 20th aniversary of an album I originally bought on CD at my local record store. In the past 5 years I have spent more money on buying old albums than new ones, so I am totally part of this trend.

In terms of new music, NPR Tiny Desk concerts is probably my top source.
posted by CostcoCultist at 9:52 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


It seems possible that there are more human beings recording music this decade than all previous decades combined. If that were true, then--statistically speaking--you might expect the best music of this decade to be better than any music ever previously recorded.

But even if that were true, even if the very best songs ever recorded were recorded this year, you'd still be more likely to find really good music by listening to older stuff because we've had so much more time to sort through and identify the good stuff from previous years.

So even in the maximum case of music today being as good or better than it's ever been, you'd expect to find lots of people, including young people, listening to older music.
posted by straight at 9:53 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


Related:

An investment firm has bought 50% of the rights to all Neil Young's songs.

Hipgnosis Songs Fund spent an estimated $150m (£110m) on 1,180 songs written by the Canadian folk rocker.

Before setting up Hipgnosis, Mr Mercuriadis managed artists such as Beyoncé, Elton John, Iron Maiden and Guns 'N' Roses.

In his view, songs are "as investible as gold or oil".

He says hit songs are a stable investment because their revenue is unaffected by fluctuations in the economy.

posted by UN at 10:17 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


One, recording quality improved dramatically from the 1920s to the 1960s.

This is a pretty important note. The music industry made a lot of money selling new records—and often new recordings—each time recording technology changed substantially.

E.g. just in the first half of the 20th century, the market went through several variations of 78 RPM shellac records, then 45 RPM "EP" vinyl, then 33-1/3 "LP" vinyl. Each came with accompanying improvements on the recording and mastering side, making buying new recordings of the same music worthwhile even if your tastes hadn't changed. This continued in the second half of the century, with the addition of stereo, the introduction of car tape decks (8-track and cassette), and eventually the transition over to CD as both the dominant in-home and portable format.

But there hasn't been much listener interest in higher-than-CD quality formats. It seems that most people are pretty content to listen to their music at something around (at best) 44.1KHz/16b PCM quality; in the last 4 decades most advances in music distribution have been related to compressing that same subjective quality into smaller files and streams.

I'd imagine this has hurt professional session musicians and studio bands more than the industry as a whole.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:33 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Radio doesn't mostly play new music. It seems to mostly play music from my childhood, ergo it doesn't care much about new music.

So true. It seems like the biggest trend in radio right now are "80's-and-more" stations, focusing mainly on 80's music with the occasional No Doubt or whatnot thrown in for good measure. (Even our local "alternative" station has turned into one of said stations, where their new "totally random radio" shtick means playing Starship's "We Built This City" after the Cure). Not that you'll hear much New Music on the rest of the dial.

If old music is doing so great, why is Eliza Carthy having to hold a fundraiser to keep her parents Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, folk royalty, financially afloat?

As usual, the fact that music is doing great doesn't necessarily mean that its practitioners are getting a fair share of the proceeds. (Should I bitch about Spotify again? Nah).

Have you heard all the stuff that made it onto the airwaves in the 80s? Not the hits and cult classics you can find now, but ALL THE STUFF? Trust me it was just as horrible and forgettable.

So. Very. Frigging. True. Not that it makes the weaker segments of today's music scene any better, but one does have to suppress a smirk when folks talk about the golden age of 80's or 90's music. (Of course, we'll probably also have people 30 years from now similarly waxing eloquent about the music of the 10's and 20's)
posted by gtrwolf at 12:04 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


I had a similar moment to ones in the article last year, when I went to a club that was the kind of place I went to in my early 20s, and it was indeed full of people in their early 20s. But the music was stuff that was new when I used to dance to it in the early 2000s - the Strokes, Bloc Party, QoTSA. And look, there were not many people there, it wasn't the hippest place. But I don't think when I was in my 20s I could have found a club playing the hits of 1980, not as a "retro" night, but as though they were the hits of today. At one point they played TNT by AC/DC, which we also used to love, and look, it's a good song, but it was released in 1975 - it's 47 years old. It just seemed so conservative and sad.

tl;dr: I got older, the music stayed the same age.
posted by happyfrog at 12:07 AM on January 20


One of the issues not discussed here is the changing landscape and how that affects perception: streaming (spotify, apple music, etc) was a young person's game until a few years ago so heavily skewed towards the new. The growth in new subscribers has been amongst the older age groups who, naturally, listen to more catalogue. Because they are moving to streaming, their consumption can now be measured down to the individual thirty second stream whereas before, no one knew they were listening to a CD or a piece of vinyl or the radio. "Growth", in this case, to a great extent means "we can see what you're doing now".

Also in the music biz, "old music" is defined as 18 months or older. That's "catalogue" and deemed old.
posted by humuhumu at 1:04 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


I'm taking exception with most of his arguments here... I respect Ted Goia a lot but I think he's out of touch here.

The hottest area of investment in the music business is old songs—with investment firms getting into bidding wars to buy publishing catalogs from aging rock and pop stars. --> investment from outside the industry, to a great extent. It's VC firms looking for a way to make money. This is not really "investment" in anything other than an asset that will make money in the future, same as them buying shares in Apple.

The song catalogs in most demand are by musicians in their 70s or 80s (Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, etc.)—if not already dead (David Bowie, James Brown, etc.). --> sure, because they are proven money generators over a long period. Taylor's catalogue was bought a few years ago by a VC firm, so it's whatever they can get. The majors own most recent catalogues (Taylor was an exception) so won't sell anyway.

Even major record labels are participating in the shift, with Universal Music, Sony Music, Warner Music, and others buying up publishing catalogs—investing huge sums in old tunes that, in an earlier day, would have been used to launch new artists. --> not so much. UMG and Warner recently IPOd and have cash on hand to invest. They also have to buy up catalogues to stop the VCs getting them.

The hottest technology in music is a format that is more than 70 years old, the vinyl LP. There’s no sign that the record labels are investing in a newer, better alternative—because, here too, old is viewed as superior to new. --> they've done that investment. It's called streaming. It is far, far, far more valuable than vinyl which remains a niche, even if it's growing fast. Vinyl is small single digit percentages of the total revenues in the industry.

In fact, record labels—once a source of innovation in consumer products—don’t spend any money on research & development to revitalize their businesses, although every other industry looks to innovation for growth and consumer excitement. --> Eh? This is completely out of whack with what I see. I don't think he's been watching. Major R&D spending, major investments in new ways of engaging with and reaching audiences (short form video, gaming, etc etc).

Record stores are caught up in the same time warp. In an earlier day, they aggressively marketed new music, but now they make more money from vinyl reissues and used LPs. --> People are streaming so not going to record stores for new music so much. Stores may not be so concerned about new music but the streaming services, where most people access music, promote new stuff constantly. Is Spotify pushing the new Paul McCartney album? Nope. It's pushing The Weeknd, Selena Gomez, Taylor. The artists who were the most listened to last year and will be this year.

Radio stations are contributing to the stagnation, putting fewer new songs into their rotation, or—judging by the offerings on my satellite radio lineup—completely ignoring new music in favor of old hits. ---> again: radio is less important. It's always been an old person's music delivery system more than the young. And older people listen to older music. Radio has centralised massively in the last couple of decades, particularly in the US. The stations program centrally so there's less diversity. It's business, not a reflection of a trend in new music.

When a new song overcomes these obstacles and actually becomes a hit, the risk of copyright lawsuits is greater than ever before. The risks have increased enormously since the “Blurred Lines” jury decision of 2015—with the result that additional cash gets transferred from today’s musicians to old (or deceased) artists. --> this really has not happened on any wide scale. People were worried about Blurred Lines when it happened, and now it just means that Selena Gomez credits twenty different songwriters if her team realises it sounds a bit different. This is occasional incidents that are NEVER settled in court anymore because it's so damn expensive. It's like saying De La Soul were going to end new music when they made 3 Feet High and Rising out of samples or The Avalanches killed the music industry with Since I Left You.

Adding to the nightmare, dead musicians are now coming back to life in virtual form—via holograms and deepfake music—making it all the harder for a young, living artist to compete in the marketplace --> Oh come on. This is just completely off base. How many holograms have toured recently? How many people are going to listen to deepfakes of Taylor Swift or The Beatles?
posted by humuhumu at 1:16 AM on January 20 [9 favorites]


I feel like Taylor Swift re-recording all her albums in order to gain control over her music fits in this story somehow, but I'm not quite sure how.

There are now boiler plate clauses in recording contracts to prevent an artist from ever doing that again.


Those clauses normally expire five years following the end of the contract. Taylor Swift's re-recordings are each being released at least 5 years after the original release dates.
posted by Lanark at 1:39 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


I would tentatively go with the idea that the centralizing structures that would make some new music into hits just aren't there any more.

Even more tentatively, back in the sixties, I thought that rock music wouldn't last, that young people would come up with something new-- as different as rock music was from Frank Sinatra.

There have been changes like techno and hip-hop, but to the extent that rock is music in 4/4 with substantial bass, I'm not sure how much has changed.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 3:41 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


I don't listen to the radio. I've been only barely tangentially aware of what's popular since, oh, grunge, when people start talking about it a lot on the internet. E.g. "Old Town Road" -- I've heard of it but don't know or care what it actually sounds like; I heard "WAP" once and two different parodies of it; I listened to "Gangnam Style" once and don't really remember it.

But I am listening to a whole lot of independent, self-published and small label music from Bandcamp. Some of it is very new and creative, some of it is riding a wave of nostalgia for the 80s, or for 50s-70s sci fi soundtrack electronic music, some of it doesn't sound like it comes from any particular time but it just is.
posted by Foosnark at 4:17 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


This all tracks with my listening habits, as an old dude who graduated from high school in 1993. Sorting my Apple Music 2021 Replay playlist by album release year, the oldest track was from 1968 (While My Guitar Gently Weeps by the Beatles) and the first 59 in the list were all released before 2000. Most of the songs on the playlist that were released in 2021 all came from two live albums released by Donald Fagen and Steely Dan.
posted by emelenjr at 4:18 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Ctrl+F "K-pop" = 0 hits = fail
This is a surprisingly narrow view, it speaks more about the decadence of the U.S. culture industry than about "music" in general. Meanwhile, all the Brazilian kids are listening to K-pop.
posted by Tom-B at 5:26 AM on January 20 [11 favorites]


What time do young people have allocated for seeking out truly new music?
posted by amtho at 5:46 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I know Gioia through his jazz criticism, and signed up to his list after reading one of his books. Every week Spotify tells me that artists I listen to, like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans, have new albums out for me to listen to. I think, from the viewpoint of jazz, and then the rest of the American popular music catalogue, which is the context that Gioia works in and writes about, he seems like he's making a reasonable statement.

He also wrote on his list in October 2021:
Exciting new music trends will continue to emerge, but increasingly they will arrive from outside the major Anglo-American urban centers that previously determined what songs people heard. We have already seen the first signs of this with the global spread of K-Pop...
posted by The River Ivel at 5:46 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Streaming services, YouTube and a multitude of other sources have completely changed the landscape of how people listen and buy music, whether old or new. I don't subscribe to any streaming service and have no need to. Between the vinyl, cd's and files that I have, I am good. There are files, cd's and vinyl that I have not listened to very closely so they are new to me. It helps to have a friend who mails me quality files of African, South American and Caribbean music.
posted by DJZouke at 5:47 AM on January 20


Add: A few years ago before the thing, I was talking with a DJ from Brooklyn who spins mainly house and funk. He told me that an African guy once asked him "What happened to your music?"
posted by DJZouke at 5:51 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


This is one of the most “old man yells at cloud” things I’ve ever read. How is anybody trying to make arguments based on radio? Who the fuck still listens to the radio? Do new cars even have radios? My god.
posted by sinfony at 5:55 AM on January 20 [13 favorites]


Once again, I'm tremendously glad I live in a place with three community radio stations. Usually there's something I will enjoy on, except on Sundays when it's all Americana/ folk at the same time, for some reason.
posted by eustatic at 6:14 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


This is a pretty important note. The music industry made a lot of money selling new records—and often new recordings—each time recording technology changed substantially.

This is so true that it was a drive-by joke in the first Men In Black movie. "This is a fascinating little gadget. A new recording device to replace CD's, so now I gotta buy the White Album again"
posted by mhoye at 6:15 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


If anyone wanted to listen to music in 1965, most existing recorded music was frankly low-quality in terms of technical recording;

if you're talking about independent rock recordings, yes - but that wasn't yet the prevalent form of music, and it was low quality because not many people had learned how to record it, and the studios bands could afford were generally poor

if you're talking about what was pop music then, the technique involved in recording a sound source and getting it onto tape was equal to and perhaps superior to what we have now - microphone technology, preamps, boards and especially rooms were mostly first class then and still would be considered to be now

just as the artists had to be good, because it was being recorded live onto tape, the engineers and producers had to be good, because they didn't get much of a second chance and that involved using razor blades on master tapes

not only did frank sinatra and the other stars of that era get to use world class microphones in great studios, but many of today's stars are still using those microphones in studios that try to live up to those standards

the post war pop recordings of the 50s and 60s hold up very well as far as recording quality goes and today's professional engineers study them closely and still use the techniques and equipment used back then - when it comes to getting a real vocal performance recorded, we reached the peak in the 50s and we're still striving to maintain that level
posted by pyramid termite at 6:16 AM on January 20 [10 favorites]


I suspect that a lot of the criticisms of the article (which I don't know that I like) tend to support its thesis: The point is that whereas music (and, more importantly, a pantheon of known artists) used to have a central place in the culture, the mainstream music industry is dominated by a very efficient set of creators able to provide it with an endless stream of indistinguishable product that can reliably slip in and out of the charts without a ripple.

Similarly, there seems to be a huge market for what I call Stadium Shaped Noises - musically simple, anthemic music with big gestures that can withstand the flattening process that playing to a crowd of many thousands of people can often engender.

There is a phenomenal quantity of stuff being produced that is of interest, divided between an huge number of tiny, to some extent discrete, audiences, such that very little of it is likely to have any kind of cultural importance. Tiny is relative, of course, and I'm talking audiences of thousands or tens of thousands of people rather than millions - compared to the Rolling Stones' cultural reach minuscule, but I wouldn't want to have to make tea for all of them.

This is all fine, I guess. I mean, I'm very attached to the things I like, and understand that they mean nothing at all to almost everybody else.

But it makes sense that the music that is both interesting and enjoyable and that also has some kind of cultural universality is going to grow in popularity. I would certainly prefer to listen to Led Zeppelin, say, than a band that sounds like Led Zeppelin because of all the strange idiosyncrasies that get left out in the appropriation process. There is something exciting about the music from that sort of time, because you can tell that they didn't really know what they were doing and they were making it up as they were going along.
posted by Grangousier at 6:45 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


"...going to consolidate its popularity" would be better.
posted by Grangousier at 6:50 AM on January 20


I'm guessing that some of this is because of the same type of forces that are causing the trends in the publishing industry. Expectations for profit and disposable income have both changed. Up at the top they don't want to promote and market 500 new albums each season, they only want to market ten top hits that bring them tons of money. Tom Clancy, James Patterson, Danielle Steele, J.K. Rowling. Who is going to sell like those guys did? How can we ensure our next artist sells even better that those guys - because we need to increase our sales!

So the competition for the top slots get fiercer and the execs are only looking for sure things that have a formula and a format that is guaranteed to bring in the top buck$. The plots become the same. The special effects become the same. The hype is chosen before the product. To make sure that everything about the next potential top album is the least likely to flop it has to be just like the last one in every respect, only better. And flop is defined as barely covering the massive, massive investment in marketing. So they go to the same techniques and the same writers who write for all the top artists of that label. They pick their musicians from a stable that has been trained and in the spotlight since childhood, who in fact have no say whatsoever in artist decisions. They need to be groomed for the industry, not joining bad garage bands with their other music student friends when they are in junior high. The talent comes from an increasingly small pool of people with connections and the money goes to an increasingly small pool of income and status elites.

Meanwhile the generation that is most likely to be newly discovering and spending money on new music - the generation who have caused older people to exclaim "What in the world is that, that kids are listening to nowadays!" for centuries including that craze for Minnesingers in the twelfth century - has notably less money to spend than they did in the recent few. Your twelve, fifteen and twenty-year old may not be spending money on music. They have less money and more things to spend money on. They probably do not have a part time job babysitting or pumping gas after school or flipping burgers because jobs flipping burgers often require a car to get to and you probably know how many eighteen year old can afford a car now. If they are upwardly mobile what money they have is going to support their university education, stuff that will look good on their application, or going into the fund that will hopefully prevent their student loans being quite as astronomical. If they are not upwardly mobile and there is any money it's going into an HBO subscription, several games and the co-pay on the medical plan so they don't have to go off their antidepressant and their anxiety meds, and what's left is to contribute to their friend' gofundmes. They sure aren't going out clubbing and listening to new bands at the club like the German kids who first discovered the Beatles.

But they are heckofa internet literate, so if they do spend cash for music there is every chance it's not the ones the music executives expected or hoped for. Their dollars could easily disappear into BTS exclusive concert streams or Steam game music scores. It's just as likely to be a pirate copy as a paid one - lol, no it isn't. It's much more likely they are listening to a free stream of it than actually paying for it, just as once upon a time when only John and Minnie owned the wax disk that went on the Victrola, when they said they were going to crank it up Friday night after school everyone went over to their house to listen to it. You might not like the Charleston at first, but by God, it was free music and it wasn't church. Must have been twenty of you there all over the back porch listening to the music through the window.

What is in trouble is the Music Industry as we know it with its profits and control over the catalogue. People who listen to their music, or read those books are rapidly become a demographic that only reads or listens to formulaic fluff. The new music and the new literature is out there, and most of it is dying a young death, sinking into obscurity because it takes luck, hard work, time and connections to promote your song or your self published novel, none of which are related to the talent to produce something good. But even though 98% of it is bad and 99% of it will disappear without a trace, at the same time that is where the original work is taking place, the music that is going to define this era, even if most of us are going to miss it because we are like the Victorians still listening to those traditional hymns and rolling our eyes at the sound of the music hall tunes in the distance. New music is always produced somewhere that nice people consider tawdry and amateur. It always sounds like the musician has no idea how to create a proper song with a catchy tune. It's just noise.

If we mostly survive the next thirty years some of that new stuff is going to enter the canon as the meaningful work of the 2020's and live on through the decades that follow as old music. The top labels may survive, but they are going to look increasingly like the circuit of pianists who would can no longer find work going to people's homes to play for their parties and have been reduced to playing at the picture show to provide accompaniment for the silent movies. Live piano music isn't dead. Why, they have even been leaving old pianos in malls and airports recently to encourage it!
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:01 AM on January 20 [8 favorites]


The Grammys need to sign a distribution deal with Twitch or Youtube or some other live streaming service (even their own) if they want to continue to reach a global audience. TV is as dead a medium as radio. Few under 30s watch TV at all.
posted by bonehead at 8:04 AM on January 20


That's like if I was listening to music from 1948 when it was released. Which, come to think of it, I was! Jazz, of course, but still.

Some "random factoid" type Facebook feed pointed out to me yesterday that listening to music made in 1970 -- which includes some true classics that have never left my playlist -- is the same time gap as someone in 1970 listening to music from 1918... and I needed a minute to digest that.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:08 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


As somebody who was a hipster before it was cool to be a hipster, I love that so much of the music I like is slipping into irrelevance and losing cultural cachet, including new music, individual artists as well as entire genres.
It's so annoying to really get into something and then discover that millions of other people like it as well.
posted by signal at 8:19 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]


the technique involved in recording a sound source and getting it onto tape was equal to and perhaps superior to what we have now - microphone technology, preamps, boards and especially rooms were mostly first class then and still would be considered to be now

I'll agree with this up to a point; but, first, that equipment was hellaciously expensive, beyond the reach of all but the top studio-supported bands who could book time in those rooms, with that gear. Second, tape was qualitatively good, in that people learned how to push the medium for a particular "sound", but once the initial problems with digital recorders were worked out (PCM "brickwall" problems and bad anti-aliasing filters being the most common issues, often exacerbated by recording engineers not understanding the new medium and using it like analog tape) they are basically better in every respect. Including, critically, cost: it's now possible to archive very high-quality multitrack masters, not just mixdowns. Very few artists in the past could afford to keep their 2" Ampex multitrack masters sitting around, and they were often recorded over. (E.g. all the Beatles work prior to While My Guitar Gently Weeps were recorded on 4-track, because even Abbey Road couldn't afford the cost of 8-track mastering at the time.)

Now, you can personally own a 16-channel recording system capable of 24-bit/192kHz with ~120dB of dynamic range (approaching the theoretical maximum of human hearing, around 140dB; exceeding the noise-floor-to-pain dynamic range available in all but the quietest rooms), for about the same price as a good 4-track 1/2" tape mixdown console in years past, and you can store the multitrack masters forever on a hard drive. This has led to an explosion in remixes and re-releases.

There's really no better time to be recording music, in terms of the accessibility of the equipment and technology.

If anything, the "problem" that this has created is one of discovering new content without the gatekeeping effect of cost standing in the way. A few decades ago, a local/regional band might have labored for years playing live shows, before putting together the cash to record a few songs. Now, it's many artists' first step. And if you poke around Soundcloud or Bandcamp, this is sometimes... pretty obvious. But it leads to a lot of content being there for the listening—if you want to listen to it.


Anyway... I am not sure I agree with the overall thesis ("old music is killing new music"). It's true that broadcast radio stations have become more conservative than they used to be, probably due to industry consolidation. I miss the actually-alternative "Alternative" stations of my youth, but in 2022 that's a bit like complaining that MTV doesn't play music videos anymore. Broadcast radio just isn't where you go if you want to listen to groundbreaking new music by bands you've never heard of, any more than the local megamall multiplex is where you'd go to see groundbreaking independent cinema by directors you've never heard of.

But if I open up Spotify and look at the "Top Songs - Global" list, I'm presented with a list of fairly new stuff:
  • abcdefu - GAYLE (2021)
  • STAY - The Kid LAROI w/ Justin Bieber (2021)
  • Sacrifice - The Weeknd (2022)
  • Heat Waves - Glass Animals (2020)
  • Easy On Me - Adele (2021)
  • Enemy - Imagine Dragons / JID (2021)
  • Cold Heart (PNAU Remix) - Elton John, Dua Lipa, PNAU (2021)
  • Industry Baby - Lil Nas X (2021)
  • Shivers - Ed Sheeran (2021)
  • Out Of Time - The Weeknd (2022)
I'm not going to get into the subjective quality or merit of any of those recordings, but they're almost all pretty new. So I just don't think the argument that listeners aren't interested in new work holds water.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:22 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]


Wet Ass Pussy begs to differ.

WAP from 1935 from a guy's perspective.

From a woman's perspective, originally written in 1924 but this version is from 1937 I think.

No these weren't pop music hits, but if you want to listen to explicitly sexual music from 1924, it's something you can do.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:28 AM on January 20 [7 favorites]


As furnace.heart mentioned, it’s easier than ever to love old music. I’m 38 and listen primarily to rock made in the Sixties and Seventies. That doesn’t mean just repeating the same classic rock radio tracks, though. Thanks to the labels they mentioned, I can find plenty of albums that are, for all intents and purposes, “new”: they might have been recorded in 1971, but more people are hearing it now than ever did when it was released as a regional record in 1500 copies. You could spend years going through 1967-1974 rock music without touching well-known LPs.
posted by kaisemic at 8:30 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


In re "it's just like from 1918" and time vertigo:

We don't feel especially uneasy about listening to, eg, Scarlatti or Purcell or for that matter various kinds of plainsong and if for some reason we had magical time travel recordings from the seventeenth century people would listen to those. It's the discourse that says that "classical" (meaning Very Serious Music Mostly Without Words) is eternal and worthy of serious attention but other kinds of music are inevitably trivial which renders it surprising that some pop songs stick around.
posted by Frowner at 8:31 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]


We're in the middle, right now, of the greatest musical golden age in the history of human civilization and the only people who don't seem to know what to do about that are in the music business.

having spent the past few days deep diving in the realm of the Kleptones, I'm inclined to agree. Though it needs to be said, and the Kleptones do reflect this blindingly, alot of what makes the now golden isn't just the brand new stuff we're getting, it's also the vast archives of older stuff that are so available at very low cost ... and how all of this history can't help but feed the now.

observing falling Grammy ratings,

this can ONLY be a good thing. Or as I put it a while back ...

What I don't get is why any mature adult would give a shit either way about who wins a Grammy. I mean, I remember being seventeen in 1976 when Captain + Tennille won best record of the year -- that was enough for me. Here was an institution to be ignored. It's not that they don't occasionally recognize great records (and artists) -- it's just that as reliable measure of anything, their batting average is pure minor league.

posted by philip-random at 8:43 AM on January 20


All I know is that I find it incredibly difficult to find new music that I like now. The music discovery mechanism is completely broken for me and finding new things I like seems like so much work...
posted by srboisvert at 9:02 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


finding new things I like seems like so much work...

Isn't this what the algorithms are supposed to do? I mean, isn't that how Spotify works? You start by telling them what you like. They hook up you up with similar stuff. I don't know because I don't go there. I choose not to support their ongoing exploitation of artists.

For me, the new stuff invariably comes from friends. Either the real life kind or the online kind. I just posted the Mefi link that put me in touch with the Kleptones. I find I've done very well with recommendations from this community.

ASK is a good place to start.
posted by philip-random at 9:17 AM on January 20


From the article: Musical revolutions come from the bottom up, not the top down.

Modern music technology has been making it easier than ever for people to play music. Now imagine what it would be like if the music instrument manufacturing industry started making instruments that are easier to play.

You can already map any scale you want to the keys of a piano-style keyboard, but then you're left with all of the limitations of a piano and without its major advantage, the ability to play chromatically and switch keys on the fly. But think about this; you can map a scale to, well, anything. Any interface can be made to play music. How do I know? I've been designing new instruments, and they're ridiculously fun.

Electronic music is still locked away behind an interface that's hundreds of years old, and optimized for hitting strings with hammers.

Imagine, if you will, what music will be like when people realize that music is easy now, that the fabled fatal learning curve is now just a gentle slope. Imagine what society will be like when everyone can play music together.

We've only just started to explore what's possible.
posted by MrVisible at 9:33 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]


It's possible that all the really good music has already been written. Melancholy Elephants by Spider Robinson.
posted by SPrintF at 9:41 AM on January 20


Isn't this what the algorithms are supposed to do?

I gave up on the algorithms ages ago because they seemed intent on directing me to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, no matter what I started with. As a child of the '90s, I did not need an algorithm to introduce me to RHCP, nor did I want one to, because I knew and hated their shitty music at an early age.

Yet I find discovering good new music easier than ever. Find an active band you like. Some of its members are surely on social media. Follow them and see what they're into. Find a new band you like that way, repeat ad infinitum.
posted by sinfony at 9:42 AM on January 20 [6 favorites]


You start by telling them what you like. They hook up you up with similar stuff.

Spotify is very good at hooking you up with music in the general style of the music that you already like, but more boring. It's almost like it takes all the music you listen to, puts it in a blender, and extracts a uniform slurry that it uses to define your music tastes.

So even if I listen to showtunes and J-Pop and indie punk, I listen to enough indie-folk/singer-songwriter/gothic-Americana stuff that Spotify's algorithms will give me nothing but indie-folk/singer-songwriter stuff. And not particularly good indie-folk/singer-songwriter stuff, which is unfortunate, because there is a lot of very, very boring indie-folk/singer-songwriter stuff out there.
posted by Jeanne at 9:48 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]


Pretty much experience with algorithms whether for music or shopping or movies or wherever there is a firehose of potential content that you need to have some sort of first pass filter. I call it the Country AND Western problem. Once one these algorithms think they've zero'd in on your preference they'll push it to the exclusion of practically all other choices. And heaven forbid you accidently prime the pump with a few totally wrong selections initially. You'll never get away from those choices. It's hilarious to go to some web site in a plain private tab from a place with a diverse base line (like a library or airport) and then search for something super obscure or ridiculous and then see nothing but that recommended for hours. I managed to convince Facebook once that I had the chops to procure 100 million dollar yachts like a broke person might buy ramen and it was hilarious some of the stuff I was advertised (who the heck buys a 200,000 dollar watch cause facebook showed them an ad for it? Actually step that back a bit "Who the heck spends a couple hundred grand on a watch period?" These people have too much money.)
posted by Mitheral at 9:58 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


No these weren't pop music hits, but if you want to listen to explicitly sexual music from 1924, it's something you can do.

Those're neat, and I'm familiar with them, but is your premise here that the level of distinctiveness needs to be greater than that for something to count as "new/novel"? (and that the differences between the 2000's & the 1920's as a musical landscape are irrelevant, because it's just "the past"?)

This may sound a bit fussy of a point, but I think it's part of what's complicating this conversation. Everybody has a different threshold of novelty, as people get older they seem to tend to index novelty based on things they care to pick out (and correspondingly, write off things which are novel along dimensions they don't index on), & eventually everything gets flattened out.

To focus back down into an example, Mdou Moctar. Some fantastic Tuareg guitar playing, with heavy influences from Van Halen & Prince, to the point of starring in Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, (English: Rain the Color of Blue with A Little Red In It), a Purple Rain homage film. To my ear, there's some clear parallel-evolution with surf rock (& if you know the history of Misirlou as a surf-rock staple, that'd be no coincidence).

So, I put to this thread: Mdou Moctar as a band is composed of Lead guitar + vocals, Rhythm guitar + backing vocals, Bass guitar + backing vocals + drum machine, & Drums, percussion, & backing vocals.
Compositionally, they're a four-piece rock band. Are they doing something new?
posted by CrystalDave at 10:04 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]


Players nowadays are way more talented, with youtube and computers able to slow down musical clips and lessons and learning from around the world to lighter gauge strings on guitars. Look how many literal young children are tearing up Led Zepplin and other rock tracks.

That does indirectly reaffirm the article’s assertion about old songs, in a way.

I half agree with your point about musicianship, but I’ve noticed a couple annoying side effects of infinite takes / playing to a grid, at least in myself and people I record. With effectively infinite takes you only have to nail it once. It means I often don’t even learn a part anymore, I just dick around till I play it right and then “comp” all the messy takes into a track. Which is great until I want to change something or play with others, at which point I’m suddenly reliant on years of muscle memory to pull it off. When you try to work with people who’ve *never* put in that particular kind of practice it’s really apparent. Not that the recorded results are necessarily any “better,” and I don’t want to make any kind of blanket statement about talent. But it’s observable.

The grid thing is about beats per minute - since most people are effectively recording with a metronome, a ton of music is locked in to a particular BPM and *never changes* or at most goes to half-time. It can also be a PITA to get people to play to a click, but over the last decade I’ve met more and more people (and heard more songs) who can’t go off what’s effectively a rigid dance beat. Obviously synths and loops are a huge part of this.

Anyway, a bit of a derail I suppose, but those are two effects I’ve seen on musicianship that seem related to how DAWs leveled the recording/producing/distributing music field.

The actual article does seem a bit “old man yells at cloud” to me.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:05 AM on January 20 [8 favorites]


And not particularly good indie-folk/singer-songwriter stuff, which is unfortunate, because there is a lot of very, very boring indie-folk/singer-songwriter stuff out there.

Check out Back Porch Music on WUNC, streaming, Fr. and Sat. nights, they play a lot of fantastic stuff new to me.
posted by thelonius at 10:06 AM on January 20


(And Mdou Moctar's most recent album, Afrique Victime, made a fair number of year-end "Best albums of 2021" lists. #5 for the NYT, #8 for Pitchfork, #10 for The Guardian, Rolling Stone had it at #26, Consequence at #35. So this isn't me picking out an obscure & un-recognized band either, they've got attention.)
posted by CrystalDave at 10:07 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


mhoye: "We're in the middle, right now, of the greatest musical golden age in the history of human civilization"

And we are filling the cup from both sides: a huge inpouring of new music simultaneously with a huge inpouring of old music, thus this dynamic as we all learn how to use the magical internet radio to hear things from long ago, yesterday and tomorrow, and from all around the world if we put the tiniest effort in.
posted by chavenet at 10:38 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


Mdou Moctar certainly sounds fresh to my ears. I'll leave "new" to the musicologists.
posted by philip-random at 10:46 AM on January 20


they've done that investment. It's called streaming

yeah, talking about vinyl as the hot medium is some real “fish not noticing the water” shit
posted by atoxyl at 10:51 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


And we are filling the cup from both sides: a huge inpouring of new music simultaneously with a huge inpouring of old music, thus this dynamic as we all learn how to use the magical internet radio to hear things from long ago, yesterday and tomorrow, and from all around the world if we put the tiniest effort in.

Thanks chavenet, loved the link. I've been looking for something like that without knowing there was an actual something out there to find.

The filling from both sides thing does create the conundrum of the abundance of offerings making collective appreciation all the more difficult, less a problem of individual wealth and more one of a shared culture void. For good or ill, that does suggest a lessening influence of any given music, which may be why there is unexpected attachment to songs that had already found more communal resonance. A soundstream from Babel with everyone listening to different songs is a very different kind of place than what came before.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:06 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


I call it the Country AND Western problem.

This by the way is the exact thing I was talking about earlier about making generalizations because you're not familiar with the music. I mean, don't get me wrong, I still quote that line as much as the next guy, but Country and Western were two different, but related Genres. Western sort of has gotten lost with time, but it had elements that you could point to and say "that's Western".

However the larger point of the comment also touches on something, maybe folks keep getting served music that sounds the same because they keep looking in the same places. Like, if you just use Spotify, there's a good chance all the stuff that Spotify feeds you is going to sound like stuff that Spotify fed you in the past. If you want to find out what the kids are up to these days, don't ask the person who was the cool kid 10 years ago, ask the kid who's cool today.

(Also, maybe be willing to invest the time and energy to the conversation to prove you're actually interested)
posted by Gygesringtone at 11:36 AM on January 20


Also to be 100% clear I am NOT the cool kid of today, I'm not even the cool kid of when I was the right age to be a cool kid. My favorite new music discovery method involves going to the library and picking a handful of random CDs from different parts of the shelves and not looking at them till I get home.
posted by Gygesringtone at 11:38 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Electronic music is still locked away behind an interface that's hundreds of years old, and optimized for hitting strings with hammers.

That's sort of the default, but there are plenty of alternative ways to control electronic instruments.

I'm mostly using an 0-Ctrl, Launchpad X, a faderbank, a joystick, a Eurorack version of the "touche d'intensité" from the Ondes Martenot, and a Microfreak (which [i]does[/i] have the familiar piano-style layout but with pressure plates). And no MIDI sequencing.
posted by Foosnark at 12:12 PM on January 20


Electronic music is still locked away behind an interface that's hundreds of years old, and optimized for hitting strings with hammers.

Was gonna say I don’t think I can agree with that characterization as written but I realized you’re the guy who works on controllers so obviously you’re not unaware of other options you’re just taking a stand in favor of them, which is fair enough.

My personal feeling, though, as somebody who makes electronic music, is that it’s easy to get stuck in the pattern of making music with the mouse and keyboard. I own a few different kinds of controller but it ends up feeling like a hassle to deal with possibly having to do multiple takes to get it right rather than just penciling my ideas into the sequencer. Which maybe is fine for composition, but obviously does lose a lot of the possibilities of live.
posted by atoxyl at 12:35 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Which previous decade would each of these songs best fit into?

Not to speak for all or even most of that list, there's currently a 1980s new wave revival that's sweeping through (some of) pop music. The Weeknd's new album released this month is ever closer to that sound.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:10 PM on January 20


This isn't the politics megathread?
Darnit.
Guess I'll just listen to my old people music on my portable victrola.
Good luck on your disagreements kidlings.
posted by evilDoug at 2:41 PM on January 20


I actually have an old Victrola. Back when there were parties, I would bring it out and play a couple of 78s between sets.

I mostly still listen to broadcast College Radio. It's a blended mix of new things, old things, new things that sound like old things, and old things that I'd never even heard of.
posted by ovvl at 2:45 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


there's currently a 1980s new wave revival

Another one?
posted by acb at 2:56 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


So uhh, are millennials killing the music industry now or what?
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:00 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Just out of interest - is it possible to easily get the spotify (or whatever) top 100 (or whatever) charts for music that is older than 18 months?
posted by Sparx at 4:25 PM on January 20


Another one?

It's more pop and outright dance-oriented than the last rock-oriented one.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:38 PM on January 20


Isn't this what the algorithms are supposed to do? I mean, isn't that how Spotify works? You start by telling them what you like. They hook up you up with similar stuff. I don't know because I don't go there. I choose not to support their ongoing exploitation of artists.

My experience is that I tell spotify what I like and it plays that music over and over again until I start to hate it and wish there was new music I liked.
posted by srboisvert at 7:29 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Thanks, everyone, for all the links. The Radio.Garden discussion from five years ago seems relevant, too.

I'm old, and haven't really listened to streaming popular music (on the radio or the Internet) since the early 1980s. I skimmed about sixty of the links above last night (about half of the Quietus links that Frowner shared, and maybe a dozen more). I wound up finding eight groups that I will investigate more. Six of them were from BandCamp. So that's great -- that may be more leads than I'd accumulated in the last decade or so.

I'm not convinced that this is a new golden age of musical invention. Most of what I sampled last night seemed formulaic, unimaginative, and facile to my subjective ear. It reminded me of the "beats" that my little cousin builds on his phone, lying lonely in bed after school, with no more passion than a gamer sussing out the rules and finding the quickest way to score. I wasn't a teen musician, but my friends who were had instruments and played together and talked about it together and rehearsed it in front of friends. Maybe I'm just deaf to it, but I didn't hear much evidence of that kind of work -- or play -- in most of what I listened to last night.

If you do hear it, I'm glad for you. Enjoy it.

I am definitely persuaded that it is easier to find interesting undiscovered artists on Bandcamp or YouTube today than it was to find them on AM radio, record stores, and at concerts that high school students could get into back in the 1970s. That's good! I embrace the golden age of discoverability, especially since it increasingly includes obscure material from eras that seem more magical to me.
posted by Scarf Joint at 7:32 PM on January 20


the "beats" that my little cousin builds on his phone, lying lonely in bed after school, with no more passion than a gamer sussing out the rules and finding the quickest way to score

seems unlikely that this is the way he sees it…
posted by atoxyl at 10:24 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


Yeah, just clanging away at that newfangled electric guitar, instead of practicing his bowing on the cello.
posted by PhineasGage at 10:33 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


He's an unhappy kid. I wish music for him was a chance to collaborate, experience creating stuff with other young people, laugh about discoveries together, building coordination and muscle memory together. Zoning out with his phone is not an equivalent experience. I'm not blaming contemporary pop music for that, but I do feel that a lot of it sounds like what he makes, in what looks more like learning the rules and winning the game than seeking something new and unbound.
posted by Scarf Joint at 10:39 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


That's not what pop music or even smartphones are doing, that's a byproduct of the isolation enforced by the pandemic ffs
posted by Apocryphon at 11:22 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Is it just that though? The methods of creating music and manner of delivery does seem to lend itself to single musicians as a more dominant cultural force in popular music. It isn't a question of "better" or "worse", nor a question about whether kids these days are doing it wrong or lack creativity as every generation will necessarily adapt themselves to the circumstances which they are given. It's more a question of what those circumstances are and what their likely effects may be and trying to understand what the possible gains and losses might be to individuals and the culture at large.

This is a great era for people wanting to find a wide variety of music from around the world with relative ease and an amazing era for people wanting to get their sound out there for anyone to hear, but it is also an era where some of the social aspects of the past around music are lessening to some degree. Making it easier for anyone to make music is great, but it doesn't necessarily follow that the ease is an equivalent replacement for more personal involvement and effort or that breadth of options is of no difference than shared communal experience of a narrower range of works. Again, not in terms of quality, individual preference or an absolute better or worse, just new implications for how these things are creating change. Music is music to some degree, but how its made and listened to is radically different than what came before and that has some real importance and effect.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:02 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


It's more pop and outright dance-oriented than the last rock-oriented one.

So, more like 00s electroclash?
posted by acb at 1:03 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


My impression is that it is a lot easier to get a start in music on a tablet or phone than it is to start and keep a garage band going, for a teenager. Not playing with other people is going to hold them back as musicians, in my opinion, but I can't recommend that they do nothing instead. They'll perhaps get compensation in the form of stronger writing and production skills.
posted by thelonius at 4:09 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


I mean you’re all assuming that these folks aren’t talking and collaborating with each other, and I think that’s not a good assumption.Like in the music tech classes I’m taking the bedroom beat makers where the first group of folks to like just click and start working together and trading ideas for in projects. They had a already existing shared language and ways of working that had to come from some sort of community outside of the classroom.

I don’t know I can’t stress how much that’s not my scene, but the young folks in my classes remind me of me and my musician friends at that age.

I find it pretty funny that the two dominant trends in worrying about the state of music are “there’s no creativity or innovation ” and “this is so different from how we did it when I was young” with no acknowledgement of how they contradict each other.

Also like teenagers are allowed to have hobbies they’re not super passionate about or necessarily good at. That’s part of figuring things out. I know so many adults that “played guitar a little in high school” that never got past playing in their room By themselves. It’s kind of guaranteed to get said by at least one member of a new social group when they find out I’m a musician.
posted by Gygesringtone at 7:29 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Not playing with other people is going to hold them back as musicians, in my opinion,

Ed Sherran (who I personally think sucks but he is one of the biggest in the world right now) plays almost solely by himself with backing tracks, or if he plays with a band it's well hidden.

Or maybe they can learn to do this which is physically amazing even if you don't like the song.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:40 AM on January 21


but I do feel that a lot of it sounds like what he makes, in what looks more like learning the rules and winning the game than seeking something new and unbound.

I think it's natural for many of us to start out mimicking what we see as successful. Check out any number of famous guitarist bios where they talk about being a teenager alone in their room playing their fave records at half speed so they can figure out the parts. It's not the only way but it is a way, and a kind of obvious one assuming access to the relevant technology. I don't see how hanging out in one's room mucking around with familiar beats is much different.

As for freshness, innovation, genuine creativity -- in my experience very many wannabe artists never really get to this, which has always been the case. Witness all those garage bands the world has never heard because they never got around to writing their own stuff, or if they did, it was indistinguishable from second rate versions of bands that already existed. I mean, I've been there from the other side, the management/record label side trying -- trying to explain to a young band that the more they sounded exactly like Nirvana or Pearl Jam (or whoever), the less interesting they were to my ears. Because those known bands didn't just wake up one morning and decide to sound like what they ended up sounding like. That took years of learning and bashing around and getting excited about stuff and being in other bands ... and finally finding each other and (maybe without even being conscious about it) agreeing on what was worth putting their collective energy into.

We're talking about art here. There's a million ways to get it right. Also growing up. I know I had my interminable days-weeks-months alone in my room doing whatever the fuck I was doing. I'm sure I looked lost and sad to any who may have bothered to notice. And maybe I was. But that sadness and confusion ended up fuelling the work I eventually did get excited about, that connected me with other people, the ones who would eventually comprise my tribe. Which is something I try to remind myself whenever I encounter a young person (adolescent, early adult) who seems a mess, lost etc -- they're a work in progress. They're on their way to something/somewhere thus far unknown and their current confusion (or whatever) is part of how they get there.
posted by philip-random at 8:13 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Not playing with other people is going to hold them back as musicians

It's missing a big part of what any musical experience offers, certainly, and for young people especially, the social and collaborative aspects of music-making are important experiences.

But those connections and collaborative settings often happen (or at least start) in school--in a class, at lunch--and their school experience has of course been significantly disrupted, as music ensembles/classes remain one of the most risky activities during a pandemic (because of aerosol transmission). So bands and choirs and other music classes have not been meeting or playing together for virtually any of the pandemic thus far, so young people have missed out on years of collaborative opportunities.

(As someone who teaches college music majors, their musical creativity is just fine, and their tools are amazing. This ongoing disruption of praxis--literally, not being able to play music together--is going to leave deep marks, however.)
posted by LooseFilter at 8:20 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


I wish music for him was a chance to collaborate, experience creating stuff with other young people, laugh about discoveries together, building coordination and muscle memory together.

We live in a golden age of remote collaboration both via real time and asynchronous tools. It's entirely possible for someone to have collaborators they never even met in meat space. It's certainly true that I don't know what some of the people I've been gaming (both strictly computer and also computer enabled pen and paper) with for years even look like. Some of them aren't even in my country or time zone.

Also like phillip-random I don't know any musician who didn't spend at least as much time alone practicing as they did practicing in a group at least in the early years. If only because solo practice is so much easier to coordinate. And for some musicians it's practically 100% solo (I'm thinking of all those kids taking piano lessons).
posted by Mitheral at 8:54 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


I think a problem with the article and a lot of discussions about change in music is that there's a tendency to conflate several different aspects into a single term when they might be better untangled a bit more.

There's use in separating questions about creating music from the reception of music and the profession of it as each will be affected differently by economic and technological trends, but each will surely see some significant change as the magnitude of change around how people make and listen to music is quite large. Just as past shifts from sheet music to phonographs to radio to more affordable electric instruments, synths, and so many other forms of musical equipment and production elements changed the music people made and how they listened, this era will surely do the same.

It's not a question of quality of music, or whether it'll still get made or if people will be as creative as before, but how that creativity will be funneled and how it will be received that's more the issue. And it's not about whether someone could play or listen to music in a given way, kids can still form jazz sextets if they want to, but how much more likely certain dominant forms of practice will become. I mean that as a subject of wonder since I certainly don't have answers to it myself, but do have some preferences for keeping in mind terms of larger social considerations along with individual choice.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:11 AM on January 21


Yes, there are lots of ways to collaborate remotely, cf. The Postal Service.
posted by PhineasGage at 9:37 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, I think I was being too conceptually general when I am actually looking to all of you here for insight because I know how much knowledge there is around music on the site and among those who've contributed to the post. Let me try a more specific questions instead in hopes of hearing what people think.

With full music production equipment being easily obtainable and more music being made through machine interaction allowing musicians to create full musical environments that previously would have usually required larger groups to create, does that alter the practice of music in meaningful individual terms compared to the previous practice of a different physical interaction with instruments and methods of collaboration? Not in terms of the resulting quality of music, but just as a process.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:49 AM on January 21


remote collaboration both via real time and asynchronous tools

Real-time remote collaboration tools still have a long way to go, and one of the fundamental intrinsic values of music-making is real-time communication and collaboration with others, so we're currently missing a big piece due to pandemic restrictions. Asynchronous tools are quite workable, though, and some are even wonderful, but asynchronous musical collaboration is still missing some fundamental elements that young people--and developing musicians of any age--really need.

how much more likely certain dominant forms of practice will become

This is the most fascinating question to me, or even if we'll ever see dominant forms of musical practice again--the internet has led to more robust but more fragmented musical cultures, as it has done more generally. What I do notice now more than dominant popular styles or practices, is more widely shared musical DNA, that is to say, pervasive stylistic influences throughout multiple genres and sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, along with free mixing of same, but in wildly different stylistic contexts.*

Professionally, music has been the canary in the coal mine ever since radio and the phonograph eliminated more than 90% of working musicians' jobs over a hundred years ago, warning us early on that mass production would change the labor landscape permanently. So with streaming, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose in some ways, but streaming also represents a basic de-commodification of music, which kind of returns it to its natural state.

Music is, after all, a verb, a phenomenon created in time by human beings with creative, expressive intent. The commodification of music, monetizing this phenomenon that is so valuable to us, required the ability to turn vibrations propagating through air into a noun, a thing: a recording or a broadcast, because things can be commodities. So music as a literal commodity or commercial product is only as old as the technology to make it so, or ~125 years. When all those musical jobs were lost, starting over a century ago, all kinds of new musical jobs emerged instead. They did not emerge on the previous scale of musical jobs, and required very different skill sets than the previous jobs, but the commodification of music and resultant growth of music industry did emerge in the wake of all that job loss to performing musicians.

This ironically led to tremendous devaluing of the act of music-making itself, because a musical recording was such an accessible commodity, musicians themselves were not particularly valuable (to the extent that nearly every musician I know has encountered, commonly, absolute incredulity that musicians have to even be paid for their time and skill at all). So we are in another great and painful reckoning, as music has been essentially de-commoditized, and the industry around that is no longer workable or sustainable. I don't know how performing/recording musicians will make a sustainable living going forward, but monetizing recordings is likely to remain unfeasible for the near future, at least. My hope is that it will entail a re-valuing of musicians and musical skill, and rediscovery of the mundane pleasures of live music (that is, not just at concerts or big events, but in everyday life at restaurants and civic gatherings and so on), once we can gather to play and listen to music together again, that is.


* (The absolute most influential style I hear throughout musical culture(s) is funk, which I think is the great American ur-style after blues; Funk is a descendant of blues, of course, but at a certain stage the differences in degree merit a new stylistic foundation, distinct enough from its roots to be clearly its own. The other pervasive influence I notice--and this is maybe a more controversial choice because its influence is as much conceptual as evident in the sounding music--is minimalism. Pop especially has been surprisingly minimalist for some time now. And funk and minimalism play really well together.)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:52 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


With full music production equipment being easily obtainable and more music being made through machine interaction allowing musicians to create full musical environments that previously would have usually required larger groups to create, does that alter the practice of music in meaningful individual terms compared to the previous practice of a different physical interaction with instruments and methods of collaboration?

My experience is that musicians typically very much enjoy collaborative work--music is fundamentally a collaborative medium, after all, even if only between a solo musician and their listeners. What I see happening now is a huge sorting process, of discovering and using all the new tools we have, and figuring out what they do well and also what they are not the best choice for. So I see people doing the same kinds of musical things but in new and different ways, so active collaboration remains central, even if people can do more on their own.

Also, I've noticed that industry has noticed that there's a difference between hiring a composer to create a score and fully realize it with MIDI or virtual instrument libraries, or having that score performed by an ensemble of human beings, and the prestige projects all pay for live musicians to record; we're also seeing much more savvy mixing of digital, electronic and acoustic instruments/tools, so that each is kind of doing what it does best (an easy example would be the 2017 score to Thor: Ragnarock by Mark Mothersbaugh).

(What I have noticed in the past two years, though, is an increase in solo musical projects of all kinds, but I think that's a facet of working within pandemic limitations. Personally, while I'm grateful to have such a robust set of tools available to me in my studio alone, I am really really tired of teaching and making music essentially by myself. Yeah, mediated communication like Zoom is great, but my body knows I'm still alone, and feels it.)
posted by LooseFilter at 11:14 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


I remember wondering, when universities switched to remote FAST, what the hell were they doing about studio art? Wind ensemble? I think someone posted a comment here about the stage combat class they were teaching, how do you do that remotely?
posted by thelonius at 12:11 PM on January 21


The age of the solo musician is a real thing, didn't start with the pandemic, and affects the sort of music that gets made, but some of the discussion here is conflating it with other forces. I mean, it's silly to say it doesn't lend itself to passion - one could just as easily say it lends itself to visionary, highly personal creation, and there are certainly examples of that. To the extent that pop music does feel like this

what looks more like learning the rules and winning the game than seeking something new and unbound.

it's because it is a game - largely a lottery. There are a million kids who make beats, competing for even minor visibility, to get to work with some vocalist they've heard of, to get played by some DJ they've heard of. This is why there's something of a race to the bottom - there's a focus on quantity over quality, of promotion over quality, of fitting into an identifiable niche (selling "Drake type beats" or whatever) because of the way the market works.

He's an unhappy kid. I wish music for him was a chance to collaborate, experience creating stuff with other young people, laugh about discoveries together, building coordination and muscle memory together.

Worth noting, as you say this on a web forum, that there are quite a few places people do share this stuff with each other online. Possibly more during the pandemic (or just in the Twitch era) e.g. a number of big names are dabbling in streaming now, which sort of provides a focal point for other producers to chat.
posted by atoxyl at 12:45 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


So, more like 00s electroclash?

Less discordant-sounding and more mainstream pop-friendly (and more outright '80s), more influence from R&B and internet genres like city pop (sampled) or future funk (jazzy).
posted by Apocryphon at 1:00 PM on January 21


Isn't that just the tail end of vaporwave?
posted by acb at 3:43 PM on January 21


I'd be hard-pressed to think of a hit song that comes out today that doesn't sound like it could have been produced a decade to 20 years ago.

Lots more to get through in this thread but trap is the new sound that doesn't sound like something 20 years older. You may be tempted to group it under "hip hop" as a genre: you would be wrong.

There absolutely are still large changes in sound — the overall consensus of what is pop is completely different these days, though, so you can't map today's musical movements onto the past cleanly.

Interestingly there are also large throwback moments in pop today as well (see the Weekend rehashing MJ, Bruno Mars redoing all kinds of 80s and 90s genres …), but that has also been happening for the last 50 years (ie early rock revival in the 80s, Sha Na Na played Woodstock etc etc)
posted by wemayfreeze at 6:50 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Lots more to get through in this thread but trap is the new sound that doesn't sound like something 20 years older.

The trap sound is like 15 years old. This is an imprecise assessment because “Atlanta trap” is older than that but had a different beat style originally. There’s been some real evolution in vocal styles and minor evolution in the beats since then but as somebody who likes and has listened to a lot of that stuff I’m pretty fucking sick of trap beats, to be honest.
posted by atoxyl at 8:55 PM on January 21


Whether we’re tired of the trap sound is unfortunately immaterial to whether trap has had a meaningful effect on the sonic landscape. It’s official age also doesn’t particularly matter, actually. However old trap is it didn’t start broadly shaping pop music until … 5-10 years ago?
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:36 AM on January 22


Whether we’re tired of the trap sound is unfortunately immaterial to whether trap has had a meaningful effect on the sonic landscape.

It’s had a massive effect on the sonic landscape! My point is that this happened to the extent that it feels like a significant contributor to the sonic landscape feeling kind of stagnant.

However old trap is it didn’t start broadly shaping pop music until … 5-10 years ago?

Tricky thing to answer because the line between “rap” and “pop” now is so thin. Assuming you mean when trap started to influence pop outside rap as a genre the first thing that comes to mind is Miley Cyrus working with Mike Will and getting Juicy J. features in… 2013? Yeah I feel like that was about the moment (“EDM Trap” was big then, too).

Not to say there’s been no innovation in trap/rap production (most notably by way of going to the U.K. and back again).
posted by atoxyl at 9:56 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Isn't that just the tail end of vaporwave?

It’s the reincarnation of vaporwave and synthwave into mainstream pop.

Kavinsky has returned, all’s well in the world.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:27 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


sounds like a bastard mutation. pop continues to eat itself. I view this as feature more than bug.
posted by philip-random at 7:16 PM on January 22


Something else I'm curious about is whether having full suites of production equipment and wider ranges of synthetic sound has led to changes in how young people think of music, as in coming to it with more notions of a composed layered soundscape as opposed to having to work ones way through a more real time interaction between player and instrument, in a hit a key, pluck a string, get a note and build from there sense.

And from the listening end, have changes in how people listen also fed into changes in what gets made? For example, when I was young listening to music was more of a designated activity, playing a record or even listening to the radio was something that was more of a set aside time with some planning involved, where now it seem more like people listen to music as a practice, something one just does any time without planning involved, with more things like lo-fi chill hip hop beats there as musical wallpaper not even really meant to be engaged with as activity, but as supplement to other efforts.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:39 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


has led to changes in how young people think of music

Yes, absolutely. For instance, the more common type of undergrad composition major I see these days has a dual-emphasis degree path that includes music technology. (The several students I'm thinking of who are currently enrolled particularly want to develop strong facility with Ableton Live (and Push controller), but come into the program with a fair bit of DAW experience already.) Anytime the tools change, the music and musical culture will also change, it's a fun pattern to notice in any music history.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:16 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


(If you want to explore how diverse the sound-worlds of concert music are getting, WaPo has their annual 'whom-to-watch' article up today, 22 for '22: classical composers and performers to watch this year.)
posted by LooseFilter at 8:23 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


But what about at even the more basic levels? I'm wondering too about how kids thoughts about what music is and how it works have changed. Coming to a song by setting down a rhythm track to build from is architecturally different than building from melody and it feels like that develops a different kind of logic around it for the potential creator and the listener in a variety of ways.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:36 PM on January 23


“Why Old Music is Killing New Music”—Rick Beato, 23 January 2022
In this episode I am discussing the new Ted Gioia article in The Atlantic called Is Old Music Killing New Music? Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market. Even worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. We will discuss why.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:03 PM on January 23


Definitely, the example you provide is pervasive in popular music already, since, compositionally speaking, most tracks (to my ear) are created from the beat up, rather than from a set of chord changes, or around a melody. That's what I meant to say with my comment about tools changing: every time new tools and modes of music-making and listening become available, music creation and culture shifts and changes as a result; how you are able to reify your creative imagination--literally, what tools you have available to make music with--will profoundly influence the musical result. So whatever tools kids have to work with, will be a fundamental influence on the kinds of music they make, conceptually and practically.

The impacts of, e.g., songwriting/beat-making from within a DAW are already all around us, what I'm keeping an eye out for is the influence of emerging tools and practices like randomly collaborative stuff on TikTok, multimedia internet-based works, etc. Also, a common trait I see among young musicians is very eclectic musical taste, that is often broad and deep. There also seems to be growing interest in sound design, in both musical and non-musical contexts.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:12 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


That does fit my more limited impressions, sometimes feeling a bit like there's been a shift to creating music through orchestration, the combination of sounds/words in complex patterns from music as more direct extension of single human action/feeling. I kinda think of it as this shift from music as something vaguely theatrical, that is to say coming from a base of silence to something somewhat heightened or slightly removed from the day to day, to music as being of the public square, music coming from an underlying "beat" or rhythm that one builds from, maybe using silence as part of its concept, but not from silence. That it also shifts where the emphasis of the creative impulse, or how the creativity is channeled makes it really fascinating.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:20 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Speaking of theatrical, one could probably argue that other forms of media, including both films and television, are also undergoing this tech-driven increase in complexity. Popcorn blockbusters are now cinematic universes replete with dense intertextual narratives stacked upon each sequel and crossing mediums, complete with meta in-jokes. Television shows are mini-movies upon themselves. I would say tech both goes into the production side of things (anyone notice that even the most mediocre and poorly-made forgettable films these days have video quality that's on par with the best movies? Compare that to the '90s and even 2000s when you could tell how cheap a movie was just by the way it looked), and the more story-side (having a corpus of literally every film every made in history makes being influenced easier than ever. Maybe that's why there's so much recycling of past eras' glories going on).

Thanks to technology, anyone can be an amateur record producer, composer one-person band, or film director. Hell, social media actively encourages this creation of infinite content. So yeah, "layered soundscapes" is a good description of how modern wannabe musicians might think of what they can create. Everyone's a world-builder now.
posted by Apocryphon at 7:46 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


We need some new drugs, or for some older drugs to catch on. Historically when people get into some new shit, some wild scenes and sounds emerge.
posted by chaz at 9:54 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


As music becomes something sculpted and layered in Ableton Live rather than a record of something played by an ensemble of musicians at a point in time, there'll probably be an increasing convergence between “contemporary classical” and pop/electronica, as parts of the theory and compositional techniques used in longform orchestral pieces become relevant to constructing a composition of samples and software devices in a DAW. This is sort of where prog rock was going in the 70s, though without the constraint of the rock-band paradigm of producing the music. An orchestra, or something like one, playing a symphony may make a better metaphor for 100 tracks on a DAW coming in in phases than a power-trio jamming on the 12-bar blues.

None of this is to say that the future of music is white/eurocentric/a return to the 1820s Viennese court. This may be coupled with novel instruments, digital extensions of musique-concrète techniques, non-European tunings including microtonal scales, polyrhythms, and uses of timbre and sonic elements beyond a collection of discrete instrumental parts.
posted by acb at 2:33 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


as parts of the theory and compositional techniques used in longform orchestral pieces become relevant to constructing a composition of samples and software devices in a DAW.

What's exciting to me is that versions of this have been happening for some time, and the cross-pollination goes both directions pretty actively (between concert/composed music and recorded/electronic music). I notice the kind that we're discussing here emerge, on the electronic side, in the late 1990s; on the concert/composed side, starting maybe in the mid-2000s. (In this sense, cross-pollinating influences have always been there, Elektronische Musik, musique concrète, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, studio production by, e.g., George Martin or Brian Wilson, John Cale's transition from Fluxus to the Velvet Underground, etc.)

Musicologically, it's fascinating to note the compositional conceptual alignment of late-20th century musical styles like minimalism, funk and electronic dance music. And the pervasive influence of plunderphonics generally, with sampling ('quotation') prevalent in concert music by 1968 (Berio's Sinfonia) and in popular music by 1980ish (Stevie Wonder, Brian Eno, Yellow Magic Orchestra--mid-1970s if you include things like using turntables to loop drum breaks). Many interesting composers now are not really working in categories, many are open to all means and styles, and praxis is profoundly mixed. In the context of an essay about old music killing new music, kind of the opposite is happening (finally) in the concert/composed music worlds, new music is gaining on (really) old music.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:42 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


ob1quixote: “‘Why Old Music is Killing New Music’ —Rick Beato, 23 January 2022”
“Old Music Is Killing New Music (why it's a GOOD thing)”—Rhett Shull, 24 January 2022
posted by ob1quixote at 1:26 PM on January 24


Definitely, the example you provide is pervasive in popular music already, since, compositionally speaking, most tracks (to my ear) are created from the beat up, rather than from a set of chord changes, or around a melody.

I’m sure you realize that “beats” as musical currency refers to instrumental loops, not the actual drum beats, but it’s probably not correct to assume that beats in this sense are made from the drums up. If you watch interviews with producers unpacking the the hit songs they’ve produced - which is a whole genre on YT - some do it this way but probably the minority.

Keep in mind that hip-hop influenced production still descends from the days of chopping a loop from a record and laying drums under it. Nowadays, due to copyright constraints, producers draw on a whole ecosystem of royalty-free samples, synth presets and credited collaborators. So often a beat starts with… chopping a sampled chord progression that some other guy somewhere made specifically to be sampled, and then they put an 808 style bassline under it, and then they put the rest of the drums under it.
posted by atoxyl at 3:17 PM on January 24


“Made in Ableton Live: Tom Cosm on creating dynamic arrangements, bass sound design, and more”—Ableton, 25 January 2022
Watch Tom Cosm layer buzzing neurobass over hard-hitting drums as he crafts a dynamic, richly textured arrangement for a drum and bass track.
This was posted on Ableton's YouTube channel this morning and I thought a full-length exposition of someone making a track in Live might be interesting. Although I would add that this isn't the only way people use Live, e.g., the way Rachel K. Collier uses it in her songwriting.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:00 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


There are many professional track breakdown videos now and I’d have to put some thought in if I specifically wanted to collect the best ones, but here’s an Ableton video from EPROM simply because I’ve been a fan since seeing him live 10+ years ago.

Here are some excerpts from a stream by the producer of a Dua Lipa track.

Arbitrary Genius beat deconstruction pick - mostly because, well, you can’t say this guy isn’t passionate about music, can you?
posted by atoxyl at 9:22 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


it’s probably not correct to assume that beats in this sense are made from the drums up

That wasn't my assumption, apology for any confusion. I was using 'beat' as extreme shorthand for 'basic layer of sound design from which a track is first composed, which evolved from--and often may include--rhythmic ostinati or looped samples'; and definitely not as shorthand for 'break beat' or 'rhythm track'.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:45 AM on January 25


Heh. Diggin' the links, especially Arbitrary Genius. Yeah, I'm clearly out of my depth in a lot of ways here around all the components involved and types of music and such. I don't have a catalog ready to encompass all the detail, but the basic elements and general drift are what I was looking for. I imagine who is doing the initial shaping of a song and what the genre is changes how you build the layers, whether by sample or rhythm/beat or what have you, so that all fits with my general thoughts without a problem. I think Loose Filter was mostly just trying to answer my question in that regard, rather than going in depth to a more thorough answer earlier.

Listening to some of the music from the contemporary classical composer link above and from the experimental/classical on the bandcamp and quietus fpp links yesterday suggests a variety of approaches but some commonalities in concept about music/sound now that are really interesting. I just wish the site would get around to adding a music section to fanfare to talk about them more dammit.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:48 AM on January 25


especially Arbitrary Genius

Genius is the venue and arbitrary is my adjective by the way (sorry if you're just being cute). Producer is Honorable C.N.O.T.E but I was just picking one of the many Genius beat deconstruction videos to represent the rap side because I remembered it being fun, if not particularly technical. If you watch a lot of these you'll definitely see some of the stuff I talked about RE: quick and dirty beat making with samples and presets... and also the exceptions to this rule.
posted by atoxyl at 11:36 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


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