By Ryan Uytdewilligen
Music has been around longer than historians can even tell. From a Gregorian chant to a Bach piano concerto, it has been evolving thanks to new technology, new talent, and the new innovations from the industry it created. So how did we get to here? A large portion of what we hear on the radio is created by computers and not instruments. Artist’s voices are altered so they sound flawless. Lyrics aren’t as poetic or meaningful, let alone catchy or original. It’s a completely different world than when Beethoven created his symphonies and vastly different from when The Eagles topped the charts. Change, for the most part, is a powerful and amazing thing, but if the music industry has been changing faster than you can download a Taylor Swift song, why does everyone constantly say “The music was better when I was younger?”
I will start right out of the gate by debunking the better music theory because everyone in history has always said that. When Buddy Holly hit the charts in the late 1950’s, listeners (especially the older generation) thought it was loud, immoral, and simply not good. Why? Because it was different from what they knew, which was exactly what Holly was trying to do. That made him popular with young listeners and launched his career; same with Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and every band that pushed boundaries. Every time a new one came on the scene to try and change conventional music, either critics or staunch classical listeners put them down or dismissed them. But that is freedom of speech and opinion, something unfortunately put to the test these last few weeks with the Charlie Hebdo shooting. Still, how many times have you disagreed with a friend over a song? It’s a matter of taste and interest. Being able to say you like or don’t like something is a great gift. Music, especially at the critical time of change in 1960’s, is all about expressing and encouraging that exact freedom.
While teeny boppers and club goers dance to the popular hits of today, people look to the sixties and seventies and insist that was the best music in history. People say it stood for something – challenged standard musical practices with the lengths of a guitar solo or a song in general. But these fans get to exercise the gift of hindsight, where they can look back and compare something to another. People could do the same with classical European music and 1920’s jazz during the time they lived in. Some can say that it’s better music, some can say that it’s worse, but a common denominator is that it reflects the times. Maybe it reflects a certain moment in history, maybe it reflects a certain moment in your life growing up… Whatever the reason, those songs have become forever linked to a time, and time can only tell which current songs will do the same.
But this takes us around in a circle because many people look back to Mozart or Coltrane or Sinatra or Jackson and say it’s still all better than music of today, despite how different they all are. Today started in 1981, when the revolutionary television station called MTV broadcasted songs accompanied by videos on specific shows to showcase them. Since it became rapidly popular, artists were forced into putting all their thought into what the videos looked like because that’s what got them attention and made the record company money. Obviously some artists refused to make these videos or simply wouldn’t adapt well to the style. Musicians like James Taylor were low key with a softer sound, obviously not a good match with the flashy and colorful style of MTV, yet they still flourished. Other artists adapted since MTV always marketed itself as a fun, party-like place to be. Messages, morals, and own self style were sacrificed by some to be popular and played on that channel.
For the first time, people could really see the rock star lifestyle and wanted in. Television would capitalize that dream and produce the ever popular music competition shows like American Idol or The Voice. Finally, technology evolved so that music was available all day every day. For the first time in history, someone could find any song and listen to it at an instant. Because of that freedom, drops in album sales were evident, so work was put into the release of the song, not the song itself.
We get to see into people’s lives more than we ever need to thanks to the abundance of talk shows, social media, and advertising methods. We didn’t know what Mick Jagger was really like forty years ago. It was a treat when he appeared on TV for some kind of interview. That’s why concerts were immensely popular; to discover more about your favorite artist. Now it’s a full time job for artists to market themselves as a brand, a role model, and a certain type of person through every social media outlet there is. If they don’t, people won’t care or deem them relevant. Once they put all that work into being known and liked, it’s no doubt the song has to be flawless. The studio knows it can’t push boundaries if the song is going to be a hit. The artist knows they will be scrutinized if there is the tiniest of flaws. That’s why methods like Auto-tune and computer generated mixing are a must to pull it off. Once a song becomes a hit because of the overwhelming fan base, radio stations and the media will stop at nothing to hold that attention by playing that song all day!
So who’s to blame if the artists are trying to keep up with their fan’s demands and can’t spend the time necessary in creating quality, boundary pushing music? If they do, they’ll just get criticized by everyone and their label will likely drop them or be unsupportive of the risky endeavor. And if we turn on the radio and we hear the same song over and over with the well known beat and party life lyrics, who are we to complain when we have the power to make it different. There are obviously so many good bands with unique styles and lyrics that don’t get the attention they deserve. Why not use the technology we have to track them down and give them a listen?
In hindsight again, are the bad songs those that we remember of the days when oldies were young? We remember the classics and the game changers from all the eras that paved the way for what was to come. In the future, technology and the media might have a little bit of effect on that, but it’s not them who can deem what is good or bad. It’s up to each of us to find the music they will think was better when they’re older.