“Modern music is rubbish!” It’s a phrase that we see often, in some shape or form. But is old music really better? Has there been a decline in music quality over the years or is it all just psychological? As is usually the case with these sorts of questions there is no simple answer. Before anyone starts throwing stones at any top 40 artists lets all take a moment to think about the big picture.
Many people just attribute it to psychology, and in many ways it is a convincing argument. People have had the same thought process of “things were better back in my day” for centuries. When the violin was first invented many people rejected it out of hand as they didn’t like the sound, it was a long time before it was a widely used instrument. People used to look down on great composers like Mozart and Beethoven as they preferred more simple, traditional folk music. People of a certain generation looked down on Elvis and The Beatles, and now the music that they championed instead has all but faded from memory. We as a species dislike change, we are scared of new things and find comfort in the familiar. Trends show that the music people listen to in their teenage years is what they will listen to for the rest of their lives.
There is a flaw in the theory though, being that it isn’t just old people that are championing old music. Young people also often criticize modern music, with their views being their own and uninfluenced by their parents. One of the reasons is simply the passage of time. There was just as much rubbish on the airwaves back in the 60s and 70s but it has thankfully been forgotten about. Time acts as a filter and only the very best music of previous generations gets remembered. There is plenty of good modern music but it is often tucked away, hard to find and with limited exposure. The same is true of every generation though. If we stepped back in time then some of the music that we today consider to be some of the best ever made would be tucked away at the back of some record store with the singles played on the radio once every blue moon.
However contrary to all of this there is one big reason why old music is better, and it’s due to the way that the industry has changed. Back in the day record labels were scientists as well as business men. New music underwent trials the same way that new medicines are tested. A promising new artist would be given a record deal and a small number of albums would be produced. If these sold and received a good reception then the artist would get a deal for a second album and have say double the number of copies on sale as their first release. This kind of research and development gave time for both the artist to develop their style and for the label to gauge the public’s reaction whilst still building momentum.
That spirit is fading in the modern industry. Instead of listening to their audience the label decides what they think will get a good reaction and make the most profit. A promising artist will be given a single and monumental marketing in order for it to go viral. The label then makes the most of their newfound popularity while it lasts. If the artist manages not to burn out then they may eventually be able to hit back at the label for a bit of breathing room and creative control. If we look at all the flash in the pan radio hits purely for money making purposes then modern music is indeed in a sorry state. Only those on smaller, more forgiving labels or those successful enough to fight back against the big labels are able to do the kind of musical research and development that was once the norm.
Music itself hasn’t changed for the worst, but the industry has. The way things are at the moment, most labels would never risk letting an unconventional masterpiece like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or ‘Stairway To Heaven’ slip through the cracks. Don’t be disheartened though, there is plenty of good modern music lurking in the undergrowth. Watching and waiting. One day the current business model will burn out like so many of their products and the aspiring new artists’ creativity will be set free.