I imagine it’s a somewhat similar experience for a teenager discovering music on Spotify or YouTube or Pandora.
However, there are at least two major differences:
- Because I also had the physical artwork to look at, I was able to find other artists on the label or other artists the producer worked with or other bands from that band’s hometown.
- There is evidence to suggest that by virtue of the sheer volume of music online, people tend to gravitate to what’s popular. In the words of Derek Thompson, “popularity can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to know what everyone else is talking about at the water cooler, but I’m concerned that if we only listen to what’s popular:
- our musical tastes become extremely narrow
- we know no more about music than if we listened to a Top 40 station or an MTV countdown
What does that mean? That means that with the majority of all the music ever recorded available to us, most of us are just listening to the same 40 or 100 songs. For example:
I don’t find everything wrong with pop music. Just most of it. (There are occasionally interesting moments. How can you not be impressed by Sia’s vocal acrobatics? And if I had a kid, I’d probably be thankful that there’s someone like Taylor Swift out there making music.)
Pop music has always gotten press. Back when there were magazines to sell, it sold magazines. Today, writing about big names results in clicks. And that results in advertising. And that results in everyone talking about the same forty artists all year. I understand that’s how it works for that part of the world of music journalism, but it’s so exhausting to read.
Looking over everyone’s year-end lists is equally exhausting because everyone’s talking about the same few albums. The hive-mind among music sites seems to be real. Rob Mitchum wrote today:
“Despite the explosion of available outlets, certain grouchy observers maintain that the body of music everyone writes about is growing smaller instead of larger, with the same releases rattling around the online echo chamber.“
The thing is, I listened to most of these albums on these Best of 2014 lists from NME, Pitchfork, AV Club, Noisey, Paste, etc. and most of the albums they listed are good, but are they great? They’re good. They’re worth checking out. But are they great? Am I going to want to hear them a year from now?
- Are most critics out of touch?
- Am I out of touch?
- Have we just lowered our standards?
- Does music criticism still matter?
- Are these music sites still relevant?
- Are these sites just going for clicks?
The last question is the first question that pops into my mind when I see Rolling Stone listing that U2 album that I couldn’t wait to delete from my phone as the #1 album of the year. Either that or their writers only listened to one album this year and it was the one that got forced into their phones. Maybe they think it’s good, but that’s the best album you heard all year? Seriously? Listen to more music!
I don’t know the answers to these questions yet. Maybe I want to find out the answers. Maybe I don’t. But it does seem that if we continue to celebrate just what’s popular not what’s great and authentic, we end up with videos of butts, inching us ever closer to Idiocracy.
My working theory is that there are other people out there like me: people who are sick of just hearing about pop music, music fans that are interested in music that has a bit more substance, and writers that want to elevate the conversation instead of reduce it.
Maybe I just want to carve out a small place that celebrates authentic music…music made by people who are out there on the road making things happen…artists that are touring to support themselves…the guy that steps up to the mic and bears his soul…the band that travels 300 miles to play for 40 people…the girl that drops out of college to tour the country with nothing but her bag and her guitar…bands that are writing songs…songs with melodies…songs that tell stories…protest songs…songs that wake you up…songs that speak to who we are…songs that speak to what we could be.