Opinions and Rants #30: Music Is Stagnant and I Can't Take It Anymore!

I'd like to take a brief moment to bitch, once again, about the state of music.  I won't argue with you about whether the music of today is any better than it was back in the sixties, seventies or eighties.... that's a matter of opinion.  But there can be no denying music has not changed one iota in at least fifteen years.... that's an objective truth.... and it makes me sad.

You play some hip-hop from the early nineties and compare it to today.... it's not changed significantly.  The same goes for that Brittney Spears brand of girl pop.  She hit it big in 1998.... how different is "Baby One More Time" than anything being released by today's chick singers? That was 12 years ago!

You could go down the list of genres, and the principle holds true without exception.  Rock music may in fact be the most stagnant and the biggest disappointment.  Thank you Nickelback.  Nothing significantly new has come from rock and roll since the "slow-hard-slow-hard-- repeat" template of The Pixies and Nirvana.  What the hell has happened?

Do the record companies have such a stranglehold on creativity that they won't permit novelty and change? Or, as both George Martin and Billy Joel have posited, we have simply run out of chord variations.  It's not like classical music where there is an almost infinite variation possible..... rock music is much more finite in its scope of possibilities.  We've simply drained the well dry.

Whatever the reason, it's a damn shame.  I only hope that twenty years from now things sound at least a little bit different. Dare to dream.


  1. I agree completely. But, be warned, you sound an awful lot like a critic and we know how much you hate those guys.

  2. Agreed. There is a lot of good new stuff, but you gotta dig deep and almost stumble upon it by accident... and even then the good new stuff is in a throwback style. I do a lot of music stuff and I always find myself "disconnected" from current music. I always have. The older I get, the more I regress into older bands. I've given up on judging what is good and what isn't. I just tend to gravitate more towards Rufus than Lady Gaga.

  3. I think it's fair to say that most _commercial_ music has changed very little in the past 15 yrs. I think it's because, for a record label, it's safe, formulaic and their accountants can accurately forecast profits.

    There is, however, lots of interesting and exciting music out there. People are definitely pushing some envelopes but it doesn't tend to be in rock. Personally, I think rock has run its course. While there's still plenty to be expressed, I think it would be tough to cast a larger rock and roll net and still call it rock.

    Spend some time on the internet. Especially in the area of electronica (for lack of a better word) and you'll hear some great new stuff. Start with a group called Bonobo.

    Also, +1 for Rufus

  4. It's tough for originality when all the record labels are dying and Sony/BMG pretty much owns it all.

    You got to get creative and find your own genre.
    let's say like doing covers of Sesame Street songs from the early 70's... ;p


  5. For once we are in 100% agreement Gilligan.
    For the most part, I feel the "music died" in the mid 1980s. That was the last time I made a mix tape of songs I cared about and wanted to listen to.

    Today (and for the last almost twenty years) I might hear a song I like, but there is noting in the music industry to make be go to FM radio and find a favorite station.

    Bob, I AM going to have to disagree with you a little bit. While the "industry" does like to play it safe (and always has), being stuck in the same mold for 15 years, like Gilligan pointed out, is a bit extreme even for them.
    There have always been "safe" bands and "safe" music styles, but in the past there were always fringe elements that kept the music moving.

    That all seems to be gone now.

  6. I think the last place to look for new music is the radio or TV or anything like that. You gotta dig for the good stuff, no matter what music genre you're into. "American Idol" has not helped modern music, nor the Disney Channel. I *never* pay attention to that stuff. That said, I don't demand utter originality from artists either; I quite liked that some (sorta) popular bands like the White Stripes, Interpol, and the Strokes took inspiration from garage, punk, and New Wave rock. My girlfriend has younger friends who make her mix CDs of current underground pop/dance/electronica/whatever that I find lots of fun and, indeed, rather sexy. I also think old-schoolers like Dylan, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Iron Maiden have put out good new music. Of course as ever YMV.

  7. I agree - everyone's musical creativity seems to have tapped out and now "singers" must resort to wearing ridiculous costumes (Lady Gaga, Katy Perry) to compensate for it. It's why the old standbys and classic music of the 40s-80s will find new fans and continue to stand the test of time. I was amazed recently to find out how many teen girls on YouTube have posted tributes to the Beatles and think they're way sexier and talented than Justin Bieber.

  8. Stream KEXP on your computer. There is plenty of of cool new music. You just need to know where to look!

  9. I generally agree. I search pretty rigorously for new (i.e., current) music, and am open to giving anything a listen in hopes that I’ll consider it good and want to devote time to exploring it. I really want to have new music to enjoy. But every time I delve deeper into a band I’ve taken a shine to, I’ve come away disappointed.

    So, I basically recycle through my stable of favorite bands/artists, which ranges from AC/DC and Adam & The Ants, DEV-O and Dinah Washington, and the Meat Puppets and Michael Franks, to Steely Dan and Sade, Telly Savalas to Trust, and Led Zeppelin to Vince Guaraldi. (Speaking of Guaraldi, it’s the jazz musicians that I can most often count on for bringing out good new music. Pat Metheny, for instance, does a lot of interesting stuff, ranging from experimental one-man stuff to classic trio, quartet, and quintet recordings).

    My theory is that bands do not gestate like they used to in the good ol’ analog, pre-Internet age. In those salad days, bands had to gig around, honing their “chops” and becoming musicians. Maybe after X number of months or years, they’d get a chance to get into a studio and cut a demo or EP or whatever. Then more gigging, honing, and hoping for a record deal that dealt in physical commodities (i.e., cassettes, records, CDs). Today, like most everything in life, bands are instantaneous creations, with easy access to recording and distribution. People’s attention spans and patience have shrunk, so the market is happy with singles and other one-off-type promotional gimmicks that will top Internet searches, news cycles, blog entries, etc. Record companies and bands believe they must operate in this manner to be successful. Therefore, the idea of “an album” is dead; people do not anticipate a full-length release — they anticipate a single, a Tweet, a publicity stunt, or [insert other fleeting music/media event].

    We listeners/consumers have also changed. “Back in the day,” as the popular expression goes, if you wanted to share music with somebody, you had to do it in real time. Wanna put all 40-odd minutes of AC/DC’s ultimate expression of hard rock, the “Let There Be Rock” LP, on a cassette for a buddy? Wanna make a mix tape for some dude at the record shop (let’s not even mention the demise of the record shop … ) who said he had never heard Lou Reed? Wanna woo a girl you’d like to court with a killer mix of New Wave make-out songs? Then you’d have to devote some time to it — time you’d probably spend actually listening to the music, hearing new things in it while you’re staring at the album cover or discussing, uh, duh, music with the buddy who came over to lend you some records or whatever.

    Oh, well. I am hopeful. Civilization will undoubtedly self-destruct and collapse, after which we’ll have to pull ourselves up from the muck. As we learn to stand erect once more, new music will bloom.

    We’re all DEV-O.

  10. Anonymous,
    since there is now mor ebands than ever before (and ever more will be coming up) I'd hardly say "easy access to recording and distribution" but actually the opposite. Sure you can put your stuff in the internet but try to get a recording deal nowadays. Oh man that is HARD...

    Will Errickson is so right that you really got to dig for the good stuff. Radios etc are for the most part just playlist garbage to which Gilligan's original statemet holds very true.

    Currently you have more bands than ever in history. Add all the previous bands to that and you see the problem of trying to sound original. Heh, in 2525 (actually that should be 2025 to make it more realistic) people will think that our contemporary music was the greatest!

  11. Anonymous, I know what you're getting at. One modern band that comes to mind of the former category is Arctic Monkeys. They pretty much set up a Myspace and got buzz through that, not through gigging and touring for months or even years. Why bother with all of that when you just create a site, post your music there and get famous through it?
    Also, Anon., they still do the 'mix-tape' thing, but its via online playlists.
    At first when I saw the title, I thought "Oh God, a rant about those damn kids with their Gaga and their Katy Perry" but in the argument of music not really CHANGING a whole lot since the nineties, I agree. It seems now the thing is just going back to the nineties or eighties stuff which just goes to show how they've run out of ideas which goes back to Gilligan's original rant of Recycling and Rebooting Everything, hoping to recombine something old in the right way so it'll be new again.
    IDK. The music industry needs some impetus for change but I don't know what it is.

  12. The cure to the music scene blahs is to be found at a 'Flaming Lips' live show. Check them out when they come your way.

  13. KEPX and Minnesota Public Radio have a free song every day available as a podcast. All new stuff and generally good. But good and different? Maybe not, maybe sometimes.

  14. dont' you dare blame the record labels... look at all the analysis from people who've probably never worked a day in the music biz...let's get to the truth: no one wants to pay for music music anymore, and music is just like anything else: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR , and since no one's paying, we aren't getting

  15. look to indie music for interesting new sounds.
    you may find something you really dig.
    I think throwback style bands are great!!
    retro podcasts are pretty good too;)

  16. When the most radical band in the country is a group called "Insane Clown Posse", then you know that the music industry is going down the toilet.

  17. In my humble opinion, you have no idea what you are talking about. Hip hop has changed ENORMOUSLY since 1996. The Bay area scene, Quannum Projects stuff, the Doomtree guys in St Paul, Deltron 3030, all the stuff with MF Doom, Kool Kieth...hip hop is only now starting to slow down from the huge progress it made in the 90s/early 2000s.

    Electronic music made huge progress as well with progressive house, ghetto tech, and all the glitch/chip stuff that is now almost mainstream.

    Rock isn't going as many places, but that's because people generally want to define "rock" by the staple 4 man group (bass, guitar, drums, vocals) and its hard to go places with that limitaion. Even so, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists didn't even form until 1999.

    There is also a lot of great new stuff that intentionally borrows old stuff that people otherwise forgot. The Killers made a Springsteen knock-off record that is surpassingly much better than the last 5 real ones. Chromeo started out as a 80s pop/funk retro kitsch group but in the process not only revived but came to own it as a new/old genre. And have you seriously not heard Francis and the Lights!?!

    What has stagnated is what's on the radio. Nickleback wouldn't even exist without Clearchannel. If you dug %10 for new music as you do for the Retro things you'd be swimming in more stuff that you could ever have time to listen to. Its not the fault of musicians that you can't be bothered. There is, IMO, more good music being made right now than ever before, the difference is that the industry only shoves garbage in our faces. In the past you had great acts like The Beatles and jackson Five and Floyd who were not only the most popular stuff out there but also the best. Nowadays if you hear a song on TV its probably The Black Eyed Peas or Hinder or some such irredeemable garbage.

  18. For what it's worth, I saw the best concert of my life Friday night. Charles Bradley (with the Menahan Street band) opened for the amazing Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Trust me, 'real music' is alive and well, though you certainly won't find it during the Super Bowl halftime show. The autotuned Black Eyes Peas sucked tonight.

    Charles Bradley, a ragged 62 year-old soul man just put out his first album:


  19. Allow me to add one more thought to this debate...

    When you consider how many different styles of music there are in existence already, does it really matter what direction the music industry goes in next? I know it may seem a little cynical for me to make this point; but if you think about it, the thought that every generation has to have "its own voice" in the music industry has become a little outdated in its arrogance.

    On the other hand, maybe I'm just getting old.

  20. I'm largely with Gilligan on this, but I think it's only part of a wider trend. How in AD2025 will Retrospace depict the current era? Or even the 1990s? Music aside, I can't think of many styles in fashion, film, graphics etc. that define these more recent eras.

    We live in an age that in many ways is changing at a faster pace than ever before, yet as the man said, the more things change, they more they stay the same.

  21. I've bemoaned the sorry state of todays "mainstream" music for years now to my friends and co-workers. Your observation about the lack of change in todays "popular" music from what was being produced and released over 15 years ago is right on the money. The only happy byproduct of this is being forced to look elsewhere for the music I used to be able to find by tuning around the FM radio dial, now public radio is my destination of choice in the car for discovering "new" music and sites like this cluing me into alot of music from the past that I missed out on the first time around. I think the 70's were hands down the greatest decade ever for music, the shear variety of work produced in that 10 year period is mind boggling.....there was literally something great for EVERYONE back then....rock, funk, reggae, jazz, soul, western, dance...

    Gilligan, found your AWESOME blog about a month ago, from Space1970......it's been a regular destination stop for me everymorning since then. I love what your doing here, particularly your mix tapes and audio compilations. Audio time machine, continued success here at Retrospace, i'm all in for the long haul!

  22. The music is very simular to systamatic progressions of popular music. In 1980 there were only four songs that stayed four or more weeks at #1. This could be because of pressure from music executives to sell out demos to people for less money. Now where can we imput music. If we take one month out of the year and play this songs, would they even chart. I remember a time when music was subtle and like an earworm. Was there a "Driving Miss Daisy" soundtrack. The answer is no, why? Because of music trends. Hopefull? Yes.

  23. Disappointed since 1979. Until I heard a song on a lottery commercial that I thought Neil Young had done. I found "The Black Angles" and absolutely dig that music! What a difference from todays garbage.