Some days I ask myself "where has all the new music gone?"
Let me explain. I've managed to accumulate approximately 500 compact discs in the last 14 years. The bulk of those discs were acquired between 1989 and 1998. I used to be a VERY regular CD buyer, purchasing one or two a week. Yes, there have been breaks in that pattern; my CD buying habit would hibernate during periods when I found a new girlfriend, or when my bank balance dipped a little low. Yet somehow, it seemed like there was always this mountain of new music to buy and I'd never truly be able to listen all of it.
Now, things feel different to me because there seem to be fewer things out there worth buying. I'm not entirely sure why.
I think it must partly have to do with the fact that the musical landscape has changed. When I was passing through my teens in the 1980's, the basic music that people were playing in garages was some sort of blues-based rock. Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Pink Floyd and the like were not necessarily what was on the charts, but they were all found somewhere in your LP or tape collection. They were who you one day hoped to be, if you formed a band.
Today, I get the feeling that the core of everyone's CD (or LP) collections must be more punk or rap based. Everyone must own Raising Hell by Run DMC or Paul's Boutique by the Beastie Boys. Maybe they've got Fear Of A Black Planet by Public Enemy. Or maybe they've got some Black Flag, The Damned, The Ramones, or Husker Du in their collections. It all makes for a different sound palette than then one I grew up with.
I also think that try as they might to deflect music industry woes onto free file sharing, the music has suffered because of label and media consolidation. There are now ultimately seven international conglomerates that control all major music labels in the world. Thanks to deregulation, over 1200 radio stations across the country are owned by a single company. The television landscape is also largely held by large corporations.
I tend to believe that this concentration of distribution in the hands of relatively few decision makers has hurt the music. As Atlantic Records founder Jerry Wexler has said "it used to be that if you said 'I need a note' to a guy running a record label, he said 'what key?'... now he says 'what rate (of interest)?'" Music business decisions are solely made for business reasons: MTV and VH1 have abandoned music videos for reality and documentary programming. Radio stations hire "consultants" paid by the record companies to push their records out on the airwaves. Compact disc production budgets have begun to resemble those for small movies.
Less music is the result of all these factors. Larger production costs mean fewer CDs are made, and those few are pushed toward the mainstream to improve their chances of being hits. The reliance on "consultants" effectively keeps smaller, independent labels out of the distribution channel because they cannot afford to pay to have their music pushed onto radio. The consolidation of the broadcast outlets means higher profits and lower overhead at the cost of diversity -- meaning that every radio station in a given genre in the nation absolutely, positively plays the same 20 songs over and over and over again. The move by MTV and VH1 away from videos effectively causes them to play the same 20 songs you hear on radio, only you get to hear them as the soundtracks to reality shows and rockumentaries.
So sadly, I think I just hear less music... and I wonder where all the new music has gone.
on 2003-02-21 at 4:13 p.m.
The Wayback Machine - To Infinity And Beyond