Friday, February 22, 2008

The Backlash

There is a backlash coming, and I can't wait.

Less than a decade ago, arrived as a source for music of all kinds - mainstream, indie, obscure, global, local, you name it. It gave way to PureVolume and eventually MySpace (and the popularity of P2P networks), but the surge had started. People - mainly youth - were able to download anything they wanted, as long as they searched hard enough for it. Record and digital music collections exploded, giving rise to the changing perspectives on music that I have written about previously.

Before this point, music (and music opinion) was received largely via close friends and family, large media outlets (radio and MTV), and perhaps the odd group activity like a school dance or Christian skate night. The focus in many of these contexts was a collective experience of an individual performance. You listened to the radio while doing errands with your family or on long road trips. You watched MTV with friends (especially if you didn't get MTV and were forced to go to a friend's house to watch it). Dances and skate nights were obviously not about the music. Music was a soundtrack, but an incomplete one.

The digital age made music a constant, almost unbearable soundtrack. If you aren't listening to your iPod on the bus every morning, you can look up and note the many who are. Many people have large enough music libraries to play - without pause - for weeks or even months. The digital age also allowed for a rise in the number of recording and music-producing bands, who began to go on tours to support their passion.

But we're kinda getting sick of it.

Talking with friends and colleagues, there is a growing weariness with the state of music. There are so many bands, so many songs, so many mash-ups, not to mention so many websites, blogs, magazines, and TV channels. So many shows, and as a generation, we're sick of going to them all the time. Especially since we find ourselves disappointed by the performances more often than not. We'd rather listen to an album that we like, and not risk having it ruined for us by seeing an ill-prepared musical unit try to create a faithful rendition of it or an interesting digression from it.

We're also spending our own money now. And we're becoming more picky. Thus a backlash is on the horizon. Bands are starting to feel it, as are record companies. Both complain of music sharing harming their careers and investments. Sure, there may be a correlation there, but I'd be more inclined to believe that as the first generation to experience such music overload has moved from high school to college and now post-college life, it realizes that there are plenty of other ways to spend time than to sit at a computer and hunt down the latest and "greatest" musical acts.

But take heart, dear bands and musicians with true talent, passion, and commitment: the backlash that is coming will not destroy you, but it will thin out the herds quite a bit. At least, we can all hope it does. You can be sure that there will always be an audience for a truly kick-ass concert that's coming through town.


Lewis said...

First of all, thanks for the update.

Secondly, I think you make a great point, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years with the music industry. Also, I think it is incredible just how many people I know (and I don't run with a "music" crowd, so to speak) that are pursuing a career in music. I am the point now where I know so many people that are either signed by a record label, trying to get signed, dreaming of it, etc. that it doesn't even impress me like it used to do. There's just so much of it these days.

Of course, I still want to hear your stuff when it moves past the stages of a few "ideas."

Ek said...

Agreed JLew. I think we're headed back into another era where a large portion of musicians - and by that I mean people writing and performing their own original music - are making music more as a "hobby" than as their full-time job and aren't really ever going to develop a national audience, and that's not a bad thing.

Eric also hits on the point that a lot of things that are supposed to be social - music, television and movies, video games, etc. - are starting to drive their most ardent fans into personal isolationism, which is almost required in order to keep up. And I think this is at least part of what the real "backlash" is against...once people hit the post-college phase, they still want to connect with both old and new friends, and when added to a full-time job, that really only leaves time for 2-3 tv shows and 1-2 video games at a time, and maybe 4-5 new bands to get into a year...less if you're in graduate school or you have a crazy work schedule like James and Mark. And that's forcing people to become pickier. And that's not really such a bad thing, either.