This Sunday, the Grammys will dole out awards for the most innovative and celebrated artists of the millennial generation. As someone born in the 80s, I’ve enjoyed the various changing trends in music, but I can’t help notice someone has been missing from the party lately: Big rock!
When Governor’s Ball announced Guns n Roses were added to the lineup, I couldn’t buy my ticket fast enough. It made me nostalgic for all the stereotypes of 90s rock n roll: plaid shirt Nirvana-heads growing out their grungy hair, ripped denim wearing Axl Rose fans screaming “Sweet Child of Mine,” and Aerosmith’s hilarious “Pink” music video. I know the times are always changing, but why don’t we see any Rock giants like The Rolling Stones, Beatles, Queen, Led Zeppelin and The Who?
The old foursome dynamic of a singer, guitarist, bassist, and drummer held strong for decades throughout musical history. These bands offered up a unique sound, taking years to perfect their craft and the cohesion of their group’s harmony. What changes have come about in the industry to make this model such a relic?
The quick answer is, technology.
Bands used to have to get together over time, audition talent, suffer infighting in their high school garage days, and develop passionate friendships over years that would feed into their music. Then, the brutal hunt for a manager would begin, playing gigs and hoping for a record deal. If you were one of the exceedingly lucky few who made it past this filtration process, you could look forward to the record label sending you around on tour to get your name out to the public.
These days, anyone with a computer can be their own band. With the internet and a little software, you can write, mix, master, and record any genre of music you want. A short trip down the virtual highways of Facebook, YouTube, and Hype Machine will instantly promote your work, and you can watch unique blended creations become overnight sensations.
The overhead cost of creating an entire album is close to nothing, and you certainly don’t need any record label or manager’s backing — at least not until you’re really famous. Consumers are in turn diluted by all the choices out there. They can get exactly what they want, and pick from a rich diversity of options. The splicing of genres, has created worlds of sub-genres to get lost in, and the old foundations of rock, hip hop or pop don’t strictly exist anymore.
Looking at the Grammys' ’Rock’ contenders we can see indie groups like Mumford & Sons, or multi-style blenders like Gotye — who regularly incorporates electric sounds into his music. I’ll give credit to the Black Keys and Jack White for holding down the old school style, but will they ever be held in as high esteem as the legends of old? Or perhaps that status doesn’t exist in a world with new sensations popping up every five minutes?
Maybe I’m just being an old grouch. Bands still very much need big labels for promotional costs, and God knows there are a million broken dreams for every YouTube sensation. Maybe we’ve just exported the old model online and increased the critical mass. Maybe the big bands of today, don’t fit into the old labels and are still big in their own right. Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, Muse, The White Strips, Coldplay, and Empire of the Sun can all be recognized for inventing unique sounds and amassing a significant following. Who knows what they’ll produce in the future, if given enough time.
It seems nostalgic, but before technological integration you had to save money to buy your records, really study the music, gather your friends around to make an ‘event’ out of hearing new songs, and work your fingers to the bone to hone your instrumental skills. The push of a button instant download culture we’re in now is probably a useful evolution, but as I watch my childhood disappear into high speed chaos I can’t help but feel a loss. People don’t ‘treasure’ music as much as they used to because it’s become too accessible, and if something becomes too accessible it usually loses value. So as a form of eulogy for the titans of my youth, I leave you with this farewell.