Friday, September 9, 2016

Music 2016 - Better or Worse?

Is Music in 2016 better or worse than 1956, 1966, 1976, 1986, 1996 or 2006? I'm a child of the 60's so I would vote for the 60's and 70's music with maybe a little late 50's foundation. Of course, the answer is dependent on how old you are and what music you grew up with. I have friends who are my age but grew up listening to Country music. My parents listened to the Pop and Jazz standards of the 30's, 40's and 50's so I was exposed to Ella, Frank, Bing, Perry, Duke, Count, Glenn, the Dorsey's, and many others. I still like that music on occasion. I listened to the early Rock 'n' Roll guys like Bill Haley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and of course Elvis. I liked it, but never fully embraced it. I liked the Doo Wop stuff more. My real love of music came in the early 60's with a combination of the Beach Boys and Surf music along with some Folk music and Soul music which was really made popular with the advent of Motown. There was the occasional Country song or artist that got my attention too. After the Surf craze, we had the British Invasion led by the Beatles. To be honest, there were several British groups I like more than the Beatles. The Rolling Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Zombies are a few of them. 

Now we get to the differences in music and it's consumption today vs then. We listened to AM radio for most of our music. We might have a couple of 33⅓ LPs and some 45 singles, but none of my friends had an extensive music library. In the 60's, the AM radio dial (there was little or no FM) was divided into pop standard/big band, classical, country and top 40 along with maybe a kind of news/NPR/public affairs station. I guess there may have been religious/gospel stations, but I don't remember them. The top 40 stations played whatever was on the charts so a Frank Sinatra song might be followed by The Miracles followed by the Beatles followed by Johnny Cash, followed by... It eventually was dominated by Rock, but it took several years. The good part was that we were exposed to all kinds of music and artists. The bad news was that we had to listen to stuff we didn't like and maybe wait a couple of hours for that song or two we really wanted to hear. 

I was lucky in that there were always at least two and sometimes more very good Top 40 stations in my town. We were experts at switching between the stations either with the pushbuttons on the car radio or the dial on our transistor radios. We could avoid the commercials and the songs we didn't like. 

Back then, you listened to what was on the air with limited choices. Today, there are a million choices. If you want to listen to only 1998 Rap, you can find it, although why would you. Radio stations are very specific now including pay/satellite radio. You don't just have Country, you have modern Country, classic Country, 70's Country and maybe Texas Country. You also have a plethora of streaming choices, some free and some subscription. That's all great but it can limit your exposure to new and different types of music if you let it. I have built 10 or 12 fairly specific Pandora stations but I usually shuffle all of them together when listening. I don't know if I fit the norm for my quest for variety or if most folks stick to a specific genre and/or time span. 

I have friends who only listen to Country or only Rock Oldies or young friends who only listen to Rap and Hip Hop. Seems very limiting to me. There is lotsa good music out there, also lotsa crap. Our options are so much better now. I can pretty much have music with me whenever I want and wherever I go. In fact, I do have all the music in the world with me all the time since I can get to it on my phone. I have about 800 of my songs downloaded on my phone so I can listen to them anytime, anywhere even without wi-fi or a cell signal. I also have over 7,500 songs that I own in the cloud. That's amazing for someone who once owned maybe 10 albums and an AM radio. That doesn't even include the streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, Google Music, Amazon and others that have millions of songs available.

So while there is no doubt that there is more music more easily available now, that does not necessarily mean it is better. The fact that anyone can easily record a song and make it available on the internet guarantees that much of it will be crap. Some of those folks have no talent. It also means that a diamond in the rough can more easily be discovered.

Every era and genre has had its outstanding music and also its terrible and ridiculous music. No doubt, there is more music more readily available today than in any time in the past. It is also far less expensive, much of it free. Yes, back in the day we had free radio but you had to listen to what the DJ played.

The good news is that music continues to be important. The next generation has to find their own sound. They often think the prior generation's (AKA parent's music) music is old fashioned. Sometimes as they get older they realize there was some good stuff in that old music collection mom & dad had. 

Like many things in life, there is no definitive answer to which era or generation had the best music. The only thing we can say for sure is that it was different. Different doesn't mean good or bad, it just means different.


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