Troy McClure FreeLook93
! You may remember me from such posts as “Let’s Talk: The Who before Tommy” and the dozens comments I make stating my dislike for Led Zeppelin! I’m sure you’ve all noticed that at least once a week someone feels the need to make a post asking “Why does modern music suck so bad?” or “why isn’t music as good as it was in the old days?”. I sure have.
So let me be upfront with my view on this as well as my own biases (at least the relevant ones to this discussion). I disagree. I do not believe music has gotten worse over the years and a majority of the music I listen to is rock music. So if a lot of what I write here is too rock music focused (it will be), that is why. So I plan on making this post as a kind of “reply all” to the “le wrong generation-ers” of this community. While there are many who make posts firmly stating their opinion that modern music is not as good, I suspect that many others might sympathize with this view point, so I thought I would make this to help address that.
I will be writing from here on out talking to these people directly. You could say this is just me yelling at strawman, but I’ve seen all of these arguments used time and time again.
Now I could just list all of the artists from the past 20 years that I think are great, but I don’t think that would be very helpful, or fun to do, so I’m going to try something else. Let’s look at why you think music from the past was better than the music of today.
First, and this may seem obvious, you are more familiar with it. This works in two was. The first being that the more familiar you are with a style of music, the more you are going to relate to it. If all you listen to is classic rock, that’s going to be the music you relate to. If you lack the familiarity with, let’s say Hip-Hop, you are going to have a much harder time relating to it. I’m not going to go into this too much, but it’s worth keeping in mind. The second way this tricks you is in how it affects the two samples you are comparing. Let’s stick with just rock music. Now if you believe that rock was so much better back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, that’s what you will listen to. Your collection of rock albums from those years will grow and grow, while your collection of rock albums from recent years will stay barren. If you were to list all albums you’ve heard that were released between 1967 and 1971, it would likely be pretty long. But what about between 2015 and 2019? Would the list be as long? Could you even name five albums you’ve listened to? How about just 1? You’ve got way more samples from one category, you really need to balance those out if you want to make a fair comparison. Speaking of skewed sample sizes:
Second, you need to think about the years you are comparing here. If I were to say “Music from the ‘50s-’90s was way better than it is today”, do you see anything wrong with that? You are trying to compare 5 decades of music to just two. Of course there is going to be more good music produced over 5 decades than there is over two decades, they have 30 extra years!
Third, and this is a massive one, survivorship bias. If you are going back and listening to music from the ‘60s or ‘70s, for example, that music has been curated for you by time. The cream rises and the skum sinks. When music from previous decades is being shared, it is overwhelming the good stuff. Albums that may not have been popular upon release will gain a following over time. Music that was popular upon release may become all but forgotten with the passage of time. The Velvet Underground & Nico
is now widely considered to be one of the greatest records of the 1960s, but it was fairly unknown back in the 1960s. 1969 saw the release of several amazing albums, but the top charting single in the US that year was Sugar Sugar
by The Archies. Every era produces fantastic music, every era produces not so fantastic music. By listening to music from the past you are going to get much better music on average than compared to what you would get by just listening to the radio today. Classic rock radio stations play generally the best songs, the ones that have stood the test of time, from a span of like 40 years. Pop radio stations play the top 40 hits of the past year or so generally.
So put that all together and what do you get and then look at our comparison again. The group of old music spans a larger time, has more samples to draw from for each year, and all the samples have been put through rigorous testing. By comparison the modern sample covers fewer years, you have less to draw from for each year, and there have been fewer filters on each sample. And to add on top of that you’ve been conditioned to like the first group more because you’ve grown up with it and listened to it more. That is a hilariously flawed comparison to be making. The problem here isn’t with modern music, it’s with your understanding of it.
There are many other arguments that get thrown around, so let’s do some quick fire answers right now. “They don’t even play real instruments today”
- Some people don’t, some people do. I personally don’t think it really matters, but if you do think it matters keep in mind that none of those classical composers played the instruments in their performances. Mozart might have been a great composer, but did he have the lungs to play a tuba? (that’s not a rhetorical question, I really don’t know). They don’t even write their own music any more!”
- Again some do, some don’t and I don’t really think it matters that much. However, if you are going to stick with this as a reason you don’t like modern music you better not bring up the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, or Led Zeppelin as an example as to why old music is better. ”No one makes music like X anymore”
- How would you know if you don’t listen to any modern music? The music being produced today is more varied than at any point in history, whatever you are looking for you can probably find if you know where to look.
The next thing worth noting is the western music bias. Odds are that you pretty much just listen to music from the western world, and even more specifically from the UK, US, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia. That's' less than a half billion people. That leaves over 7 billion people. If all you listened to was Japanese rock music you might swear that the last 20 years have been a golden age for music. My point here is that your scope is limited, just like everyone else. This really just feeds into how little modern music you are likely aware of when making your comparison, but also how little old music. Maybe just as much great music is being produced as ever (or more), but it’s just happening elsewhere.
Here’s the bottom line: It’s easy to now, decades removed, look back and see only the gems. They shine in the light. But when you are in the thick of it, there is a lot of shit to wade through between gems. Don’t go comparing a cup of gems to a cup of dirt from your back garden. Modern music doesn't suck, your samples do.
I know I’ve left a lot out , and a lot of that was, how you say, inelegant. So I am sure others will be able to add on to this, or at the very least point out where I’ve gone wrong. The internet is very good at pointing out when you get something wrong.