Is It Over?

Welcome back everybody, how’ve you been? 

I haven’t written on this site in quite some time, partially because of the sheer amount of #CollaboSeason episodes I’ve assembled and released this year (32 after this next one on Saturday) along with the amount of TikToks/Reels/Shorts content I realized I had to make to steadily grow and maintain an audience. I still could make more than I’m making, and perhaps that’ll be one of my New Years Resolutions at the end of this week. Mostly though it was because writing album reviews had become monotonous and repetitive for me; I felt like I was writing the same thing about the same album every week and running out of ideas, words and ways to express my sentiments about each record. 

On one hand that’s my own fault as I wasn’t picking from a wide selection of genres in my reviews; mainly my focus was in hard rock and metal so of course a lot of the records I reviewed would sound similar. Even with that said, when I look at the landscape of rock music in particular it just seems uninspired and dead, creatively dead most of all. There are exceptions like Nothing More, who’ve carved out a lane of their own and torch-bearers like Mammoth WVH who’ve stepped out from the shadow of a famous name to create a new legacy for themselves.

For the most part though it seems as though every aspect of the genre has been ground into a dust heap of expired cliches and relics that can’t seem to be overcome. Much of what I hear is over Pro-Tooled, over-sampled, over-everything, lifeless and indistinguishable. There’s also plenty of throwback-style bands out there today that go the opposite route, but will going back to the past really help this genre prosper in the present and future? I have a plethora of questions that I’m sure many others are asking. Have we completely exhausted this genre? Are today’s bands doomed to live in the shadow of their famous predecessors? Why can’t rock get the same grip on social media and streaming as rappers and pop artists currently do (or at least seem to)?

Perhaps this is the end of the road; perhaps rock is doomed to antiquity. I’m personally not giving up hope, no matter how grim things may look. None of that is the basis of this article though, though some of what I’ve brought up ties in. This concerns the music industry and how we consume music as a whole. As of late I’ve been seeing more and more discontent from musicians about their incomes, particularly as it pertains to streaming, merchandise, touring and ticket sales. Going into 2023 a lot of people are pinching the copper off their last penny right now, but for those in a field like music that’s already largely unprofitable save the lucky few who achieve worldwide success (and their financial situation isn’t always stellar either) this hurts even more.

All your work online, all your making 3 TikToks a day and keeping up with all the social media trends and algorithmic changes just to get lost in the endless saturated sea of artists on Spotify fighting for scraps while the majors puke out endless disposable product with their chosen small percentage of stars, sometimes if not often times cheating the system to win as they’ve done for decades is incredibly demoralizing. Not being able to afford touring, and when you do or put on shows locally the venues take 20% on merchandise. Playing no shows and then playing half-capacity shows for two years and then losing your live audience all over again due to exorbitant ticket prices from companies scrambling to make back all the revenue they lost. All this work with little to show for it. With all the cuts and splits, it seems like a gigantic 360 deal even if you’re completely independent.

I’ve seen a few fellow musicians on social media calling for CD’s to come back so they can make some workable revenue on mechanicals and units that they can’t get from streaming platforms. Crazier things have happened; the LP did have something of a resurgence after all. That’s something I just can’t see happening though, we’re moving at such a rapid technological pace that it seems implausible that we would or could collectively go back to a previous medium to get our musical fix with.

If we did go back to CD’s, the units would have to be priced much lower than they were at their 1999-2000 peak, as industry price fixing is one of the main reasons why the format was decimated by file sharing in the 2000’s. Some artists have succeeded with NFTs over the course of this year, although others have been quick to dismiss it as a grift and alleged that it opens the doors to plagiarism. More alarmingly we’ve seen the rise of artificial intelligence musicians, going beyond the concept of Gorillaz to the point where all the creation is left up to the algorithms, making a “virtual band” a literal, real thing.

I suppose this is the logical conclusion of all the technology we’ve developed over the decades that enables artists to mask their errors and inadequacies and make spotless music that’s free from error but lacking in any kind of human element. Even concerts are becoming less human with all the backing tracks many bands employ to incorporate all the digitally-created elements of their work into their live show (just my take, make of it what you will). For some it makes sense and lends to the overall experience, but by no means should it be a crutch. If live is no longer really live, and art is no longer in human hands, where does that leave us? If the magic of musicianship goes the way of the self-driving car, what do we do then?

Beyond the aforementioned gripes of high cost of living and high ticket prices (along with some lingering reluctance to be in crowds after the last couple years), it makes sense that concert attendance is declining. Concerts are a gathering and connecting of souls, between musicians, between fans, and between musicians and fans; all brought together by a common love of music. If that human element, that soul that puts across the emotions that bring people together to laugh, smile, cry and sing along is gone, what’s left to connect to? How can you relate to a machine, or at least an experience that’s only partly human?

Another reason a lot of people don’t want to go to shows is that they simply would rather sit at home and stream the music out of convenience. It could be and likely is a cumulative conclusion of all the factors I’ve listed, but if it really is just “I’d rather just stream the music than go to the show” then that doesn’t make an ounce of sense to me. Are we just going to atomize and isolate ourselves away and titilate ourselves with our phones and computers until our extinction, all the while wondering why the world and all its people are becoming more and more broken? I’ll leave that question for another time as I don’t want to veer off the path here but it’s worth asking.

A lot of today’s artists are frustrated. Many are ready to throw in the towel if they haven’t already. We’re in a period of rapid and irreversible change that shows no signs of slowing down and gives many causes for concern. One wonders how long things can continue like this before they crash, burn and collapse. One must wonder as far as music goes, is it over? Is this the end? Are the windows we’ve known to stardom and profit, even of making a sufficient living off of this art form closing? Is the industry truly dead? What will our relationship with music look like as we move into an increasingly digitized future?

Much is uncertain, but one thing that is certain beyond a shadow of a doubt is music and our connection to it, at least on an organic human-to-human level will never die. Music is a universal language that can never be extinguished. It’s far too early to see what will happen with the current A.I experiment in music; we aren’t massively rejecting these new developments. Humanity’s response has varied from enthusiastic embrace to passive acceptance as we continue to feed this Frankenstein monster that may eventually phase us out.

As far as the industry goes, I wouldn’t be surprised given the illicit business practices and the factory-made conveyor belt approach to music of the major labels, the growing amount of dissatisfaction of millions of artists and the autonomy they now have despite the obstacles they currently face if the major music business as we know it disintegrates and dies. It’s a possibility that seems less far-fetched by the day. Executives have paid grave prices before for being wilfully out of touch, and we shouldn’t hold our breath for them to come to their senses now.

Who knows what the consequences could be if the music business were to become totally decentralized? There wouldn’t be an encroaching middleman to worry about that eats up the lion’s share of the popular market, but the landscape would also be infinitely and more saturated in an even playing field, not to mention riskier in terms of copyright protection. Then again, online virality has shown to be a rapid key to success for those who figure it out, so what starts as a spark in a small community of devoted fans can turn into a fire if it manages to circulate elsewhere.

A similar scenario could be imagined where artists don’t have to rely on companies like Live Nation and Ticketmaster to sell tickets for them and gouge out their fans, and many experiments in this realm are definitely on the horizon if the current dissatisfaction with said companies continues. As far as concerts themselves, I only have speculations as to where things might go but I would hope that this aspect of music more than any other can be preserved into perpetuity. The in-person connection between fans and artists is too important to decay and disappear. With merch cuts, as long as live shows are still a thing the artists will find a way around that, one way or another. Creative minds always do.

There’s a lot I wonder about and a lot I worry about as we barrel headlong into an uncertain future. Everyone will deal with it differently, but when it comes to me I know this much: despite everything, I won’t give up.