I originally posted this on Steemit a while ago, thought I’d update and repost it on my blog.
I read a tweet from Doom Trip Records saying there’s no such thing as old music, just music you’ve heard and music you haven’t.
This really resonated with me and got me thinking. From a conventional perspective of time, of course there is such a thing as old music. Classical music is around 400 hundred years old (more if you include medieval and renaissance periods); Big band is around 90 years old, rock and roll around 60 years old and rave is pushing 40.
The first point to consider is what is music? I’ve previously written about ‘real’ music vs the music industry on my blog and to be fair it’s one of the hardest things to explain concisely and without ambiguity.
Stanley Kubrick once said ‘The feel of the experience is the important thing, not the ability to verbalize or analyze it.’ Presumably he was talking about film but the principle is the same for music. It’s about making a connection with the listener, evoking some sort of emotional response.
So this means that we can rule out a lot of popular music. I’m not saying all popular music but the sort that gets played on the most commercial of radios, the sort that you are supposed to listen to and buy now, the sort of music that if you don’t listen to it now, you are not on trend and what you are listening to – although the listeners of this type of music won’t care – is most likely rubbish because they haven’t heard of it. If you listen to this music in six months, that won’t count because it’s out of date. This is more of a product than music and one with a very short shelf life to be bought and consumed at a specific moment in time.
Another factor is the changing landscape of the music consumer. Even in the relatively short period of about 20 years, there’s been a huge shift from physical only media of tapes, CDs, and vinyl to digital and streaming services, both paid for and free internet radio. Interestingly we are now seeing a resurgence in physical media such as vinyl and tape.
Incidentally I’d say tape has had a much bigger renaissance, probably because it’s cheaper, easier to produce and you can do limited runs of whatever number and colour you want. It’s the ultimate in DIY media. A lot of commentators completely miss the point about cassette releases though. It’s not really about sound quality or massive distribution, rather the process of producing them and having your music as a physical thing. The fact they are produced on such a small scale is part of the appeal. In this pristine digital era there is something really alluring about producing a run of tapes that all sound slightly different and have imperfections introduced as part of their production.
This change to social and streaming has necessarily been accompanied by a rise in technology with another consequence that making and releasing music has become much easier and cheaper. There has been a huge increase in the number of releases partly driven by the fact it is now a relatively easy process for artists to produce pro-quality sounding music, self-release and promote themselves and their work on social media. The downside is because anyone can do it, everyone is doing it making it very difficult to get your music heard.
As a music blogger I receive a huge number of review requests, far more than I can answer let alone review. Even if I could run the blog full-time I wouldn’t have enough time to keep up – and that’s from a handful of labels, PR companies and direct submissions.
As a music producer and having released over 70 albums, I know that despite a lot of self-promotion, the market for my music remains rather limited. Attempts to reach a bigger audience on Spotify do not appear to be gaining much ground, listens on Bandcamp appear to be tailing off. As much as I try not to be obsessed by stats, it’s hard not to keep a watching eye on them but I know that a handful of enthusiastic listeners is worth a lot more than big numbers. People could discover my catalogue at any time and the same is true for anybody else in the same situation, in fact I often discover new artists and labels, many of which have a similar discography to me.
And this is exactly why we need to think differently about music and stop applying timescales because they are irrelevant. There is so much being released it is impossible to keep up to date with every release, even if you’re only listening to a specific style. Thinking about music in terms of music you’ve heard and music that you haven’t is a much more appropriate way to approach it.
There’s so much great music out there to be discovered. Some may well have been recorded a number of years ago but if you’ve never heard it before, it’s new to you and that makes it new music. Similarly if it takes a while to get round to listening to a release, it doesn’t matter because it will be new to you whenever you listen to it – despite its release date.