The Degradation of Music for Mass Consumption
From the very first time that someone decided to experiment with a musical tradition, the cry has gone out that "true," "pure," and "good" music is dead to society, and that music itself is on a perpetual slide to oblivion. All apostrophe aside, this is a serious matter to consider. Music inhabits a significant place in all cultures. Musical style is very much a function of the Zeitgeist, reflecting the prevalent tone of the dynamics and pulse of a specific time. As an artistic medium, music has as much to do with the shaping of society, or as a shaped response to society, as do television, literature, language, or art. The fact that we find music pervading so many of our endeavors bears this out. There is nothing like music. A musical composition is a singular, tangible, emotional and intellectual outlet for our expression, so it should be no surprise that the direction of music resonates importance with so many people. Which brings us to the topic: Is the popular music of today of any value, and what does it bode for future music?
In the introduction, I have suggested that the style of popular music of a particular period reflects that period. The particular style that is chosen is the artist's response to the agony and ecstasy, or something in between, of the time. The great thing about music, though, is that it can express anything. The Zeitgeist serves as a filter for the form of the music. In this way, the artist can make his point in a medium that is both accessible and acceptable to the listener. Not unlike language, the artist wants to communicate with his audience, and in order to do that, must speak the audience's language. Of course, music, essentially, has only one language, and an artist is free to explore any avenue of expression, whether comprehensible or not, whether deliberate or not. So it may well be that a listener is completely unable to identify with, much less assimilate, a piece.
And this is the problem. Music is a personal, individual language, not collective, like the spoken language of words. Therefore, people have difficulty in determining and establishing value in music. What is good music to one, may not be to another, and for very good reasons. What constitutes positive and negative change in music? If music doesn't communicate in absolute terms, how is anyone to decide anything concrete about it? Doesn't that just make all music relative? Isn't one piece just as good as any other?
This quandary of indeterminacy can be seen in today's music and in people's responses to music in general. One always seems to hear the bemoaning of the present day's musical style. Today, it's that machines (i.e., computers, synthesizers, digital recorders, etc. . . . ) are the primary instrument of musical production. Popular music is characterized as boring, monotonous, stale, unoriginal, and simple. Complaints of this vein are nothing new. Viennese classicists like Mozart...