Wednesday, October 12, 2005

So they didn't die before they got old ...

I was listening to some 60's rock on my iPod (specifically some Yardbirds), which then triggered me for some reason to listen to The Who's Tommy. So far so good. But then that night, we were watching some TV, and heard a couple of Who songs - one as part of a commercial, the other as part of one of the various CSI shows. And recently the Rolling Stones tour has been all the rage, and summer festival shows were full of old groups whose stints in the spotlight ended many years ago.

So what is it that these 60-ish rockers have to offer? Nostalgia, mainly - a reminder of a time past that many of us preferred because we think of it as a simpler, happier time. But that is a fallacy, as always - it was just that we were younger and things were simpler, and these songs remind us of a happier time.

So what is the harm? The harm is that with the ever-increasing productization of music, there is little space for innovation or risk-taking. When you add revival shows like the Rolling Stones, you further diminish the airplay, shelf space and mind-space for new artists. That is not to say there is no value in these artists - 'oldies' and nostalgia have always been forces in music. It is just that the value of these (largely) stagnant self-caricatures to bring audiences and sell CD's comes at the direct expense of new artists.

An interesting statistic is that only 10 or the 100 best selling recordings of all time were released in the last 10 years. How much of this is due to the comparitive quality of music on those recordings? I don't know, but I am sure there is also a contribution of the saturation of 'product' artists, the tendency towards nostalgia in older generations, which has surprisingly intersected with the desire to do non-mainstream things in our youth. The longevity of popularity of rock music has allowed this, but it seems that in some way the music is continuing to eat itself. It has become increasingly hard for new voices to be heard because radio is increasingly controlled by a smaller group of corporate interests which push very specific playlists. These stations are dominated, not surprisingly, by 'product' music and 'oldies' or 'classics' (depending on your viewpoint) - leading many to claim that piracy may actually have a positive impact in allowing new artists to catch the ears of listeners. But this is a limited opportunity - how will people hear about these bands to know that they should be listening to them?

The problem remains exposure, and so long as we have 'dino rock' sharing space with 'productized pop', there is little mind, shelf or radio space to introduce new music ... unless the music industry tells us that it is what we should be listening to.

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