View Full Version : Is Rock Dead?
17th Jan 11, 1:30 PM
(meaning rock in a very generalist way before there's too much of a definitions debate)
Recently music blogs have been very much alive with discussion of Paul Gambaccini's pronouncement that after long last rock is dead 'as a prevailing style in music history'. His point is not I wish to add that there is no rock music, it is merely gone the way of Jazz, no longer culturally influential or relevant. Here is the evidence from the linked article
Last year saw the number of rock songs in the singles chart fall to its lowest level in half a century, with only three tracks appearing in the top 100 best-selling hits in the UK.
The percentage of rock songs plummeted from a sickly 13% in 2009 to a terminal 3% – far behind hip-hop/R'n'B at 47%, pop at 40% and dance 10%, according to figures from MusicWeek.
The news that the best performing rock song of 2010 was Don't Stop Believin', a 30-year-old track from the veteran rock act Journey made popular by US television show Glee, added a further nail to the coffin.
There have been a multitude of angry responses to this, firstly based on misconception that this is a critical attack on rock itself, which it is not, merely on how influential it is culturally. Mostly though there seems to be a lot of protesting too much, it is hard to deny that rock music doesn't storm the charts like it used to, and a lot of the big live acts will be retiring in a decade or two, who is there to replace them?
Personally I have a lot of truck with arguments that it is cyclical, and that perhaps there is a lull at the moment and rock music has gone underground again. It will return, but maybe not like it was which will always leave room for purists to complain things aren't what they used to me. The most interesting music for me often comes from the conversation between the underground and the mainstream, music over the last decades has seen underground electronic elements come to the fore and gradually assimilate mainstream rock and r'n'b, to the point where this is dominant over what is considered 'rock'.
The distinctions seem fairly meaningless to me, there will always be music around to serve ones taste, if it comes back it will come back different and maybe more interesting.
Rock is dead, long live Rock.
17th Jan 11, 3:24 PM
Personally I have a lot of truck with arguments that it is cyclical, and that perhaps there is a lull at the moment and rock music has gone underground again.
There are a lot of new sounds out there. Rock's rise was due in large part to its "newness" and the fact that there were very few mediums for distributing recordings/performances at the time. It became the dominant sound because it was a commercial success, not because it was inherently better than any thing else going on at the time.
In this era its much easier to get your sound out there. Prepackaged "canned" stars are becoming harder to create, and musical influences are going in all different directions. Personally, I find this encouraging. The thought of being trapped in a world where the radio only shits out Ke$ha and Lady GaGa tunes horrifies me.
Rock isn't dead... its doing its own thing and having to compete on a much larger stage.
17th Jan 11, 3:42 PM
I think the cultural relevancy point is interesting in that much of pop - one of the more popular musical styles often has very strong rock influences. To my layman's ear at least, many of the songs shat out by popular abominations like Kesha or Lady Gaga sound much closer to rock than to - for example - Jazz, or classical music or whatever. Most of these new popular "artists" sound like the bastard stepchildren of rock rather than their own distinct style.
PS: Like I said, I am no musical scholar, read everything I've written from a layman's "man on the street" perspective.
17th Jan 11, 4:09 PM
I think, as popular music does, that while it is close to rock it rather borrows the commercial stuff without necessarily anything else, which has diminished rock's relevancy perhaps.
Anyway I think a huge problem with pop is the very speed by which these last few years it works its way through artists. The record labels in their infinite wisdom seem to have thought that the best way to make money is to adapt to the very unpredictable at present market by churning out pop stars at an increased rate, rather than relying on long term artists to influence and try and impose their vision (like madonna surely a good example).
This is all very well, but I think there's a big contradiction coming up over the next decade, that for the past decade with music profits in freefall the industry seems to have looked to live music as a stopgap. Rock bands like Kings of Leon most recently and Arctic Monkeys can still generate large crowds but the big arena sellers like U2, the Who, David Bowie a while ago, The Rolling Stones still somehow, these are all getting past their sell by dates. If these giant tours that make massive amounts of money (U2 made $109 million last year and the album sold poorly apparently, it was largely attributed to their giant claw tour thing).
In the long term though, the music industry is surely in for diminishing returns. All these stars who are replaced quickly, can any of them turn up in 15 years, fill an arena and reel out hit after hit after hit from a decades spanning career? I think a lot of the reason why has been the rise of the 'super producer' like Neptune or Diplo who creatively have done massive things in driving pop music over the past decade, but can't themselves draw crowds.
Artists aren't a long term investment in pop anymore. They've found a model where they can create high quality music independent of the whims of one superstar, (who can blame record labels after putting up with Bowie in the 70s spending all their money on drugs and thinking wizzards were trying to steal his urine) but I worry if the casulty in this short term thinking is investment in a broader range of music, even if it is temporarily not where the money is made, it may well be where it is made in 20 years.
17th Jan 11, 6:37 PM
The Guardian article ignores some staggeringly important points about valuations with its focus on charts and seems to refuse to engage with the importance of age.
From just a quick check I can see that in real terms albums have reduced in price in 2010 pounds stirling by over 35% since 2000. This has clearly made albums a vastly more affordable consumable by a broader range of ages groups. The album has moved into the price range for late teens for all genre purchases, something it moved out of in the 90s. More over mass supscription free to play services such as spotify or even more liberal approaches to youtube have made the single a lame duck focus for more adult music. R&B and hip hop (though i massively disagree with the definitions on the chart used to seperate this completely from pop and dance) which focus on the low income ethnic urban youth who do not have access to broadband home computing or other barrier to market entry are actually more likely to purchase singles in CD format than their middle class peers.
This and as Tiresas has indicated in his previous post about the formula for super singles has led to a mass market in single sales for the R&B and hip hop genres.
If we take the BPI album sales for Rock it was the SECOND biggest genre in 2009 and the figures are not out for 2010 yet, with hip hop trailing dramatically. I cant believe this lead has been completely destroyed in a year.
So my conclusion would be that not only is the Guirdian article utterly flawed because it has ignored market economics but it is ignoring the genre differences. Rock albums trend to be an attractive commodity in and of themselves as artistic pieces following a more classical form (i.e. a journey, a relation between tracks, an obvious process). Coupled with an older and wealthier fanbase who have access to cheaper albums than in the last 20 years consume lots and lots of rock.
In the UK rock is not dead, its fucking massive. Its not even being out competed, its just as music gets cheaper in real terms, and access to new genres becomes vastly easier through digital downloads and samples peoples alternative genre consumption goes up. Approaching this as an economist and not a rock fan its easy to say that the market grows year on year, people are consuming and listening to more and more music as it gets relatively cheaper as costs of distribution go down and competition increases. In these market conditions rock is cleaning up in the format it does best in (albums) and is being out competed in the format it is clearly not the most alluring in (singles). The disparity in this is probably quite calming for rock fans, people seem to like bands and buy their albums more than they just like the catchy single track from generic pop rock band 5000. Yay.
But apparently the Guradian is letting anything a bit controversial take column inches these days. It's shit like this that is causing it to lose 60k readers a month.
18th Jan 11, 1:06 AM
haha that's entirely fair enough on the guardian article (though I would add they published several articles refuting it too). I concur it does seem fairly controversialist but isn't rock's fan base aging a worrying sign? If it's not grabbing a younger audience surely it is headed towards a decline at the very least, as it implies a lack of new interest, this will mean less new bands, less new audience etc.
18th Jan 11, 1:59 AM
Well I wonder how they decided that rocks fanbase is dropping? most of the youth I know (ages between 16 and 20) listen to at least some rock on a daily basis. I think that as said above what IS changing is the wider genre base people are listening to. I bet most of us as kids listened to maybe three genres, but now I can easily hop around six or seven a day, and really over the course of a week I think leave very few genres untouched (mainly the harsher sides of metal and waay out there ecentric genres). Any decline rock is heading towards due to rock fans dying out is still far ahead of us. the end of the 90's and 80's influenced youth is just hitting adulthood now (18ish), and those years and all before them still echo through out the world so new fans are generated each day, but if they're also listening to Ke$ha and Kenny G. then not all their funds are going to go towards rock and I don't think it should, as much as I love rock it's only one part of a wide wonderful music world.
18th Jan 11, 2:41 AM
About the aging fanbase, Tir, my 10 year old brother recently came into my room and asked me for some music with really good drum beats (he's been taking drumming lessons for a couple of years), so I found a few albums and passed them onto him, and now he's listening more to my classic CDs (yes, I still have some CDs...) instead of the contemporary stuff he usually listens to. Read a the Youtube comments on a few random classic rock songs, and you'll notice a good portion are by kids saying "my dad got me into them" or "this is better than any music nowadays."
There is still a certain amount of interest by the young generations in classic rock, although it's unlikely to stop the percieved decline in its popularity. Instead, it'll more likely help tide it over until the cycle begins anew. I think as rock begins to die down in popularity, young kids with an ear for it will have over 60 years of stuff to pick from, keeping them interested until the tide resurges.
18th Jan 11, 5:30 AM
With regard to the idea of things being cyclical - I'm not so sure really. Jazz was massive back in the day, it was the first real pop music really. But Jazz hasn't had a resurgence of anywhere near that size and still generally has a lot of stigma attached to it - in terms of mainstream culture there's absolutely no appetite for real Jazz. Sure, you get the odd musician like Jamie Cullum and Diana Krall et al and people think it's a Jazz revival, but these are at best jazzy and are not actually Jazz in the proper sense - they're just flavour-of-the-month sophisto-pop really. That's not bad in and of itself, but it hardly counts as a cyclical return to prominence, and there's a ton of other genres that were big at one the time that have never had a real return. If rock ever were to make a return (that is if you give credence to the idea that it has gone away, which I don't agree with) then it would be in a form that is so dissimilar that it wouldn't give you that same feeling - music as a whole would've moved on so much by then. It might still be good, sure, but not the same, not the "yay! rock is back, I can sleep soundly at night!" feeling I don't think.
18th Jan 11, 5:35 AM
To start off, goddamnit this forum is a great idea.
Now that that is settled...
I've always imagined that Rock is a generally dying genre, where its relevance in today's society is concerned. I think part of it is due to the ageing fanbase - I'm not sure if it would be fair to say that a good part of the record-buying public comprises the younger generation who, barring those who actually have an active interest in Rock, would be more interested in buying records (singles or otherwise) that are not specifically Rock. Whether newer Rock acts count as Rock music for this purpose is debatable. People who are more passionate about Classic Rock (or any generally purist viewpoint) for instance might not really regard newer acts as "Rock" per se, and so any resurgence that manifests itself in such newer acts would end up being dismissed in the first place.
That said, as a Classic Rock enthusiast, I'm still somewhat optimistic about the future for Rock. The good old acts (The Beatles and Black Sabbath in 2009, Bob Dylan in 2010, for example) are still getting remixes and remasters (whether this is a good thing remains to be seen, I generally treat them on a case-by-case basis), which could at least serve as an indication that there still is interest in Rock, even by record labels.
On a final note for this post, I thought:
The news that the best performing rock song of 2010 was Don't Stop Believin', a 30-year-old track from the veteran rock act Journey made popular by US television show Glee, added a further nail to the coffin.
was really funny, it seemed to imply that "Don't Stop Believin'" was a generally mediocre track and the fact that it had a chance to become popular again was an indication of the (poor) judgement of the listening public. The fact that it regained popularity through Glee was adding insult to injury.
18th Jan 11, 5:59 AM
Riotlung, I don't agree with anything you said after the quote bubble honestly. It is not our place to point fingers at people who enjoy music we do not. Instead of pointing at the Glee crowd and scorning, how about you tell them about the origins of all the songs they are hearing. If they liked it so much, and Glee has a giant following, perhaps they'd like to hear the originals and similar songs. The first song I remember liking and what really pulled me into music was barbiegirl, so you never know what will trigger some one in what direction.
P.S. I still like barbiegirl, it reminds me of myself as a kid.
18th Jan 11, 6:14 AM
What I mentioned after that quote bubble was actually my interpretation of that part of the article (I will admit that I am not a Journey listener in any case). Sort of like an inference on my part - I sort of inferred that the author did not have a good opinion of Journey and the affected Glee crowd.
Regarding telling the Glee crowd about the origins of the songs, that's actually what I try to do when people refer to The Who's "Who Are You" as "that CSI song". Unfortunately, I haven't had much success with getting others interested in The Who through that :banghead:
18th Jan 11, 6:18 AM
The editor of drowned in sound website has recounted Tony Wilson's theory of cycles of music, that there's a 13 year cycle of great movements, the time of one generation growing old and a new one coming in and discarding the previous order. He put it as (iirc) 1963 - Beatlesmania, 1976 Sex Pistols and the Punk explosion, 1989 and the acid house boom... then in 2002 the theory rather falls apart. But maybe that was just the massive shift in music distribution. 2015 might be the next movement? (ok it probably won't be :P)
Anecdotally I see lots of kids at gigs still, even for the indie stuff I love, but there does seem to be an ageing rock faithful.
18th Jan 11, 7:09 AM
This article might be somewhat interesting, though it's a little dated, and its author has some pretty strong opinions on different forms of music.
It's quite lengthy. He essentially states that Rock music is dead, attributed mainly to the lack of originality/innovation in the genre and that most of the stuff that could be done in Rock, even if good, wouldn't be as interesting nor original as whatever had been accomplished in the 60s. He also notes that Rock reached this saturation point quicker than other genres (compared to Classical and Jazz) given that it was much easier for a person to pick up an instrument and write songs in Rock (sort of like lower barriers to entry as compared to the case for Classical music):
Rock is dead. We do need another Beatles - but these new Beatles, if ever they are bound to appear (and I do hope for it, since I'm an optimist), will not be an element of rock music. They will create another type of music - I don't know what's it gonna be called, nor what instruments or harmonies it is bound to exploit, but it's gonna be something different. Something totally different from rock - rock that died, just like jazz and classical died before it.
18th Jan 11, 7:32 AM
@Tir - Right, I see I might have misinterpreted you there. I interpreted cyclical and the phrase "there might be a lull at the moment" to imply that there would not be a lull any longer at some point in the future i.e. rock cycling round. As for cyclical in terms of boom-transition-boom-transition with different great movements: perhaps but I'm not so sure how relevant that is to this other than to say that rock going underground at some point is surely inevitable. Pretty much every genre still has fans, so I think if it does go underground then that will qualify to the others of such articles as 'dead' in their minds - i.e. dead to the mainstream media and audience.
18th Jan 11, 9:25 AM
Octopus. In the UK rock is the second biggest genre after pop in terms of album sales. It is the biggest genre in terms of live acts. The idea of it going underground in the mid-long term is patently silly. The only thing that is going to keep it out of the mainstream is the snobbishness of an ageing media elite (pah journey! etc.) dictating airtime on radio or tv shows away from new acts and pining for classic ones. The fact that the model for music is now either the super single or the tour for high profit means that producers have to cultivate both sides of the game to stay in the business.
Jazz wrote itself into irrelevence due to similar levels of snobbishness in fans which was utterly detatched and unwarrented given the genre's origins but also a ludicrous level of disdain shown towards listeners with the creation of supposedly 'complex' dissonance. This is another thread entirely but what is important is rock already had its flirting with such a self destructive phase with Prog Rock, which it weathered with some successes, survived and learnt from. I doubt you are ever going to get a mass movement towards self irrelvency for the sake of 'the art' again in the rock genre.
I think the true critique here is that a particular type of rock is ageing or going underground. because some of it has frankly dated. That is a problem with those sub genre or the natural obselesence of 'difficult to understand' elements of the musical discourse. Here the relevant media and social elite are obsessing over the same issues that in the end killed jazz instead of accepting that popular rock has ALWAYS mutated, but its still rock just not rock they may like anymore. So they declare it dead/dying/underground when their personal taste is getting in the way of the numbers.
Basic accessible Rock is doing fantastically well with all age groups, singles can go jump off a cliff because white middle class teenagers no longer buy them and thats 60% of that market gone in a decade. There has been no resurgence in the last 15 years in the UK because Rock has been DOMINANT (as dominant as any genre can be against 'pop' which has itself included many many rock influences over the last 15 years) in the album and live act categories. Its just been indie, nu metal, pop rock etc. Just not classic rock. Bohoo. ;)
18th Jan 11, 2:26 PM
Just for the record I don't think it's dying really, so I agree with you there.
(that is if you give credence to the idea that it has gone away, which I don't agree with) I also agree with your earlier points about singles sales being totally misrepresentative, I just didn't go into it because you did it so well. I might also add that I sometimes wonder how representative sales are at all these days as I wouldn't be surprised if it's not equally distributed across genres and time-frames. Also, rock artists are generally doing great (from gigs as you say etc.) it's just they might not make as much money for their labels as they used to - boo hoo!
Interesting point about Jazz/prog there, but still rock won't be dominant forever though. It'll go someday, with or without pretentious musos like me making it disappear up its own prog-asshole again. :)
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