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Has The Quality Of Music Changed? 

I want to put forth a question!


Has the quality of music changed in the last few decades? 



In the 60’s we had the Beatles, in the 70’s we had Fleetwood Mac, in the 80’s we had Michael Jackson (with Thriller and the moonwalk), in the 90’s we had a horrendous selection of boy bands… i.e. Backstreet boys… and then there’s the Spice Girls…


In the future, when we look back at the music of today… one of the biggest songs of 2011 was ‘Friday’ by Rebecca Black, and now we have ‘Gangnam Style’ (which I’ll admit is fun to dance to…)


I’m not trying to put these artists down or to be derogatory. I’m simply observing. 


It is without a doubt that the music of today has drastically changed! Is it about THE ENTERTAINMENT factor? The novelty factor? The X factor? Or is it about creating quality music that lasts longer than a few months on the top of the food chain? 


What should we as artists be trying to create and aim for? It seems that the majority of content that goes viral in the ‘Digital World’ is novelty content. CUE cute kittens, Baby pandas, and Honey boo-boo? 


Is it enough to say that the cream will rise to the top? That if we build an audience, if we work from the ground up and work really, really hard… will it really pay off?


Or should we be adapting to this ‘New World?’ - The Digital World…


I think everything has changed…


I’m simply observing…


I want to know your thoughts? Is the quality of music changing? If we progress as we’re going, what will the future of music sound and look like?


Contribute and discuss!






Reader Comments (20)

It's definitely an interesting question. However only because we see and hear Gangman Style in the mass media 24/7 does not mean that people listen to it beyond curiosity.

While in the 70s, 80s and 90s the difference was that if the Beatles, ABBA and Michael Jackson appeared in the media it actually reflected what people consumed because of very limited channels to distribute and consume music. In other words, today the mainstream media does not reflect peoples consumption behaviours in the same way as it did in the past.

The equation mainstream media reflects people's interests reflects success does not hold true anymore. Never before in history did we have such a diversity in music. I listen to much more and diverse music today than I did in CD times. This also educates consumers about good music.

However, I think innovation is more important than ever due to the sheer mass of new music. I don't think a very good but rather traditional singer/songwriter or rock band can create much attention these days simply because there is a lot of very good traditional music out there. We also compete with an ever increasing amount of existing music.

November 15 | Registered CommenterMusic_Waves

Yes today's music has changed. Today's music is distorted. If you don't believe me, listen to Pink's new album on Spotify. Another example was Metallica's last album. No Doubt's new album is another example. There are many more unfortunately. The loudness wars are contributing to the death of music, because who can listen to an entire album if your ears are bleeding when it's done? It's no wonder that people are not buying music now because it sounds terrible, unless you like square waves. Don't believe me? Look at the waveforms from Lotusflower by Prince. If you can't hear it, seeing it makes it quite clear.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterScott

Great question Carmichael. I don't believe the quality of music has changed, the industry has just become more saturated with more distribution channels and more artists pumping out content. Anyone can go viral on any day of any year now. I agree with Dr. Music's points.

The future of music will continue to introduce a bunch of subgenres and give many more artists a chance to create a name for themselves, not so much on a major commercial scale, but definitely in their niche markets.

CDs have been fading away, FM radio is starting to diminish in power and reach, and more distribution channels are being introduced into the market, many with targeted markets. I read this in an article titled "Our Top Ten Truths of the Music Business":

"In twelve to fifteen years, niche markets may bring in close to 40 percent of the global music revenues, and a new middle class of artists may finally thrive."

(via Berklee Shares:

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterYoItsGuillermo

Re: Dr. Music ... while I agree that there is THE POTENTIAL to experience a broader diversity of music now than ever before ... I wish what you were saying about CONSUMPTION was true.

But it is not.

Taylor Swift in 3 weeks has sold more albums in 3 weeks than the cumulative sales of the bottom 90% of sales - combined over the last 5 years! It has been shown that 2% of releases account for 95% of music sales.

Just think about that - it is a narrower distribution than at any time in recorded history (which is admittedly not all that long since the LP is only 60 years old), and means that more people are buying ONLY the prefabricated crap (Swift, Beiber, Nicki Minaj, etc) than ever before.

All of this other stuff was supposed to help the 'other 98%, and to some extent it has - the possibility to be a 'working musician' has actually improved, so long as your expectations of what that means are realistic.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Anderson

I agree with Dr. Music...I myself have looked at the videos with 100 million views. Not because I really cared or appreciated the video. But because it was cute, shocking, horrible. It's the internet version of rubbernecking- we hear a commotion in the street and look to see what all the fuss is about. Once we see it is something mildly entertaining, but not especially profund, we shake our heads at the frivolous distractability of the other people just like us and get back to our business. Judging by the top comments on youtube, most viewers feel the same way. I would not see it as a sign that culture has become more stupid. It is our impulses that have always been idiotic, and those definitely not changed.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterExtropy Nervosa

Music is about music. Obviously, what's "popular" isn't necessarily going to be good, but that has nothing to do with the quality of music as a whole. In fact, I would argue that the quality of music is better than ever, due to the unhindered access to creation that's available. Now, whether or not it gets listened to is another story.

Berlioz never made much money off of Symphonie Fantastique, and yet it endures as a timeless work. If you're in it for the popularity and the money, you're doing it wrong.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterRVLouie

A great question and one I've thought about a lot.

To me, I think the quality of songs overall has fallen and recording techniques are squeezing out dynamics as well as human error. I mean, thinking about the bands of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s (Nirvana, Pearl Jam!), they are all on a different level from what's come out since. Maybe I'm just unaware, a very real possibility, but I don't think a lot of great music is being recorded today. Best acts I can think of are Mumford and Sons, Adele, some country guys and, well, I'm sure there are others but I can't think of them, and maybe that says something.

What's the core problem? I don't really know. I suppose one way to put it, though, is that at the top you now have more pressure than ever to have hits and therefore you play it safe (radio consolidation drives this). Out among the great unwashed masses you've simply got so much to choose from even if there is great music out there how do you find it? Pandora? Facebook friends? I don't know.

Tough one. I could use some good new music on the level of the bands I grew up with but I don't know where to find it.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Shattuck

I guess it all depends on a an individual's definition of quality. Some think it's the level of music prowess an artist or group possess. Some think it is the label or company an artist is signed to or work with. Some feel its the amount of money made from an artist's artistic pursuits, while others gauge it by popularity. Quality is completely subjective. Before the digital age, quality was whatever the gatekeepers (the major labels) told us they were (or should that be "sold" us?). Before that, it was the rich and the elite who measured quality by being those few who could afford to do so. Prior to that, it was a matter how well a tune that was carried from individual to individual resonated with its audience and performers.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterChancius

I keep having this discussion lately, and I keep saying the same thing. No, music hasn't changed. In every era there has been greatness and there has been crap. Perhaps we are more constantly berated with music now, but there were great and awful artists in the 1920's...the 1960's....the 1990's....and currently.
That hasn't changed, nor will it ever. Every generation claims that the music of their era was the best and 'now' it's awful, but it's no different.
'Gangnam Style' may have been something of a viral hit, but I don't think it's because it's anyone's favourite song. Yes, 'Friday' may have been hugely successful, but kids and tweens are a powerful demographic and always have been.
Operating under the presupposition that the days of 'quality' music are over is a bit of a shortsighted and narrow minded view to hold.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

@Michael Anderson Could you provide a source for your numbers? Are Spotify and other new distribution channel included in your sales? Also, why do we have narrower distribution than ever before?

Superstars will always exist but more because to some extent we want to communicate with others through a common good. Like, to be part of a culture you have to know what Gangman style is. But that is one phenomenon that doesn't necessarily say something about the development of musical taste.

The most important reason why new artists struggle as much as ever is not piracy, is not because the main stream is crowding out indie artsits,it's not because people don't like good music but it's simply because of the hyper intensified competition between new artists and the stressed attention of consumers. If you suddenly compete with some million artists on the same market and before there were only a couple of thousands selected by labels, no wonder that times are hard. But who to blame?

November 15 | Registered CommenterMusic_Waves

The music industry on the top sales level is the same as it has always been: the one's profiting from music are like a few large sharks circling while the smaller ones lurk on the fringes of the main meal, hoping to steal an occasional bite. The big artists are not artists at all, they are idols- they are the puppet-victims. The consumers who actually learn to like and purchase this fodder, and the artists that didn't make it are the fish the sharks' victims ate on the way to the top. Why do they eat it? Why do they accept the music and movies as easily as they do? Marketing schemes that take advantage of peer pressure in the teen brackets. It's a fashion and status thing, more than any true love for teeny-bopper pop idols. Pride, lust, envy... wannabes... that is what the sharks count on to drive the industry onward, and keep the meals coming. Follow the money- who profits?

The newest driver is the YouTube 'Viral Video' trend, which is brought about by the age-old phenomenon: curiosity. An old tendency with a new outlet, that's all. "Hey- look what I found!", "Look everybody! Look at ME!", or "Watch me, while I dangle this bait and reel you in!" Ah, yes, the old 'bait-and-switch' ploy...

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterMonarch 441

@Monarch I agree in some points but I think it's a common mistake to mix up the markets for Justin Bieber and let's say James Blake. You can't blame the system or any large corporations that Justin Bieber is more successful in total numbers than James Blake. These are two completely different markets with different supply and demand.

There is research that suggests the more educated you are the more diverse your taste in culture/music is. Obviously, 14 year old girls cannot have a very educated taste of culture yet but they hopefully will when growing up.

You are right that this lack of education is exploited shamelessly by many superstars and majors but just in the same way as MacDonalds exploits our lack of education in food knowledge. At the end, we, the consumer decide what artist and companies produce. And confess, sometimes we just like the quick superficial entertainment or burger, and even if just to make fun of it or feel superior in our group disliking it al together.

You also have to ask yourself, what is good music? Is it really just the physical waveforms triggering some sensors in your brain? Or is it more? How much are you influenced by the fact who else is listening to the music and who is not? Where and who played it? What did critics say about it? Do you really think you have an objective pure musical taste?

November 15 | Registered CommenterMusic_Waves

To help answering the question, I would recommend this reading, which somehow deals with the topic from a scientific perspective:


PS: For a derived discussion:

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterJP

@JP interesting article, however I object :)

I doubt that pop music today and pop music 50 years ago is comparable. Today we have around 50 other genres, super diverse and not included in today's pop music analysis. If you would compare 100% of the music back then with 100% of the music today, I am sure today it is way more diverse.

Pop music, in terms of simple quick entertainment, has a proven formular. Producers got more and more efficient and specialized to refine this formular. The same way as most mainstream cars kind of look the same. Adorno talked a lot about it.

Every consumer who complains about a lack of diversity today has to blame him- or herself but not any sort of industry. We have the world's inhabitant's creative expressions unfiltered uncut just one mouse click away.

November 16 | Registered CommenterMusic_Waves

is the quality of music changing ???

well... I would say that depends on the genre of music you are drawn too.

For me my favorite genre is hip-hop/r&b and yes that has changed. Its changed so much that it is almost agonizing to listen to and it saddens me that you don't have to really have real talent anymore to come up with dope lyrics and a hook anymore. However, its what is selling so the labels have to adapt to the change. Now, I believe its harder now to be in the hip hop genre and make it because of all the stuff you have to do to even be considered a record deal as a hip-hop artist.

You simply just cant be talented anymore ... they want to see you hustle. You have to have so many views and hits on this social media site and you tube site and be played at this many record stations and be played so many times ... its tough.

So yea the quailty of my favorite genre is changing for the worse and really ... i'm not sure how the labels are making a profit off of it .

November 19 | Unregistered Commenterred freckle

I think we all individually make up a single deciding factor as to how the collective, the world is going to be in every aspect; how peaceful it is, how fair it is, etc, and if music appears to have declined (I'm not saying it has), it's because of each of our listening choices.

Scott Walker just released a new album that has some incredibly strange and diverse sounds on it. Charles Bradley released an album last year that was packed with pure soul and uplifting melodies. Deftones just released a truly great album. Puscifer's release last year was ambitious.

Anyhow, those are just my own subjective opinions of course...there is endless high quality, beautiful and interesting music out there. There's so much more of it than ever before that it's harder to find (that's a fact), and it becomes harder for the artist to "pool people around themselves" and create a promotional force behind what they have to offer. That's probably why we may see an artist in the bottom rung of a music festival and think "My God! Why have I never heard them before?" Truth is they may have been slugging away for 5 years just to get through the slew of indie pop and dubstep even to get that mediocre festival slot. Things are crowded, so we really need to look hard to find the gold, and support it, buy it, and spread it when we do find it or it will stay at the bottom of the lake.

December 1 | Registered CommenterJames Moore

Christine wrote:
"Every generation claims that the music of their era was the best and 'now' it's awful, but it's no different. "

Not true. I, for one, believe the best eras for music were the Renaissance, Baroque, jazz age (1920s-1970s), the classic rock era, and early electronic music era (1970s-80s). I didn't have the pleasure of calling any of those the music of my "generation"...

Also, as a DJ, it's surprising how many times I hear from people in their early 20s that they wish they had grown up in the 80s because they believe the music was substantially better then.

December 2 | Unregistered CommenterSerge

Just about everybody hates the music that their parents raised them on, at least until a certain part of your life. Then, you start to realize maybe it wasn't so bad after all. Personally, I hated the Country music that my Dad played until i was old enough to make a distinction about it.Did I need to know about Porter Wagner? No. But I did need to know about Johnny Cash, Waylon and Willie, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline and I thank my late father for that. It goes great with my Beatles, Jane's Addiction and CocoRosie. It's like everything else in life. Maybe you don't like this food dish but you love the other one. You don't admire that style of clothes but these pants look cool, etc. etc. It's how you construct yourself. Little bits of influence here and there, processed by you internally that then show who you are on the outside. I too, write a monthly blog on music related issues. I would be happy for readers and comments.

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterDuane

I don't think the music of "my generation" was best. I was born in 1972 and I think Western popular music peaked in the 60s and early 70s. I'm certainly not the only person my age or younger with this opinion.

Things really can go downhill and they can stay there for any length of time. Take English drama for example - it's been past its best for 400 years now.

September 11 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Arlington

Each and every music has its own values; we can’t compare someone to with other best thing. I am a music lover so I never underestimate any singer or artist. Good music is always appreciable it’s doesn't matter from which centuries it’s belongs.

October 8 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda Shaw

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