“They just don’t make music the way they used to.” It’s a sentiment that plagues the world of popular music—the idea that the integrity of music was held to a higher regard in the past, and that what exists today is an offensive bastardization of an art form that used to contain “real music.” It has established itself as one of the most prevalent criticisms in music today, and easily the most tired and cynical one.
The argument seems to boil down to the way music is created. In a musical world currently submerged in computerized instruments paired with highly advanced digital editing capabilities, it is now possible to create an entire song on your Macbook, given the proper software and knowledge of how to use it. This, purists would say, takes the soul out of music, as it trades the imperfect authenticity of humans playing real instruments for fine-tuned music derived from a digital catalog of sounds. They would tell you that the human error, passion, and emotion of music performed live with no substantial computerized assistance is what certifies something as real, genuine music.
This stance can be convincing, and is shared by more people than just dads who complain after a Skrillex song comes on the car radio. The massively popular Foo Fighters, for example, recorded the entire Wasting Light album on tape in frontman Dave Grohl’s garage, clearly preferring to make music in its most raw form. Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor has repeatedly said how insulting pop music is to his sensibilities as a musician.
I’m certainly not trying to assert that either of these men—or anyone who makes this argument—is necessarily wrong. Admittedly, art is most moving when presented without filters or without concern for smooth edges and perfection. The problem comes in when all music that isn’t produced this way is unilaterally deemed inferior.
But this is just a symptom of those that feel out of touch with a new time. Think of the grandparents who have a disdain for modern technology—they’re out of touch because they fail to realize that technology changes constantly, as do the demands that people keep up with it. The same phenomenon rears its ugly head in the debate over what constitutes “real” music. To prefer stripped down, raw music is one thing, but to deny the unique developments of a new era of music is another. To write off modern popular music and the methods used in its creation as negligible or offensive simply because it does not meet a certain conceptual standard is to assert that there is a predetermined box into which music is allowed to fit. In so doing, one places a restrictive definition on the art of music.
If Bach fans from 18th century Europe had been given the chance to listen to Corey Taylor and Slipknot, they would probably be just as offended as Corey Taylor is with today’s music. The point is that music, like all art, is constantly evolving, redefining itself, and experimenting with completely new and sometimes bizarre ideas. From whichever era of music you love, what has occurred in this evolution cannot be justifiably called a development of a lesser musicality altogether, but rather a different musicality. Sure, there are some artists that make you question where music is headed, but those kinds of artists existed back then, too. In short, oldies don’t always have to be goodies, and the newfangled music that the kids are listening to isn’t always worthless.
Of course, there are festering problems with modern music. Sometimes it is overly commercialized, sometimes the lyrics are cheesy or inane, and sometimes a song is simply not good. But to paint with a broad brush, throwing all of today’s music under the bus, is simply irresponsible. It’s understandable that people would feel this way because there are shining examples of embarrassingly bad music out there today. Heedlessly following this viewpoint, however, is irresponsible because this belief is akin to forfeiting faith in the very art that musicians so ardently defend and define so strictly.
Featured Graphic By Abby Paulson / Heights Graphics