IS MUSIC DECLINING?

To most of us, music is one of the most important, if not the most important, spiritual items in our lives.

The inevitable discussion these days of the decline of the music industry always boils down to the same two arguments:

Argument One: Music has declined since [fill in your decade].  No it hasn’t—you’re old and nostalgic.

Argument Two: Free downloading helps musicians and empowers music.  No it doesn’t—it’s stealing, and it kills music.

We’ll address ourselves to the first argument (truism) first:

If something is true for a lot of people, it’s true.  So if a lot of people (baby boomers) think music has sucked since the 60s or 70s, it’s true, and this fact does impact any consideration of music’s decline, because the answer to the question, ‘when a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?’ in a music-discussion-context is, ‘no.’

Music exists in the mind, literally.  And not only that: music exists in our collective minds, literally.  You can’t put your mind away from everyone else’s and listen to music—music is listened to by the collective mind, not your own, no matter how much your greedy little sensory organs tell you otherwise.

If you listen to a piece of rock music, for instance, and say to yourself as you listen to it, ‘man, this rocks!’ you are experiencing ‘this rocks!’ precisely because you are conscious that others will find this music rocking, and you are thrilling to this idea—that others will find this music rocking, even if you are only concious of your own ‘rocking’ pleasure.

Music is nothing less than the single most important constructed, cultural context in which humanity hears the many (their ‘many’) in the one (their ‘one’).  Music is how humanity experiences itself as God, without having to surrender to God’s harsher and more knowing nature.

Because humanity’s existence involves a past and a consciousness of that past, previous music and previous experiences of music are vital to all present experiences of music.  Also, since the mind judges, and the mind is what experiences music, the experience of music cannot be separated out from the judgement of it.  Snobbery is impossible in music: we are all stupid, flawed, sappy american idol judges when it comes to music, whether we want to admit it, or not; subconscious layers of nostalgia and subconsious layers of hatred of nostalgia color all musical judgments.  None of us are special when it comes to music—as it should be.  One who appreciates nursery rhymes and nothing else could have a better understanding of music than a professional music producer, earning millions and using equipment worth millions.

Some may argue that music affects the body, not so much the mind, and that the arguments just made are too grandiose.

But then how do we explain how the same piece of music can “rock” for some, and sound utterly banal and uninteresting to others?  If the body were the only thing that were reacting to the music, how could this difference of opinion, which is very common, even exist?

This common listening event only proves what is being maintained: music is experienced in the mind.

As for the second argument, regarding free downloading: this is a more legal, technical, market-driven issue, obviously, but it’s more related to the first argument than we might think.

Why? Because 1) it’s a large, human issue and 2) any consideration of the music industry has to include thoughts on the essence of music—the kind found in argument one.

Does free downloading hurt the music industry?  The answer will always be yes and no, since acquisition will always be as multi-faceted as the market—hell, as life, itself, since acquisition is at the heart of all existence.

I can’t imagine an author objecting to libraries.  The person who takes a book out of a library (for ‘free’) will more likely be truly interested in that book and read that book, or, at least sincerely attempt to read that book, than if that book were purchased as a gift.  Sales do not signify any interest or value beyond the sale itself—which granted, is a pretty big thing, because the mysterious thing known as the economy must be fed.   If something sells, but adds no real value to society, who cares whether it sells, or not?  (It is exactly from here we get the argument: Who cares about the music industry?  Let it die!) Value sold is not value made.  Value can’t just be sold; it has to be made; and the fact that junk sells does not mean selling isn’t important, but more importantly, it does not mean that value (what is valuable to society) isn’t important.

But here, as with the music, we must expand our idea of what the industry is.

‘Decline of the music industry’ talk is mostly driven by the empty hopes and dreams of the anti-corporate crowd.  Every day we see statistics gleefully cited, showing sagging numbers for ‘Big Music,’ CD sales tanking, concert sales down, and decreasing profits across the board.

Anti-corporate feeling is natural and wide-spread, especially among intelligent folk who resent large, cynical, fast-buck, corporations making mass profits while dumbing down the already dumbed down masses.  It’s infuriating to those of us with a shred of decency and sense.

But hoping something will be doesn’t make it so.

The aging boomers and the crappy economy certainly matter; however, despite what the corporation-haters say, the industry is still doing fine.   The numbers showing the decline of the music industry are wrong—because they are too narrow.   Music industry profits are not declining; they are increasing.   At the height of the golden age of the vinyl album about 40 years ago and the subsequent renaissance of the CD album about 15 years ago, look at a typical family’s entertainment budget: A stereo. Record and/or CD purchases.  A TV and a radio.   The occasional concert.  Now, think of all our music-based gadgets, the constantly upgraded purchases, and all the monthly fees for those gadgets; plus we still buy music and go to concerts and watch TV.  Old acts are thriving, new acts are thriving, there’s more bands than ever. In addition, every video game features music—a crucial means of making them attractive.

Think the industry is suffering?  Think again.

The good news, however, is that the industry doesn’t matter.  Music is your judgment, your call, and will always exist uniquely in your mind.

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12 Comments

  1. David said,

    January 10, 2012 at 5:47 am

    Tom,

    Interesting considerations. Do you think that the collective experience of music that you’ve described here applies equally to poetry?

    David

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 10, 2012 at 1:52 pm

      Only when poetry is not alloyed with prose opinion…

  2. David said,

    January 10, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    http://blog.themorgan.org/percy-bysshe-shelley-on-life.aspx

    Life, & the world, or whatever we call that which we are & feel, is an astonishing thing. The mist of familiarity obscures from us the wonder of our being … Life, the great miracle, we admire not, because it is so miraculous. It is well that we are thus shielded by the familiarity of what is at once so certain and so unfathomable, from an astonishment which would otherwise absorb and overawe the function of that which is its object.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    January 10, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    I love the handwriting sample of Shelley’s.

    The spacing between words and the lines—very even and nice.

    Rich, strong, forceful writing…

    Note the large g’s which circle back under the word—love that.

    And the lines that wreck themselves and die in a fit of petulance against the right margin, like a bird flapping its wings against its cage…

  4. noochinator said,

    July 15, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Speaking of music, here’s a great documentary on British “classical” music: ‘Ken Russell’s ABC of British Music’ — YouTube has blocked it in some countries, but I’m not sure which ones:

  5. Drew said,

    July 15, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Just as long as we all recognize Rock’n’Roll as the zenith of Western art and civilization we can still be friends;

  6. thomasbrady said,

    July 15, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Did I write that article? It’s pretty good!

  7. thomasbrady said,

    July 15, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Thank you Nooch and Drew for those two wonderful British videos which help us answer the question, Is Music Declining?

    • noochinator said,

      July 16, 2014 at 9:41 am

      “I have been to restaurants in Soho whose denizens have crossed social and geographical barriers to reach them. In one, I have seen a girl sitting amid musical pandemonium with a book open on her knees and her little finger entwined with that of her true love. Of course she was not really listening, not really reading, and not communicating with her friend in any way that required effort or style.

      “It would be hard to say whether the jukebox caused the death of human speech or whether music came to fill an already widening void. But unless the music is stopped now, the human race, mumbling, snapping its fingers and twitching its hips, will sink back into an amoebic state where it will take a coagulation of hundreds of teenagers to make up a single unit of vital force, which, once formed, will only live on sedatives, consume itself on the terraces of football stadia, and die.” —Quentin Crisp

    • noochinator said,

      July 16, 2014 at 10:18 am

      The Brady Bunch on music’s decline:

  8. noochinator said,

    July 29, 2014 at 10:21 am

    Some lovely music written for TV by composer Charles Lichter (1910-1990). The pieces, performed by studio musicians and conducted by the composer, are: Blue Valentine (begins at 0:01); On the Hilltop (begins at 4:58); Treble Talk (begins at 10:27); Hurry Hurry Little Bells (begins at 12:43):

  9. noochinator said,

    June 2, 2015 at 11:36 am

    Creators of Mad Men paid $250K to use “Tomorrow Never Knows” in this scene:


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