The Decline of Music

Justin Bieber Shades AMAs

Music is perhaps the most powerful medium of entertainment. There are literally hundreds of music genres, but comparatively few are worth listening to. Though music is largely subjective, it does have objective qualities. Some songs are more rhythmically complex, some are more technically demanding, and so forth. As such, one could rightly argue that some forms of music are in fact superior to others.

It is my contention that the majority of contemporary music is unmitigated garbage. Talent is less of a requirement in the music industry today than it has ever been. For many so-called “musicians,” the biggest prerequisite to success is flashy marketing. Image and presentation have become substitutes for substance and skill. Songs are simplified, lyrically and instrumentally, to appeal to the masses–masses suffering from a culturally-induced ADHD that impedes their ability to appreciate any song that lacks a catchy beat or exceeds four minutes.

I’m reminded of Joshua Bell, a renowned violinist, who once performed nearly 45 minutes of classical pieces (e.g., Bach) in a Washington, D.C. subway. Of the 1,097 people who walked by, only seven stopped to listen, and only one of them recognized him. Now, imagine if Justin Bieber were to perform instead. Sadly, we could expect a much different result. But perhaps it’s unfair to compare the likes of Bach to Bieber–the former was a musical genius; the latter is a talentless hack. Yet if Bieber and his ilk are any indication, music is in a state of decline.

Thankfully, there are redeeming examples of modern-day music, some of which share much in common with the classical tradition. Heavy metal, for instance, bears striking similarities to classical music. While an in-depth analysis of these similarities is beyond the scope of this article, suffice it to say that metal has adapted many of the innovative chord progressions and scales found in the classical tradition.

“How can you listen to metal? It’s just a bunch of noise.” People who say such things are usually the product of the ADHD mindset that I referred to earlier. Their brains (and ears) lack the capacity to comprehend what they are hearing. Granted, not all metal is qualitatively good. There is far more bad metal than good metal; but I would like to draw your attention to a few examples of the latter.

Let’s consider the band Metallica. Listen to their song “Fade to Black,” and you will (hopefully) realize that it is unique. Nothing sounds like it. The same can be said of a number of Metallica songs, but the same cannot be said of popular songs heard on the radio today. Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them. Virtually all of these generic songs, often consisting of three chords and uninspired lyrics, sound the same. Someone with minimal guitar experience could learn to play many of these radio-friendly tunes in a matter of minutes.

By contrast, try playing any Megadeth song (particularly one from their first four albums) on the instrument of your choice, and you’ll find that it is exceedingly difficult. This difficulty illustrates my point that this kind of music requires talent–talent not just to play it, but also to write it–and such talent should be valued and appreciated. Unfortunately, the general public is blissfully content with their watered-down mainstream music, as it evidently demands too much mental exertion to process anything else. Even legendary musicians, such as Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton, are being increasingly forgotten by subsequent generations.

This piece is intended to be more of a commentary on music in general rather than a statement about any specific genre. It is not so much an endorsement of classical or heavy metal music as it is a plea for the preservation of good music. With that in mind, let me conclude by encouraging you to explore more varieties of music than what the mainstream music industry is churning out. Perhaps you will discover how shallow today’s music truly is. But don’t take my word for it–study music theory for yourself and learn about all that music, real music, has to offer.

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