Instant access to the entire history of music is killing new music, argues controversial composer Glenn Branca, best known for his massive guitar symphonies.
Branca has published an opinion piece in the New York Times that suggests that today's technology is killing the development of new music:
We seem to be on the edge of a paradigm shift. Orchestras are struggling to stay alive, rock has been relegated to the underground, jazz has stopped evolving and become a dead art, the music industry itself has been subsumed by corporate culture and composers are at their wit’s end trying to find something that’s hip but still appeals to an audience mired in a 19th-century sensibility.
Branca blames this perceived stagnation on the instant, immediate access we have nowadays to the entire history of music:
Of course, we could all just listen to all of our old albums, CD’s and mp3’s. In fact, nowadays that’s where the industry makes most of its money. We could also just watch old movies and old TV shows. There are a lot of them now. Why bother making any new ones? Why bother doing anything new at all? Why bother having any change or progress at all as long as we’ve got “growth”? I’m just wondering if this is in fact the new paradigm. I’m just wondering if in fact the new music is just the old music again. And, if that in fact it would actually just be the end of music.
It would be easy to dismiss Branca's editorial as the ravings of a curmudgeon. There's new music everywhere these days, right? It's harder to find some quiet.
But there's also some truth to Branca's take on the state of music.
If you're going to play jazz, your music will be compared to 100 years of recordings of jazz artists. If you're going to play classical music, you've got to deal with the fact that audiences can stay home and listen to fantastic recordings of their favorite classical standards. And pop music? Innovation there often seems limited to visual design and fashion.
People like to pin the blame for the relatively tame output of the music industry on the major labels. The labels are just giving people what they want, though.
Branca may be a curmudgeon, but he highlights one of the biggest challenges facing musicians in the 21st century: tearing people away from the music that they know and love long enough to try something new.