Benjamin Britten, magnum compositor, had never been more spot-on when he quipped that music weaves both the “cruel beauty of nature and the everlasting beauty of monotony” in its chords.
Indeed, music, as with many other facets of life, runs parallel to time and trends.
For something so painfully abstract yet harshly concrete – an irony of sorts – music has never failed to feed into the growing enigma of cultural expansion and innovation. For centuries and decades, it has remained weak in the face of societal pressure and strong in its persistence to keep up with the changing times.
Generations of ideals – of rigid and flexible at the same time ever-changing societal standards – have spawned various shades of music; movements in music provoke antitheses of certain conventions while reinforcing others, and ultimately synthesize particular milieus. As Sam O’ Sullivan, musician and writer, states: “The cycle of music, through various processes of cultural acceptance and rejections, has led to significant turns in the music industry – the endpoint of which is the modern music we so gladly listen to today.”
But modern music is said to grow increasingly shallow as the collective mindset of individuals slows down. Spurred on by a greater need to profit and capture the commercialized market of pop listeners, music producers will gladly take advantage of anything they can get their hands on – never mind if it actually is groundbreaking music or not. In a society which values returns and things that are deemed financially profitable, there is little room for organic, freely-expressed creativity; the collective need to profit requires that music – and art, in general – be mass-consumable and easier to sell, with less regard as to the quality of art produced.
A take on the past and present
Though classical music had widely been appreciated by more subdued and easygoing folk of the bygone day because of its lighter and clearer texture, there came a time when such melodious music became too bland for the audience’s ears, and the lack of lyrics too abstract. Enter the evolved forms of classical music: blues, jazz, rock n’ roll, and country, all of which were merely compositional genres of classical wrapped up for contemporary settings. During the relatively more self-indulgent 60s and 70s, electronic instruments were used to provoke a more upbeat and angst-ridden take on rock and metal – a twist on music which focused on more personal themes.
Such music was widely popular and more gloried back then, and if we are to admit, highly longed for these days; this because it evokes a certain kind of soulfulness and richness which more accurately represented nostalgia for black-and-white tones of decades gone by, as well as the emotions they sought to convey to those generations. These melodies hinted at wistful undertones, and their lyrics spoke of a sophisticated candor which can rarely be found with more repetitive modern music.
Contrarily, most modern music, a common collective term for pop music, insists on a standardized simplicity, and typically serves to convey stories which are sometimes wanting in depth. Writer William van Nostrand of the online blog Riding the Tiger claims modern music to be “rhythmically deficient”. He further states that such music is, at best, sentimental yet lifeless, and only serves to display base elements of the decadent societies of today. True enough, this is indicative of a lack of creative prowess among modern composers, as compared to the eternal soulfulness of Mozart’s symphonies or the ingenuity of Brahms’ concertos.
Some pundits may say that industrialization is as much to blame for this. Revolutionary developments in the music industry have paved the way for the use of electronic components in recording music, coming to the point where any sound imaginable can be recreated in a computer, giving more power to music labels and those that have access to the most powerful technology. Several record companies have transformed themselves from patrons of sound into thoughtless machines that eat up musicians, often prioritizing potential marketability over actual musicality, and churn out the manufactured, formulaic music we know today. Unsurprisingly enough, the masses are hooked. Immediately, music quickly morphed into a means of artistic profiteering and satisfying relentless consumer demand, and started becoming less a concept of beauty, and more of a manufactured and robotic concept.
BS psychology student and musician Xavier Aguilar tells us that a common formula in pop is 1-5-6-3, the musical term
for the progression of G-D-Em-C. A singer’s ability to sing those notes has become an industry standard and particular criteria for record labels. This very fact shows that the process of music has become somewhat streamlined, something akin to the production processes used by fast-food companies.
Parallels to our lives
A psychological study by Schwartz and Fouts has found evidence to suggest that musical preference is a strong indicator of the individual development of adolescents. “It is a window into their world,” the study states.
One need not read the entire research paper to see this. For a moment, reflect on your own life and your musical preferences over the years. It is more likely that you haven’t been listening to the same exact playlist for the past 10 years. There are mainstays, for sure: songs you’ve appropriated for times of heartbreak; your get-pumped-up workout playlist; your rainy day songs; these reflect your moods for those times, resonating with something visceral in you.
Now examine the difference and perhaps you’ll find that Simple Plan’s I’m Just a Kid is no longer the theme song of your life. Maybe you can finally relate with John Mayer and run through the halls of your high school now that you’ve had a glimpse of that ‘real world.’ Maybe you’ll see the growing importance of Fridays in your life, and the slightest difference between the front seat and back seat has become the root of one of life’s hardest decisions – or maybe not.
Melodies of the morrow
With the digitalization of the music industry, the tinkling and bass-deep melodies of old, traditions that used to nourish our veins with a more awed vigor and verve, have been reduced to a series of instant beeps and accessible, modified clicks with little to no real ‘life’ left in them. At the very most, modern music inspires a sense of synthetic energy in us – the manufactured yet pulsating rhythm and shimmering synths wash over us, resonate with the beats of our hearts, and trick us into consuming more and more of the same sound. Piercing emotions (pain, bliss and all of it), which used to cut through us easily whenever With or Without You by U2 or Love Hurts by Nazareth air on the radio, have been replaced by desensitized appreciation . Pop music continues to subtly hypnotize us all, to reduce us into senseless dregs of our once more affected selves.
Music is still art, though, and art has always been a spawn of societal trends. Most producers have already succumbed to adapting for technological prowess, and such knowledge will, undoubtedly, be further developed and taken advantage of by future music mavens. In order to enhance and make the most out of tomorrow’s music industry, O’ Sullivan suggests that we return to its roots and study traditional music, even if it does not lead to immediate profit. The music industry is, as the case shows, in need of reorganization; and to make that happen, we need to understand that music must not only serve to cater the demands of the public, but take into account both whether what the public wants is what the public truly needs.
Moreover, music is a natural science. According to Trinity Lobo, author of the famous The Effect of Music on Mind and Attitude, music’s messages serve to engrave themselves unconsciously on the subconscious of an individual. If so, one need not wonder why it is imperative to rediscover and redefine the concept of music within modern times.
After all, as the late John Lennon – member of beloved English group The Beatles – stated, “One quick way to destroy a society is through its music.”