Lost in choices: the sea of unlimited new music


text: Michael Raine

Are we living in a musical age of endless mediocrity? A time when an unlimited flow of information and access to creative tools, combined with an insatiable appetite for new music, has created a swelling sea of mediocre music that drowns out those truly worthy of our attention.

Increasingly this idea appears to be gaining momentum and I am unusually divided as to which side of this debate I sit on. Essentially, the debate centres around this question; are we, and is it even possible to be, exposed to too much new music?

To some the issue rests with social networking tools such as MySpace and YouTube, which have created a platform wherein anyone can share music. “Before MySpace if someone was mediocre you wouldn’t hear about it because it wouldn’t get no grade,” says Matt Martians of the rap collective Odd Future to Respect magazine. “It became a thing where if you weren’t so bad people would actually say it was good because it’s entertainment. That made way for a lot of mediocrity to make its way to the top, to the point where now in the industry you have people that are purposely mediocre so people will talk about ‘em.”

As annoying as it is to be bombarded with a thousand shitty cover versions of a song whenever you do a YouTube search, the real problem lies in the last part of Martians’ statement.

The blame should not lie with those who are “purposely mediocre” but with those who talk about them; the bloggers and critics. After all, you can’t blame someone, no matter how agonizingly talentless or just plain average they may be, for wanting to make music and share it. It is because oversharing is a common urge that music needs gatekeepers to weed out the noise. Unfortunately, there is now more time and space to fill with music news than there is music worth writing about.

In the pre-internet age, there were a handful of magazines published weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly with a limited space for new music. That meant bands and artists had to stand out from the crowd to earn a spot in music press. Now, in the age of 24/7 blogging and even the magazines’ websites, a band/artist merely has to be part of the crowd to earn coverage because writers are expected to have new content every day. The Internet has created a vacuum for new music that needs to be filled. This risk, of course, is that great music is getting lost in the crowd, thus making it harder to find, and that music writers and fans are overrating bands because mediocrity has become the norm.

“It is a constant stream of hype and backlash. It’s so funny that I can look at bands that people were talking about two years ago like they were the next big thing and where the fuck are they? Who cares?” says music critic Christopher Weingarten in the documentary PressPausePlay. “These embarrassing movements and sub-genres that we thought were the next big thing and were just a bunch of critics and bloggers jerking off on each other because it is so easy to do that on the Internet. It’s so easy to go out and discover new things right away.”

It’s the same problem created in politics by the advent of the 24/7 news cycle, which CNN started in 1980. The reality is that there isn’t enough real news in a day to fill up all the on-air time. The problem was solved  not by cutting back on time or focusing on long-form journalism, but by making news out of nothing.

Similarly, music websites have responded to unlimited space for content, not with long-form interviews and in depth analysis, but with more stories about increasingly average bands. As such, a serious music fan today is exposed to more new music in a year than their parents were in a decade.

I suspect that like many fans, I spend a lot of time online listening to new bands and still feel I can never keep up with what’s new. And despite these many hours spent listening to new music, there are really only a handful of bands and/or albums a year that I truly love.

But is being exposed to all this average music really a bad thing? As Anthony Fantano, founder of Theneedledrop.com and self-proclaimed “Internet’s busiest music nerd,” points out, “Did record labels before the digital-age really prevent mediocre music from being released?” Mediocre music has always been around and music fans have always had to wade through it to find what they like.

As fans, shouldn’t we celebrate the democratization of music and creation of a space where we aren’t dependant on critics and self-proclaimed experts to tell us what is good? On the surface, having all the world’s music at our disposal, with no one to tell us what we should be enjoying, seems like an ideal situation for fans. The music libertarian in me says that this is a great development. The more power that is put in the hands of music fans to make up their own minds, the better. However, as I click and scroll through endless content, I increasingly think, “will someone please point me to the good stuff?”

The music dictatorship was replaced with musical anarchy, it is time to build a  better middle ground.

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