What’s Happened to Music? (10 Reasons Why Music Sucks)
The constraints of technology, the unpopularity of the album format, shorter attention spans, a saturated music market, and the disappearance of the local music scenes are among the main reasons why so many people believe music sucks nowadays.
There’s good music coming out every month. So, why do most songs people listen to have such uninteresting chord progressions, generic lyrics, and unappealing structures? The answer, as the question itself, is incredibly debatable, but it has something to do with how the music business and society overall have changed over the past few decades.
The Internet, while being a wonderful tool for truly talented musicians, is largely to blame for music’s decline. But to understand why music has gone from substance to style, from quality to quantity, and from deep to frivolous, we need to take a close look at the 10 main reasons why music sucks.
Before we start, it’s important to note that we love music and there are countless artists around the world that are releasing amazing music. We’ve tried to include as many relatively objective reasons why we believe the overall quality or authenticity of music across the industry is reducing. Many of these are far more common in mainstream genres.
1. Social media
Looks matter in music, but not for the reason social media makes you believe they do. While the way artists look has always been a part of their art, the growing trend of influencers-turned-singers is emblematic of how social media has changed music for the worse.
Suddenly, music is no longer an authentic form of art, designed to promote conceptual ideas that can push the envelope. Instead, music is being used as a marketing accessory, designed to promote the personal brands of Internet celebrities such as Dixie D’Amelio and Addison Rae.
Commodification isn’t new to music, but social media has allowed it to reach a whole new level. When inserted into pop culture and treated as any other song playing on the radio, the manufactured tunes of the influencers-turned-singers help to further contaminate an already-decaying mainstream music scene.
2. Streaming services
Just like social media, streaming services can be very helpful for musicians who take their job seriously. However, streaming services are also constantly explored by lazy artists trying to make a buck by playing the Spotify game.
The streaming services themselves are to blame here, as they promote a get-more-streams-at-all-costs culture that’s inspired by corporate greed, not by the love of music. The widespread rule that a song must be streamed for 30 seconds to count as a stream, for example, has led many musicians to create purposely short songs without any sort of artistic value. Like a cheap slot machine, they’re only designed to hold your attention for half a minute.
Streaming services pay very little to artists (see our article on how much does Spotify pay per stream), and streaming services favor quantity over quality. As the artists with the most songs uploaded tend to perform better than artists with a limited repertoire.
This pushes creators to do two things: release all the music they make, even if it’s not worth it, and do it as quickly as possible. Naturally, both are harmful to music as an art form.
3. Internet algorithms
If you love your recent YouTube recommendations, you may not agree with this one. However, there’s no doubt that Internet algorithms can have a very negative impact on the progress of music listeners.
If you have a good taste in music, you’ve probably been exposed to many eclectic, high-quality algorithm recommendations on websites such as YouTube and Spotify. But what about the people who don’t? What about the people lost in the feedback loop that keeps recommending them music that sounds like terrible pop because that’s all they’ve listened to in the past?
Internet algorithms don’t hurt music per se, but they hurt the development of music listeners, which is even worse. It reinforces the idea that it’s okay to listen to bad music because that’s all some people are exposed to. Finding new music is an art in itself, but shouldn’t Internet algorithms be doing more to help casual music listeners discover more meaningful music?
4. Shorter attention spans
This is the underlying problem that explains why technology has made and will continue to make music worse. People are exposed to such a crazy amount of content that their attention span has globally decreased. This is more than a safe assumption: as referenced in this article, it’s a scientifically-proven truth.
People have such a shorter attention span that it’s no wonder the guys running the Internet’s largest music platforms want to incentivize artists to release as many tracks as possible. Why develop a deeper connection with a song you’ve already listened to if there’s always someone dropping a new single?
Again, the culture of the average music listener also plays a part. After all, one’s short attention span depends on what keeps him or her interested. If you’re a cultured music listener, maybe you’ll find a Spotify playlist with 100 hip-hop songs that sound the same – utterly boring. But if you have no music culture, you may find the 8 minutes of “Stairway to Heaven” too much to endure.
5. Albums are dead
Before the age of streaming, people listened to music by listening to albums. They bought a record of their favorite artist and played it on a machine specifically designed for the purpose. As a result (and because they also needed to pay for the album), they took their time and tried their best to understand the album as a whole.
From a musician’s point of view, this was ideal. True artists don’t make music because they want it to be easy to listen to. They do so because they want to present their fans with a unique experience. That’s something that you can’t do in 30 seconds. To truly take someone on a sonic journey, you need to keep his or her attention for a good half an hour.
Nowadays, though, the album format is dead. Sadly, it’s been dead since 2018. Apart from die-hard music fans and people who are fanatics about a specific artist, pretty much nobody listens to albums anymore. The idea that you must listen to an album from start to finish to respect the artist’s intention and truly understand his or her message sounds even more absurd in today’s world.
Modern music listeners are into playlists or isolated songs and just don’t have the attention span needed to stop for 30 to 80 minutes to experience music like the artists wanted them to. Consequentially, artists stopped prioritizing the idea of the album-as-an-experience. Today, most albums are but an arbitrary collection of isolated songs.
6. No quality control
I won’t dare to say that easy access to cheap equipment and music technology such as digital audio workstations has changed music for the worse. I believe this to be the biggest advantage of the Internet for musicians. But even something as positive as the democratization of music creation can hide a darker truth.
With the Internet, it became possible for virtually anyone to produce a song from start to finish, publish it, and promote it. Making music is so easy nowadays that you can create a number-one hit without leaving the bedroom. But for every self-produced Jacob Collier in the world, there seem to be hundreds of Soulja Boys.
One of the reasons why the music market is filled with so many underwhelming songs and wannabe artists is because there’s no quality control. In the age of the record label, there was a filter: the songs were scrutinized and upgraded before hitting the shelves, and that made a difference in the quality of the music. Today, any angry teenager can validate his or her work without taking into account the advice of others.
I admit that the lack of quality control in today’s music environment isn’t the top reason why music sucks, and can even give way to some surprises. You may not like the music of XXXTentación, for example, but it’s undeniable that he did come up with a new, inventive brand of hip-hop. Still, it’s hard to argue against the fact that quality control once protected music listeners against all of the baloney we’re forced to endure today.
7. An army of copycats
I invite you to make an experiment. One or two weeks after a new hit single drops, just go to YouTube and search for the name of the author of the single followed by the words “type beat.” You’ll find that, in less than a month, up to hundreds of music producers have come up with a generic beat to fill the needs of wannabe rappers and singers who want to sound like the new hit single.
Yes, the Internet and the beat-selling culture have given way to an army of copycats that feed off the most popular songs in the world like a kettle of vultures. To top it off, they manage to sell their unimaginative creations to even less inventive people who want to rap or sing on top of them.
No, there’s nothing wrong with selling and buying beats. But there’s a problem with music when so many creators have completely abandoned the idea of creating something original that speaks to their hearts. Real music should be about letting your soul out in the open, not about making an easy buck with a beat you’ve completed in half an hour.
8. No more local music scenes
Once upon a time, new exciting genres of music were baptized after cities. If you’re under 20 years old, you’ve probably wondered why the Canterbury scene is called like that or why Grunge is sometimes referred to as the Seattle scene. The reason is that there was no Internet back then, and local musicians exchanged experiences and ideas by meeting with each other in person.
There are still niche music scenes appearing all the time in today’s world. But there’s a less authentic feel to them. Think of the genres that were born in the Internet age: stuff like Vaporwave, Tumblr-Wave, HexD… While some have given way to great works of art and inspired important artists, none has ever had the global impact American Grunge, British punk, or even French House had.
The local music scene is gone because musicians no longer need to collaborate in person with other musicians to get somewhere. Sure, they can still influence each other through a chat box, and that explains why music scenes still exist. But learning about music through the computer and learning about music by hanging out and being directly influenced by your friends are two completely different things.
In other words, the disappearance of the local music scene negatively impacts music because it erases the concept of music-creation as a community experience.
9. The Loudness War
For a more technical reason as to why music sucks, we only need to look at the controversial Loudness War. As humanity’s attention span goes shorter, music needs to go bigger. This gave way to a music-production phenomenon known as the Loudness War. It’s a war not made with guns, but with compressors and saturators. The winner? The audio engineer who can make a song sound louder.
Some people credit Justice’s influential debut record “Cross” as the starting point of the Loudness War. But while Justice tried to make their songs sound as loud as possible with a specific artistic purpose, most audio engineers who engage in loudness don’t. All they want is to make their clients happy, knowing their song is as loud as the latest number-one hit playing on the radio.
What’s so bad about loud music, you wonder? Well, the negative side of the Loudness War is that dynamics are increasingly rare in music. Apart from non-pop genres such as jazz and classical music, pretty much all songs coming out are so absurdly loud that they lack any dynamic approach.
In music, dynamics are the changes from quiet to loud, and they’re a precious resource for musicians. The loss of dynamics, much due to the Loudness War, is perhaps the most fundamental technical reason why music sucks.
The good news is that the loudness war has reduced a little over the past few years, though it’s still a relatively significant issue. Thankfully, albums such as Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories gained massive success with much more moderate volumes on their mastering, which was a game-changer for the industry.
10. Controversy over the message
While Beyoncé’s lyric-replacement fiasco made many creators consider the validity of cancel culture in art, I believe this tells us more about society than music. We live in a world that values controversy over meaningful political messages, and that shows in the music business.
While some artists limit their conceptual universe because they’re afraid of offending someone, others choose to go berserk just to make the news. In the meantime, there’s no room for songs that convey an honest message of political change in mainstream pop culture.
If once the greatest musicians inspired the revolution, today it’s as though all they want to do is not hurt anyone’s feelings.
There’s hope for a change in the music industry, but it needs to start with better music listeners. It’s important to educate people about the value of meaningful music so they can see through the nonsense of purely shocking, controversial, or commodified so-called songs.
Constraints imposed by technology, the decline of the album format, shorter attention spans, a saturated music market, as well as the disappearance of local music scenes are some of the main reasons why music has taken a turn for the worst in recent years.