May 2020 – The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts – Part XIV


Hello and welcome back for some more rambling discourse from CRAVE Guitars. It seems the world is still in the firm grip of the deadly COVID‑19 ‘coronageddon’. My thoughts and wishes go out to everyone directly affected. Trusting that you are surviving the latest global health crisis, thank you again for tipping up here for a bit of idle distraction.

Dah, Dah! Here we are, at last. After 14 fun, fact‑filled fragments, it seems that we have, finally, come to the end of this major venture, summing up post‑Renaissance musical development up to the current day. By the end of this article, we’ll not only have brought things pretty much up‑to‑date but also we’ll take a look at the current state of the musical landscape, as well as take a speculative look into the near future.

As is customary, if you would like to (re)visit any of the first 13 parts of the story (and 370 years) to‑date, you can do so here (each link opens a new browser tab):

Loose Ends – 2020 so far

Historical Context 2020

Compared with previous decades, stating the obvious, we are only at the very beginning of the 2020s. There is therefore little to report thus far. However, these early doors events will have profound and long‑lasting consequences for humanity. Behind the stark headlines, the trend for both capitalist and communist systems is one that permits or even encourages a ‘privileged’ elite to implement systematic, cynical and cruel punishment of those in poverty and the oppression of the vulnerable. Meanwhile, the rise of the populist far right seems to be gathering momentum, threatened by on‑going economic migration.


Global Events


Devastating bush fires in eastern Australia, known as the ‘Black Summer’ started in 2019 and continued into 2020. The fires burned 18.6 million hectares (46 million acres, 186,000 square kilometres, 72,000 square miles), killing an estimated 1 billion animals, 34 people and destroying nearly 6,000 buildings.


After much political turmoil, the UK formally withdrew from the European Union (EU) after 47 years of membership, triggering an 11‑month transition period to agree trade arrangements between the UK and the EU.


The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, the worst since the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. The virus pandemic emanated in China and spread to more than 210 countries. Worldwide confirmed cases exceed 5.8 million with more than 360,000 deaths. Major stock market crashes precipitated an inevitable global economic recession alongside massive social disruption.

Musical Facts 2020




Music Fact




Canadian musician and songwriter, best known as the drummer of the rock band Rush, Neil Peart died of aggressive brain cancer in Santa Monica, California at the age of 67.




English guitarist, producer and founder of post-punk rock band Gang Of Four, Andy Gill died of pneumonia in London at the age of 64.




The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2020’, including The Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Depeche Mode, T.Rex, The Notorious B.I.G. and Nine Inch Nails.




American guitarist, songwriter and co-founder of alternative rock duo Mazzy Star, David Roback died from metastatic cancer in Los Angeles, California at the age of 61.




American country music legend, singer, songwriter, actor, producer and businessman, Kenny Rogers died from natural causes at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia at the age of 81.




Award-winning American soul singer, songwriter and guitarist, Bill Withers died from heart complications in Los Angeles, California at the age of 81.




Award-winning and influential American country singer, songwriter and guitarist, John Prine died as a consequence of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 73.




American rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, singer, songwriter, and musician, Little Richard died from bone cancer in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 87.

The Current and Future of Modern Music

Alrighty, now we are up‑to‑date with real‑world current events, there is one last thing for me to do before formally concluding this long‑running series. Up to now, everything has been retrospective, factual and objective. Now, it’s time to take an off‑road diversion for the rest of this article, which comprises the author’s forward looking and wholly biased subjective value judgements. You have been warned!

To wrap things up, I thought it was worth both a critique of where we are now, as well as a speculative look forward at the short‑term future for modern music. Looking any further forward than the near future is relatively pointless. In the absence of the proverbial crystal ball, we can only venture a few thoughts about what future generations might encounter. Let’s begin with the recent past and where we are now.

A ‘Millennial’ Critique

A number of things seem to be influencing music development in the first quarter of the 21st Century. For convenience, this ‘analysis’ is split into 3 separate but interdependent themes. These themes are not only sequential but also part of a continuous feedback loop that changes the dynamic between the parameters continuously over time. The 3 key factors that are defining our current relationship with music are:

  1. How we make and perform music
  2. How we distribute and access music
  3. How we listen and respond to music

I’d like to say at this point that, while hindsight can certainly aid clarity, it’s really too soon to be conclusive and definitive. It is a pretty ambitious task, so let’s get going and see where it leads us…

1. Making and Performing Music

It is logical to presume that the proportion of the population that creates music is significantly smaller than the percentage that listens to what is created. This hasn’t changed since music began. Likewise, the instruments that musicians use to create music have not changed fundamentally for a long period of time. Taking most modern musical styles as an example, singing is singing, guitars are guitars, basses are basses, drums are drums and keyboards are keyboards… well, you get the drift. However, the way they are used and combined in composing and arranging music has changed significantly since the dawn of the digital age, which started to have a major impact in the 1980s.

The time‑honoured fashion of getting some mates together, forming a band, coming up with some decent songs, playing them live to an audience, hopefully getting a recording contract, going into the studio and laying down an album with a few singles and taking things from there has largely now gone. Yes, it still may be the route for many aspiring musicians but it is no longer the only route. Arguably, the dependence on the old processes has been broken.

Technology has pretty much redefined the landscape. The concept of a ‘band’ has changed, being replaced either by solo efforts or by much more fluid collaborative, collective and cameo approaches.

Similarly, the reliance on large recording studios has also been challenged. Many musicians now never even see each other in person and don’t even have to be on the same continent. The crucial role of session musicians, along with expert audio engineers, is under threat, affecting the livelihoods of many. It has become commonplace to share music files over the Internet, rather than embark on ‘full‑band’ studio recording as was commonplace in the past.

Music can now be created from start to finish in pretty much any location. Digital recording tools have revolutionised the ability to record music pretty much anywhere by anyone. A company called Soundstream developed the first digital recorder back in 1977 and, with the advent of commonplace home computers, Windows-based audio recording came on the scene around 1994. Recognising the potential, digital editing was quickly adopted by professional studios and the user interface has generally become based on replicating the studio mixing desk. The advent of the computer‑based DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) means that musicians are no longer restricted to using the large scale recording studios of the past. At its most basic, all that is needed is an audio interface using an ADC (Analogue to Digital Converter) to change sound waves into sampled ‘0’s and ‘1’s that can be manipulated within the DAW software on a PC or Mac and stored on a hard disc or SSD. Examples of today’s high quality DAWs include Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Cubase, Reason, Live, Studio One and Garageband.

For musicians, Internet‑based tutorials and digital modelling provide infinite opportunities that were inconceivable for previous generations. Technology now provides virtually limitless choice throughout the creative process. The downside of exploring endless permutations of options is that the technology can become an end in itself, rather than the means. As legendary producer Quincy Jones said, “If you don’t fully understand music, you end up working for the technology instead of the technology working for you”. These opportunities do not, of course (?), necessarily make for better music. Nothing can replace practice and hard work which, along with talent, make for great musicians. On the plus side, it may well mean that talented creative artists can now be heard where in the past they may have struggled in obscurity. However, it also means that there is a great deal of mediocre and often lazy music making to flood our everyday lives.

As mentioned in previous articles, the diversity of (sub‑) genres has proliferated since the millennium. No longer is it easy to talk about the simple and clear divisions between rock, reggae, funk, metal, country, pop, etc. The blurring of genre definitions makes it difficult to articulate what one might expect from an artist. In fact, being intentionally provocative, one might suggest that the homogenisation of modern music output has led to a bland and featureless musical landscape making it tough for talented creative musicians to be noticed. This increasingly diffusive effect is likely to continue and make it harder and harder to separate the wheat from the chaff. Many modern pieces of music are manufactured without skill and often even without an instrument in the traditional sense being used at all. This is not to suggest that musical ability has been compromised, far from it. Talking from the perspective of a guitarist, there are many, many exceptional musicians out there that it is problematic to stand out from a very capable crowd. It seems counter‑intuitive to say that increased ability is leading to a general stagnation of musical individualism. The technology is not to blame, it is how people use it that may be the culprit.

We will move onto distribution and listening habits in due course. However, I mentioned earlier that the factors are interdependent and there is a constant feedback loop to the start of the process. What I mean here is that, in the past, a band might have created a coherent collection of tracks that formed an album with the intention that those tracks are listened to in sequence from beginning to end in one session. Nowadays the distribution and listening habits have substantially changed the way that musicians are approaching song writing. The focus is increasingly on short soundbites that can be consumed in isolation without context. The lack of discrimination in the end‑to‑end process can lead inevitably to a lack of shrewd production in an ever‑decreasing spiral of unremarkable averageness.

The passionate anger and frustration of youth‑induced music‑making seems sadly lacking, being replaced by indolence, fed by unopposed uniformity and conformity. Previous musical revolutions have often been accompanied by reckless and rebellious behaviour with resentful citizens butting heads with authority and rejecting established shared societal conventions. Music was hard-edged and lyrics often used socially provocative language about sex, drugs and/or anti‑establishment activities. Where music may once have been used to articulate heartfelt protests about political tensions, for instance war, poverty or injustice, it has become replaced by yearnings for selfish privilege, celebrity status and competitive wealth.

Many traditional genres have been straight‑jacketed by conformist ‘rules’ (classical, blues and bluegrass are prime examples) that constrain their evolution unless it becomes fused with other genres in an attempt to create something ‘new and different’, e.g. alt‑country, dubstep, grime or nu‑jazz. Where will the next revolutionary game changers come from, if anywhere, and how will they manifest? Well… if we knew that, we’d be investing in them right now. So… are we predestined to a future of ever‑more standardised mediocrity? I sincerely hope not. We need something spirited to stir up the system and shock us into collective action to support radical change, rather than to reinforce the constantly regurgitated status quo.

Technology also means that the live music experience (and its economic importance) has changed, probably more for artists than it has for audiences so far. Playing live music has altered the way we might listen to an artist’s catalogue. While the stadium bands are still filling massive venues, many of these are either long‑standing industry stalwarts or over‑hyped popular artists pandering to a heavily marketed target audience. Festivals are another matter altogether, where attendees tend to go for a more expansive musical experience, rather than being drawn by a single band. It is hard to see where the future generations of lifelong professional artists is going to come from, able to reinvent themselves in line with changing tastes and consumer demands over the course of a long career.

Venues’ PA systems have become very refined and are much quieter and more ‘hi-fi’, changing the visceral experience of concerts of the past, perhaps appealing more to the head than the heart. A silent stage with in‑ear monitoring and no traditional backline is a very strange environment in which musicians now increasingly play live together. Being contentious again, many ‘live’ performances now feature pre‑recorded (sampled and played back) tracks behind solo vocal artists performing without an apparent backing band. The spontaneous variability of a live performance has been replaced by predictable and faultless replication of recorded music. The audience focus at huge events is increasingly focused on the visual spectacle, rather than the musicians. The Musicians’ Union does what it can to look after working musicians’ interests and to promote live performance within a radically new equilibrium.

We will have to wait and see what happens to concerts and festivals once the worst of the coronavirus is over. Most 2020 festivals have been cancelled and very few are covered by insurance for the impact of the pandemic. This means that many familiar annual outdoor music events may never recover and will fade into history. Arenas and smaller indoor venues that rely on multiple event organisations are likely to fare better, although social distancing measures may curb attendance at gigs, pubs and clubs for some significant time yet.

Interestingly, despite the frequent and fervent proclamations that ‘guitar music is dead’, I firmly believe that the world’s favourite instrument will continue to provide a cornerstone of music innovation for years to come.

Right. Having laid well and truly into the superficial malaise affecting music creation and performance, let’s move onto distribution.

2. Distributing and Accessing Music

Without delving too far back into history, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the how music gets from the musician into the ears of the listener.

Records – American inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison introduced the phonograph in c.1877 before the flat disc 78rpm ‘record’ was launched around 1898. It wasn’t until 1931 that the concept of the 12” 331/3rpm vinyl record was created by RCA Victor, while the LP ‘album’ took time before becoming popularised by Columbia Records from 1948. The monaural, double‑sided 7” 45rpm single was released in 1949 by RCA Victor to replace the ‘78’. The compact cassette, originally seen as a viable alternative to vinyl records was introduced by Philips in 1963. In 1983, Sony and Philips released the Digital Compact Disc (CD) format in a further attempt to usurp old‑fashioned vinyl records.

Radio – Guglielmo Marconi made his first radio broadcast in 1901 and the BBC started UK radio transmissions in 1922. The first experimental radio broadcast of music was made in 1919 in Australia and began to be popularised during the 1920s. Radio Luxembourg began in 1933 as one of the earliest commercial radio stations broadcasting to the UK and an important forerunner of unlicensed ‘pirate’ radio, including Radio Caroline in 1964. Stereo radio broadcasting didn’t appear until 1962 when the BBC began experimental stereo broadcasting in the London area. The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation launched the first Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) radio channel in 1995, shortly followed by the BBC in the UK and Swedish Radio.

Television – The BBC’s television public service began in 1932, based on the system developed by Scottish inventor John Logie Baird. By 1936, Marconi/EMI introduced a ‘high-definition electronic’ television service in the UK. Colour television broadcasts began in Britain in 1967. Digital Satellite TV was introduced by Rupert Murdoch’s News International Sky Television in 1989. The move to digital TV enabled much higher definition video and audio to be broadcast over significantly larger numbers of channels.

Streaming – Digital multimedia streaming is an Internet‑based delivery method that began to appear in the early 1990s. The first widely adopted standard digital format for audio was the MP3, released in 1993, which uses ‘lossy’ data compression to reduce file size by discarding inaudible information. The first successful MP3 player was introduced by AMP in 1997. Streaming (rental) is differentiated from downloading (ownership). The former means accessing an on‑demand electronic resource stored on a provider’s server while the latter involves the actual transfer of a digital video or audio file to the end‑user. Listening to a digital audio stream requires some sort of media player that uses a DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) to re‑convert digital ‘1’s and ‘0’s into sound waves.

Prior to WWII, broadcasting was predominantly by radio and television while physical media was largely the preserve of vinyl records. Music distribution became considerably more varied in the post‑WWII boom period. Music became routinely available through physical media, whether it was vinyl, compact cassette or many other formats including 8‑track and reel-to-reel. Even wireless radio and television broadcasts largely relied on the profitable sales of physical media to consumers. Since the digital revolution began, other formats have become available including CD, DAT, Mini Disc, SACD and DVD Audio.

Looking back, things seemed ever so simple. Music fans listened to radio or watched TV and latched onto something they liked. In order to access and archive permanently what they wanted to listen to, fans would take their precious money to the record shop and buy the latest release from their favoured artist. They would take it home, treasure it and play it repeatedly as part of a record collection. Music sharing was possible through portable media such as cassette ‘mixtapes’. However the seemingly miraculous resurrection of the outmoded delivery system we know as vinyl by a vehemently Luddite section of the population suggests that archaic channels may be far from dead and buried.

With digital files, there is nothing tangible to see or feel. Modern distribution channels also mean that not as much effort is put into album artwork these days. There are many, many great examples of cover art from the LP era that have become iconic. If the co‑dependency between the album and artwork is lost in the digital age, it will be a loss that will sadly be little noticed. Similarly, the idea of a ‘special edition’ including additional content and merchandise has become the preserve of reissuing material on older non‑digital formats.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was the massively important but relatively short‑lived cable‑TV phenomenon, comprising exciting new music channels such as MTV and VH‑1, based predominantly on the broadcast of highly innovative music videos with huge production budgets. As the medium became mainstreamed, music television has been overtaken by the likes of Internet‑based video streaming services such as YouTube, Vevo, Vimeo, Netflix and Hulu, relying heavily on subscribers for economic viability.

The American music streaming service Napster was founded by Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker in 1999 as a pioneering peer‑to‑peer (P2P) file sharing service that put the emphasis on digital distribution over the Internet. While Napster allegedly infringed many copyright and royalty laws, it played an important part because it started the now‑widespread streaming of audio files (MP3, WAV, FLAC, etc.) including High‑Res Audio. Today, there is an abundance of digital music streaming providers including subscription services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal, Roon, Qobuz, Amazon Music, Google Play, Rhapsody, Pandora and Groove among many others.

Musical artists understandably set about exploiting dedicated online digital platforms to get their music heard, such as SoundCloud and Bandcamp. The returns for artists from streaming are very low and rely on massive numbers of listens to earn the sort of money that successful bands of the past might have enjoyed from traditional record sales.

Compare the 20th Century’s collectable commodity with the 21st Century’s disposable produce, where music has become a throwaway commodity that is rarely valued and seldom scrutinised for musical merit. When ephemerally experienced over the Internet’s latest streaming service, music is no longer ‘possessed’ as a prized, tangible asset. Music can be accessed conveniently and added effortlessly to massive libraries of digital files. Perhaps the milestone introduction of the Apple iPod, iPhone and iTunes library in 2001 was a precursor to the current fetish for the random accumulation of quantity over selective quality. Following Apple Inc.’s audio innovations, it became clear that mobile personal media devices were a vitally important way forward for both distributors and consumers.

Furthermore, you can’t sell or donate digital files like you could a vinyl record or CD. This virtually kills the second‑hand market stone dead. It is becoming increasingly hard for record/CD collectors to spend hours thumbing through racks to find and recycle a rare gem, and thereby preserve it for future generations. Talking of browsing, scanning the Internet is not the same as visiting a record shop and discovering something you weren’t looking for and taking a risky punt with your hard‑earned cash. Bricks and mortar record shops are mostly a thing of the past and those that remain are niche independent specialist stores rather than mainstream chains. Familiar retail names such as Our Price, Virgin Records and Tower Records have disappeared from our high streets. In the UK, HMV is the sole survivor, at least for the time being.

Much of the change is being driven by the same giant media corporations that have ‘managed’ the system in the past, including Sony, Universal and Warner Brothers. The one thing that is consistent is the role of money as a fundamental incentive. Marketing is now targeting the consumer with what the distributors want you to have. One could argue that nothing has really changed but it has. Aggressive online profiling has replaced passive advertising. Providers limit your ability to explore and be curious, even if you had the time and opportunity to do so. Companies like Apple, Google and Facebook continuously accumulate and analyse ‘big data’, so they know far more about you and what you (think you) want than you do. I guess it depends on whether you believe the conspiracy theorists that this is a threat to individuals’ privacy and freedoms or not.

As consumers, you’d think that we would want to influence the way we are fed with product by remote and faceless corporations. Strange as it may seem, we appear to be sublimely acquiescent to the institutions that increasingly dictate our interests for us. It seems we no longer stop to think deeply about the consequences of our actions and, as a result, we become complicit and no longer able to make conscious decisions about what we really need or want. Perhaps this compliant behaviour has become habitual and has maybe it has actually exacerbated our inability to care about the issues.

So, where is this taking us? Well, it seems that the thin end of the wedge that separated emotion from music began shortly before the turn of the millennium and I cannot see it changing much. Internet streaming and spookily intelligent push notifications are here to stay and we’d better get used to it. The companies that struggled with adapting from the old to new ways have invested heavily in their strategic version of the future that it will be hard to change it now. It isn’t all bad news. There are a few old geeks out there keeping the values of free‑spirited ‘record collecting’ alive and passing on the importance of worthy recorded music to younger generations. Vinyl is resurgent in the 2020s and CDs aren’t faced with oblivion just yet, so there is still a hope for niche physical media and the important sense of joy and ownership that goes along with it… but for how long?

Although we’ve already covered some of the ground, let’s move onto the end user of music and how listening habits are changing.

3. Listening and Responding to Music

The human psyche, it seems, is hardwired to respond to music in a similar way as for other forms of artistic expression, such as literature, art and film. It almost seems that we have little or no choice in the matter. As a sweeping generalisation, we have largely become overloaded and desensitised to many external stimuli to the point that we filter it out of our consciousness. Musicians of the future will need to find ever more creative ways of catching our attention and tapping into our deepest emotions. At its slightest, our involuntary reaction to powerful music is when the hairs on your neck stand up and/or your heart rate increases. At its strongest, music can evoke physiological and behavioural responses such as foot‑tapping, dancing, anger, smiling or anguish. It also gives us plenty to talk about.

However we might sense it, music is a universal language based on the mathematical and physical laws of the universe. Scientifically, human physical audio receptors are restricted to a narrow perceptible spectrum (around 30hz‑20khz), meaning that we are prohibited from hearing or using infra and ultra sounds. While it is true that the possible permutations of the notes within the constricted auditory spectrum is finite, optimists might suggest that different forms of musical expression are only limited by our imagination.

Enthusiasts might contend that humankind as a species cannot thrive without music in some form or other. Artistic endeavour and appreciation is a necessity that sets Homo sapiens apart from other species. Music is, however, far from just a collection of scientific rules systematically moulded into a structured format, it is a crucial way of conveying feelings and emotions in ways that words alone cannot. Music is not something that we just hear. At its most powerful, it is something fundamental that we experience and something that stays with us throughout our lives. This reliance means that music will endure in some form or other.

One way to look at what’s happening is to consider the human experience of music as a continuum. At one extreme, the vast majority of output becomes increasingly homogenised and artificial, consumed with little effort and even less emotional connection. Commercially produced music has and will become increasingly commoditised, driven by fervent capitalism. At the other extreme, musicians continue to experiment with innovative ways to communicate with anyone prepared to listen, often demanding the listener to pay close attention in order to appreciate its merits. For those in search of something fresh, discovering meaningful music will require greater effort in order to reap subsequent rewards. In between these polar opposites will be all manner of output that revives and recycles existing material in some form or other.

One human trait is that we try to compartmentalise what we listen to, so we tend to seek convenient categories into which we fit, prioritise, communicate and share our preferences. As we exhaust the opportunities to create something profoundly new, we will continue to try and fit new music into pre-determined pigeonholes – it is just that the pigeonholes increase in number but decrease in capacity. In the last 10‑20 years, there has been a distinct blurring and fusing of genre definitions and the proliferation of sub-genre archetypes. The human capacity for radical creativity will, however, continue to flourish around the margins as sub-genres become ever more fragmented. It is now becoming increasingly difficult to predict what our future selves will regard as classic mould‑breaking music. In the same way that traditional genres are becoming less fertile, the concept of the landmark ‘album’ will become increasingly less relevant, if indeed there will be such things in the future.

We should, perhaps, remember that most music listeners are not musicians and therefore measure experiential value by completely different criteria. I have long wondered why people listen to the music they do. What makes one person a hardcore metal head, while someone else will politely appreciate classical music or another goes clubbing? There is an element here of both nature (what our brains might be hardwired to like) and nurture (as a result of upbringing, experience and environment). That debate is for another article at another time. However, diversity does tend to factor into the discussion about how and why the same people listen to music, yet differ in their preferences.

As with the earlier parts of the musical supply chain process, there has been a consequent shift in listening habits. Firstly, it seems that many people don’t actually ‘listen’ to music as a discrete activity like they used to. More likely they consume it while multi‑tasking and listening to compressed digitised files through low‑quality audio devices. The historical infatuation with pricey high fidelity equipment has, perhaps, been overtaken by a quest for convenience and affordability. The ‘hi‑fi’ system is now generally something that older generations consider an essential delivery system and they tend to use outmoded physical media to feed their serious listening activities. For many, though, music has become just a background soundtrack to their lives.

It is unclear whether the current trend for idle digestion as a tertiary activity is going to change significantly any time soon. I don’t see any signs of a reinvigoration of the passion that music can command of the human spirit and the way it can deeply impact on our mood and behaviour. It will take some profound discontent with the way things are to make people consciously change their behaviour. This sounds like the disgruntlement of a ‘grumpy old man’. Well, if there is some basis for truth in these dissatisfied observations then, yes, I’m guilty of being angry for the sake of it. However, I would like to think that there are sufficient numbers of people somewhere out there that might just agree with this jaundiced world view and want to change things for the better. It is clear that change won’t come about by accepting things as they are and it will take conscious action to motivate a desire for a new musical revolt. Goodness knows, we need it. It happened with blues and jazz at the beginning of the 1900s, rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s, rock in the 1960s, punk in the 1970s, electronica in the 1980s and grunge in the 1990s. Since then? Nada, zilch. I look forward to seeing what the next act of social insurrection is likely to be.

If given the opportunity, do people actually enjoy the activity of listening to music in the way previous generations did? The answer is, I think, yes they do. The mechanics are very different from the past and that in itself is probably a good thing. Just because older generations see modern trends as divergent, it doesn’t mean that change should be regarded as bad. The willingness to adapt continually is fundamental to mankind’s future. I do believe that we are going through a phase where people are comfortably content to take what they are given, rather than make the effort to search actively for something they might actually prefer. I believe that, given an appropriate impetus, many people actually want something to stir the emotions more than the plain fodder of casual acceptance. Is this bland optimism? Possibly.

As a musician, I am concerned that the average person doesn’t care enough about the value associated with the years of hard work and practice that goes into trying to create something for others to listen to and appreciate. It is frustrating when this effort is ignored. This stuff matters, it really does. However, it seems that I am in the minority. I would like to take some sort of stand here but it feels like a pointless exercise, which I guess makes me part of the problem, not the solution!

After researching 370 years of music and global history over the last year‑and‑a bit, I have learned that music will keep adapting and changing to reflect the prevailing culture. Musicians will buck the trend and push the boundaries and people will respond positively to those changes. Whether the change is good or bad really doesn’t matter, as long as real change takes place. While I cannot foresee what the next uprising will be, I predict that there will be one at some point and it will change the way people perceive and react to music once again.

As both an avid listener and the aforementioned ‘miserable old git’, I will probably object to the way it goes but, let’s be honest, wasn’t it ever thus? That seemingly inevitable generational disconnect actually has to be a good thing and something to embrace. Fortunately I don’t fall into the trap of considering anything made in the last 10 years as ‘just noise’ (even if it is), so hopefully the next 10 years will be pleasantly noise free. It has become commonplace to refer to music that one doesn’t like as crap or dismiss it as rubbish, whereas more likely, the music just doesn’t resonate with one’s beliefs, norms and value system.

Personally, I am constantly searching for something that moves me and makes me think. Alongside the old classics, there are plenty of emerging and aspiring new artists trying to convey their version of reality into our eardrums. I lap up new music just as eagerly as I can enjoy the familiar old stuff. My inherent curiosity will keep me vainly searching hard for the next thing to surprise and intrigue me. As ever, the journey of discovery includes as much music that I don’t really like as much as the music that I do. One thing is absolutely for sure; there is some fantastic music being made out there by some great musicians, it just takes a bit of hard work to discover it, own it and enjoy it.

The Future of Modern Music

Right, after a great deal of introductory exposition, let’s get right to the crux of the last article in the series. Below, I present to you, 8 thought‑provoking and potentially contentious ‘visions’ of the future of music, spanning the next few years/decades:

  1. Simulated artists – The fictional band was popularised by The Archies way back in 1968 and the virtual band has been around since Gorillaz animations emerged in 1998. The truly simulated pop singer that is not human behind the scenes is actually already here. One of Japan’s biggest pop stars, Hatsune Miku, is – shock horror – not a real person. ‘She’ is a Vocaloid software voicebank developed by Crypton Future Media, visualised as a strikingly pretty 16‑year old female avatar with long turquoise twintails. Expect more of the same until we can’t tell the difference between synthesis and reality. We have also seen holographic ‘tours’ with dead artists seemingly being resurrected for new concerts. Artists such as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole and Roy Orbison have all performed from beyond the grave. The next step may well be for these (and other) long‑since‑passed artists to interact in real time with an audience and a live band as if they were alive. Already, a frighteningly high proportion of music is currently recorded electronically without musical instruments, why not take it a stage further and interact purely with digitally created musicians playing digitally produced music? If you think that replacing (and paying) musicians with computer code is new, think again. Researchers have been using AI (Artificial Intelligence) to experiment with creating synthetic music for some time, being carried out by technology giants like IBM and Google among others.

  1. Virtual concerts – Once again, it’s already with us. Artists are already performing in one location and streaming video and audio of the ‘live’ concert to the audience’s far-flung locations. Watching your favourite band play live in your living room is a reality, if not yet routine. Currently, the medium is mainly delivered through via traditional TV or cinema. Using remote technology means removing the limits to venue capacity, reducing health & safety restrictions and improving environmental sustainability. VR (Virtual Reality) headsets and AR (Augmented Reality) may extend the creative possibilities considerably, including 3D, starting around now. With coronavirus shutting down the commercial live concert experience, VR is likely to be used to fill a gap in the market. Companies like NextVR, Oculus, Facebook and Sony are already well on the case and are rapidly refining the technology for mainstream mass consumption.
  1. Tokenising content – Tokenising intellectual property rights is on the verge of becoming commonplace using Blockchain technology. The concept of tokenising content means a creating a direct experiential connection between the artist and the consumer through cryptocurrency monetisation such as Bitcoin. The technology results in sharing of exclusive limited personalised content and merchandising opportunities. It seems that, where there is music, there will be large commercial corporations and empire-building individuals wanting to strip money from you in exchange for that ‘special relationship’ with your music idols. You may not have heard about some of the pioneering R&D companies, including Ujo, Choon, Viberate, Musicoin, Emusic, Voise, Mycelia, MusicLife, Bitsong, DigiMark, Blockpool, Audius and Inmusic, but expect the most promising candidates to be swallowed up by the acquisitive multinational tech giants very soon.
  1. Neuralinks – The term Neuralink was unveiled by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk as a means to bypass biological visual and auditory receptors (i.e. our eyes and ears). Taking the experience well beyond mobile devices and smart systems, we will dispense with speakers and screens to be replaced with direct computer‑to‑brain interfaces. The technology uses AI to curate music on the fly to suit mood, physiology, biometrics and taste. Consumers will potentially be able to create their own music in real time, initially consciously but potentially entirely unconsciously. Eventually, the technology may be used to ‘push’ instructions to control human actions rather than a means to ‘fetch’ content for entertainment. Physicality as we know it may ultimately become irrelevant before too long. Don’t believe me? Be careful what you wish for and watch this space…
  1. Death of physical media – It seems unlikely that any new physical media formats will be released now that the technology is focusing on broadband and digital transmission as the way forward. Experience has, however, shown us that some forms of tangible media have proved very hard to kill off. However, with technology advancing at an unprecedented rate, we may well see vinyl, CDs and the like finally disappear, as will the retail outlets that sell them. While the future will be 100% digital, fans of analogue media will resist bitterly until the very end but obsolescence is finally a foreseeable outcome within, say, 20‑30 years. New generations will readily adopt a digital ‘new normal’ and archaic physical media will ultimately meet its long overdue demise. Like records, record labels and record companies may well cease to exist as we know them today, becoming replaced by technology companies that care more about return on investment than creative purpose.
  1. Artists and genres – The idea of the rock superstar as a brand in its own right and dominating a discrete genre for years will pass into history. The will be fewer billionaire artists with 50+‑year careers, prestigious awards and numerous multi‑platinum albums to their name. Expensive artist relations will come and go as the corporate investment shifts to the predictable music product rather than volatile celebrity artists. Music is likely to be increasingly recycled and reused, rather than revolutionary. While the threat of moving into a world of ‘fake music’ (see above) is still someway off, the transition is likely to be gradual and therefore insidious. Music as a meaningful reflection of culture and society is likely to become more tenuous than it has been, without real modern‑day troubadours to tell the relatable stories of our generation. Music may well become a passive and uncritical description of the status quo, rather than a positive force able to change the world.
  1. Crossovers – We tend to think of music as discrete from other art forms. Arguably film/TV and video gaming are closest mediums to music and there are many instances of the visual/audio lines already becoming blurred. Although music soundtracks have been with us for over a century, the major change actually began with music videos 30 years ago and the trend will carry on. The cross‑fertilisation will continue to expand our experiential boundaries considerably as the technology develops. Think this is new? Inventor Major General George Owen Squier was credited with inventing a system of telephone carrier multiplexing in 1910, which was developed into the original technical basis for environmental Muzak (a.k.a. elevator music). Background music is now everywhere around us, so much so that we rarely even notice it, and it will continue to encroach subliminally into new areas of our lives.
  1. The real thing – Although one can predict the direct physical disconnection of the artist from the consumer, the natural inclination of human beings to congregate and participate in collective activities is strong and there will always be a place for performing live music to a live audience. Currently, no virtual experience can compete with live concert or festival attendance. Think of attending a massive music festival like Glastonbury without the rain, mud, tents, food, jostling to be ‘down at the front’ and queuing for toilets! VR hasn’t quite got that whole ‘being there’ side things solved just yet. The inimitable dynamics of a gigging experience will undoubtedly change but any short‑term falloff in live performances will hopefully rebound… eventually.

There you go. Does this represent a dream come true or a nightmare scenario? Does anyone want to bet against any of these eight ‘visions?’ of music’s ‘Brave New World’ (ref. Aldous Huxley)? Well, firstly, I don’t wager and secondly, I won’t be around long enough to collect if I’m right, so the question is largely moot. Whether the future is utopian, dystopian or, more likely, an uncomfortable compromise somewhere in between is largely down to us as creative musicians and willing audience members to determine. When discussing any future possibilities, it is unwise to ignore the ingenuity of human beings to invent something new when it really matters. Ultimately, it all depends on how much we care. Paraphrasing Clark Gable’s character, Rhett Butler in the 1939 film epic, ‘Gone With The Wind’, frankly, my dear, I do give a damn!

As far as musical instruments are concerned, the technology will continue to develop unbounded by the strictures of the past. However, real instruments will endure for some considerable time yet. Just as humans need to make music, we need the best tools to undertake the challenging task. Back to ‘guitars are guitars…’, etc.

The ‘teenies’ ended with 3 predominant major genre groupings; electronica, rock and hip‑hop. In terms of genre dominance in the early 2K20s, pop music is likely to retain its pre‑eminence, largely due to commercial factors, with urban hip‑hop, rock and soul/R&B all contributing to sales. Nu‑jazz and alternative rock are currently on the rise. Everything else will circulate around the periphery. Despite annual proclamations from the loyal that classical music will be resurgent, it will probably be limited to influencing other neo‑classical sub‑genres. The UK and U.S.A. will remain the central driving forces, although influences will become far more cosmopolitan and representative of music from cultures around the world.

On the good news front, global demand for music is growing in the early 2020s and I predict that the sector will continue to grow for some time. Streaming, rather than downloads, will dominate global music channels for the foreseeable future, although I would like to believe that some form of cultural democratisation has to take place in order for freedom of expression and consumption to succeed in the long‑term.

What actually is just over the visible horizon? Who knows? I am genuinely excited by the potential prospects and hope I’m not disappointed by the grim reality. Perhaps more importantly, why should we invest our souls in the musical experience? Arguably, music is inextricably bound to mankind’s existence and it has a profound connection to our human emotions and memories.

Final thoughts

I hope that you have enjoyed this very long journey. I also hope that it hasn’t gone out with a whimper but has motivated you to think about music as an important and integral part of humanity’s existence. Whether music evokes joy, sorrow, anger or passion doesn’t really matter, as long as it stimulates a primeval emotive response. Discuss…

You will probably be relieved to hear that, yes, this rambling soliloquy is the conclusion of the ‘Story of Modern Music’… for now. There are no more episodes, not even another epilogue.

The two companion volumes (history of the guitar and history of modern music) have covered a total of 23 articles in just over 2 years! The total number of musical facts in this series finally exceeded 1,750, never mind the 330+ quotes and several hundred global events to provide historical context. Due credit is given to all photographers for images sourced on Google Images for whom I could not find proper accreditation.

In terms of acknowledgements, I would like to thank my long‑serving (and suffering) wife who has to put up with me through thick and thicker. I dedicate this series to her and thanks for her patience in taking an interest in my anally retentive diatribes.

I have been asked whether all the content should be published in book form. Frankly, if I could be bothered with all the additional demands of publication, they might constitute a good book (or two). However, the benefits of doing it really don’t warrant the additional work required. Anyhow, as soon as books are published, they become out of date and would need constant revision to remain relevant – something to which I cannot readily commit.

Ideally, if I have time and inclination, I would like to condense the two major works into more accessible features on the CRAVE Guitars web site but that in itself is a mammoth task. It is on the ‘to do’ task list but, then again, so are many other things.


Phew! For now, I really need to take a break from major research and writing projects. This means that there are no imminent intentions to bring you any further serialised projects in the pipeline. In fact, I don’t have any immediate ideas for one, so that’s a relief.

Please remember that facts, quotes and opinions featured in these articles are posted daily on both Twitter and Facebook, so everything in this series will remain alive and used, albeit in a different format.

You may (?!?!) also be pleased to hear that I shall, at least briefly, be going back‑to‑basics and writing some stuff about ‘Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric’ Guitars’ and related other gubbins for a while. Remember vintage guitars? Stay safe during the ‘coronapocalypse’. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Music makes a fine lifeboat for the long journey over the choppy waters of life.”

© 2020 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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