November 2023 – Musical Machinations


WELCOME ONCE MORE to CRAVE Guitars’ unhurried cruise through the planet’s turbulent waters this November 2023. While there has been much to protest about in the rapid disintegration of the prevailing ‘world order’ during the 2020s thus far, one has to grasp onto any positive prospects that may present themselves. Arising from the debris and carnage of grinding attrition, the poppies of opportunity are optimistic symbols for hope and prosperity, albeit fleeting. That’s basically all flowery language for carpe diem (from Roman lyric poet, Horace’s work, ‘Odes’ in 23 BCE – literal meaning ‘pluck the day’, commonly interpreted as ‘seize the day’).

“While we speak, envious time will have fled: seize the day, to the least extent possible trusting in the next one.” Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace, 65-8 BCE)

I recognise that there has been little in the way of exciting news on CRAVE Guitars core ‘business’ for many reasons outlined in the previous article (October 2023). It has been slow but it hasn’t been a total wipe‑out though and I’ll come back to that on another occasion. Here, I’m focussing purely on recorded music and principally a persistent quest to unearth something a little bit different.

Once again, no AI was used to research or write this article, only the author’s meagre cranial capacity and a bit of old school pre‑AI technology.


The one upside of recent times has been an opportunity to embark on an intentional journey to explore off‑the‑beaten‑track modern music. As in physics, the musical micro‑universe is continuously expanding. The challenge is that the musical catalogue since the 1950s is absolutely massive and, with each passing day, becomes even bigger – far too much to begin with, let alone keep up with. While, on the basis that one’s knowledge is inherently extremely limited, it means that any adventure has plenty of scope for discovery, even if it is only vainly scratching the surface of the iceberg’s tip (there I go mixing metaphors again!).

“I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” Greek philosopher Socrates (c.470-399 BCE)

On this particular excursion into the unknown, music discovery means expanding the author’s knowledge and appreciation across many aspects of contemporary music. The exercise is about not only consolidating existing music but also about travelling lands un‑trod for new music, which may mean older music that is new to me as well as recently released music that is new to everyone.

Fortunately, 21st Century explorations are sedate experiences. No longer do we have to fear ‘hic sunt dracones’ in ‘Terra incognita’ (here be dragons in unknown land). Note: The former derives from the Hunt‑Lenox Globe (1504), the latter from Ptolemy’s Geography (c.150).

Over far too many years than I would care to contemplate, I have been buying and listening to music. Nothing unusual about that. For many reasons (space, funds, etc.), music was largely revolved around established genre preferences. Fair enough; isn’t that what it’s all about, buy what you like and don’t bother with everything else? However, such an exercise becomes largely self‑perpetuating and insular. This I was aware of and felt that there was much more to be revealed. Where to start?

During CRAVE Guitars’ 3‑year hiatus (see last month’s article, ‘Return to and from Obscurity’), I became fascinated by exposure to ‘new’ music, rather than the habitual repetitive listening to a small repertoire of familiar choons. This is no new epiphany. When much younger, I made a point of listening to BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel (1939‑2004) and valued his nonconformist approach towards exciting new bands and their music, especially but not solely during the punk rock era. The late John Peel may not be familiar to readers outside the UK. It was because of John Peel that I bought my very first LP album – ‘Meddle’ by Pink Floyd (1971), after he debuted it in its entirety on his late night radio show.

While so many other things were getting in my way, I consciously elected to spread my musical wings again, mainly because it is something I had wanted to do and it was actually eminently do‑able, especially economically (at first!). I engaged in the hobby of ‘crate digging’ or simply ‘digging’ in the Internet age, i.e. searching anywhere for content, online suppliers and auction sites, charity shops, second hand record shops, brick‑and‑mortar retailers, etc. Buying used albums makes the exercise much more economic, fun and sustainable.

Record Store (credit: Cottonbro Studio)

“Music is an important part of our culture and record stores play a vital part in keeping the power of music alive.” Chuck Berry (1926-2017)

Alternative sources include ‘recommendations’ from other music aficionados and using the Shazam app on a smart phone to identify something unfamiliar and interesting that pops up wherever one might be at the time.

One of the first steps was to identify what I had and where there were obvious gaps. I had already created a Microsoft Access database so that I could scrupulously catalogue the albums, EPs and singles in my possession. That soon ran into the application’s upper limit of 2 GB per database, so had to be split into multiple databases. Now that I readily know what I have (little), what I haven’t (massive). It also enabled me to log what I might want (a continuously growing ‘most wanted’ list). The systematic categorisation was reinforced by importing everything I had from source onto Apple iTunes. Between these two key resources, it became relatively straightforward to keep track of things. Then, it was on to, thankfully dragon‑free, pastures new.

My investigations are basically limited to modern contemporary music from the early‑mid 1950s – basically from the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll – to the current day. It also includes going back further into the history of some long‑standing top‑tier genres such as blues, country and jazz that were direct predecessors to, and influences on, everything from rock ‘n’ roll onwards, as well as continuing to evolve in their own right.

There have to be boundaries or I would go insane just collecting for collecting’s sake, which is not only unrealistic but also pointless. American rapper and entrepreneur Dr. Dre once stated that he accumulated 80,000 albums and kept them in storage, before realising just that basic error. I’m sure that somewhere out there is a comprehensive British Library‑esque collection of music releases over the last 100 or so years, catalogued for historical posterity. That would be one heck of a monumental task. My endeavours are, unsurprisingly, much, much more modest.

One has to enjoy, as well as feel that an avocation is worthwhile, or there is no worth in doing it. It is for this reason that I have to exclude classical music. For some reason, classical music leaves me stone cold dead. Always has done. I’ve tried repeatedly to get into it but to no avail. However, in contemporary music, there are styles of modern classical and minimalist music that blend, fuse or crossover into contemporary electronic sensibilities with classical instrumentation that I can grasp but I’m afraid that’s it. The likes of Max Richter, Tim Hecker, Philip Glass, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Walter/Wendy Carlos and Isao Tomita I can engage with, otherwise, meh. I genuinely apologise to classical music fans. I’m sure it’s fabulous n’all but it just doesn’t do anything for me and going down that particular rabbit hole is an experience I don’t want to pursue… so I won’t. My choice.

Here are just a few figures relevant to the 3‑year hiatus to bandy about. During that period, I’ve purchased circa 3,000 albums along with a (large) handful of EPs and the odd single. That equates to around 90 per month (averaging c.3‑ish per day). I dread to think of the gross expense but at least it is little and often, unlike buying vintage guitars. It’s also relatively quick and easy to do, filling those occasional idle moments. The last 3 years has basically doubled the hoard. The ‘most wanted’ (for want of a better term) list hovers around 1,500‑2,000 depending on timing and motivation. The ‘find out more’ about list of artists is, by comparison, relatively short at around 200‑250. The conclusion is that there is plenty of scope for improvement. Additions to the hoard cover about 100 genres with the largest proportions being mainstream ones.

I haven’t ventured into the realms of rare music collection – most albums I have been looking for are relatively available with patience and digging. Indeed, many have been from bargain bins. I can’t justify or afford two expensive artefact hobbies! Neither has this mission been to create any sort of ‘standout albums of the last 75 years’ or so. I don’t think anyone could possibly agree on what that might comprise.

Right, let’s get down to the business at hand; colouring in the sketch of the musical landscape, so to speak.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”  From ‘Hamlet’ (c.1600) by English playwright William Shakespeare (1564‑1616)

Genre gap‑filling

Like most people, one has favourite genres, so‑so ones, and disliked ones. However, to rule music out just because it belongs to a hitherto underappreciated genre tends to limit one’s exposure to some highly regarded music. As an example, I was never very keen on country music. Then I watched an 8‑part documentary called, unsurprisingly, ‘Country Music’ which first aired on American TV channel PBS in 2019. I was struck by a whole bunch of music that I was completely unaware of and had summarily discounted out‑of‑hand because of what it was labelled. I was fascinated by the documentary and what it portrayed. PBS also produced another documentary series called ‘Jazz’ from 2001 that opened my eyes to what that genre also had to offer. Both PBS series were directed by Ken Burns. Actually, finding out more about the cultural history that surrounded the genres provided a context that enhanced the experience of the music greatly. This observation reinforces the (perhaps) blindingly obvious fact that societal change and musical development are both interdependent and co‑dependent. Having fired my imagination, I extrapolated the concept to other genres as well. Sometimes, ‘various artists’ genre compilations can provide a suitable entrée to a musical world less wandered.

Are there any contemporary genres that are considered out of bounds? On the whole, other than aforementioned classical, generally no. I am up for pretty much anything, while still retaining my core preferences, which include reggae/dub, IDM/EDM, ambient electronica, downtempo/chillout, dreampunk/vaporwave, indie, alternative, heavy metal, gothic, dream pop, drone, rap/hip‑hop, shoegaze, grunge, punk, garage, funk/disco, deep house, blues, rock and neo‑psychedelia. That’s a pretty broad spectrum.

My two recent articles on ‘Dub Reggae Revelation’ and ‘Adventures in Ambient’ (August and September 2023 respectively) I think adequately demonstrate the potential of genre gap‑filling. That was just breaking down two genres.

One ‘genre’ that sits outside the normal categories is the Original Soundtrack (OST). Film and TV soundtracks tend to fall into two types, one camp compiles existing music brought together to accompany what happens on screen, while the other camp employs music composed (scored) specifically for the medium. Both camps can be helpful when discovering new music.

“I’m a big collector of vinyl – I have a record room in my house – and I’ve always had a huge soundtrack album collection.” Quentin Tarantino (1963‑)

There are only so many genres (my database lists over 140 of them!) but when you consider the bewildering multiplicity of sub‑genres and micro‑genres within the umbrella of, say, heavy metal, dance or electronica, there seems no end to what can be achieved. One great thing about music is that there is always something out there somewhere to match one’s prevailing mood. Genre gap‑filling actively opens doorways into finding a whole raft of ‘new’ artists, and the next task of filling in some of the blanks was added to the ‘to‑do’ list. One simple example was a brief dalliance with Cajun and zydeco music. These originated from the 20th Century intermixing of French Canadian Acadian immigrants, native American peoples, African slaves, and freemen in Louisiana in the deep south of the USA. Fascinating. And, thus, the search goes on.

Artist gap‑filling

There were, as you might expect, quite a few artists already covered, while there were many more that I knew about or was curious enough about to complement existing artists with ones that I hadn’t previously coveted. Some of these artists work could best be exposed by buying ‘best of’ or compilation albums, especially when I wasn’t prepared to go all out and get multiple original albums. This worked well for some artists that I wasn’t overly keen on. The relative randomness of the ‘digging’ process led to many new artist discoveries, simply through browsing and taking a gamble on something that looked intriguing. ‘Digging’ is easier in brick‑and‑mortar shops than online. Although the latter works, it is definitely much less enjoyable. We need to support our mainstream and independent record shops or they will be lost forever (as in the case of Virgin Megastores, Tower Records and many others). We almost lost the HMV chain in the UK, which would have been disastrous for high street music retail. Artist gap‑filling is a never ending expedition with untold treasures to be uncovered beyond the famous big names. Along with the household headliners, there is a multitude of lesser and unknown artists producing some fantastic music. An open mind unlocks entire vistas begging to be perused.

I soon realised that my personal favourite artists are actually few and far between, many of which have had long, consistent careers. During any artist’s long‑term output, there would inevitably be good, average and poor albums. Picking out the wheat from the chaff became an integral part of my newfound preoccupation.

Surprisingly, there are some very famous artists that simply do not resonate with me, including (believe it or not) respected giants like The Beatles and The Who. Yup. Heretical I know. I have tried over and over to get into them but without success.

There are many lesser known artists that I really like at the moment and only time will tell whether they create any sort of lasting legacy. I came across many great artists that I hadn’t even heard of, many with surprisingly extensive back catalogues. They are all out there, just waiting to be found. I realised that artist gap‑filling was the simplest way to stretch one’s listening goal posts. And, thus, the search goes on.

“For me, to turn people on to new music, on to things that are going on in the world, is important.” Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe (1958‑)

Release gap-filling

One logical method was to fill obvious gaps in some of the existing artists’ back catalogues or the solo careers by members of established bands. I would have some releases but not others, generally through an essentially arbitrary process, rather than any sort of systematic approach. Some additions were credible releases, while with others, there turned out to be an obvious reason why they weren’t there in the first place. Oops. Other avenues to explore in addition to studio albums include live albums, EPs, singles, compilations, dubs, remixes and various artist DJ mixes. This process wasn’t intended to be comprehensive – some releases simply weren’t/aren’t available, some have been long discontinued while others were obviously a waste of space anyway. Some albums were originally on limited release and have subsequently become rare and valuable. I know that there are plenty of collectors out there prepared to pay vast sums for some of these one‑offs. I’m not in that game and can’t afford to be. There are still plenty of missing pieces but broadly speaking the main bases have (possibly) been covered.

It would be all too easy to fall into the trap of ‘completism’, i.e. getting absolutely everything released by an artist. Given how prolific some artists are, completism would be a venture all unto itself. Frank Zappa has released over 50 studio albums, Brian Eno over 65, Johnny Cash over 75, Lee Perry over 80, Tangerine Dream over 100, and Willie Nelson over 130, not including live albums, EPs, singles, compilations, videos and bootlegs. From now on, release gap‑filling will be a case of diminishing returns, as the gaps decrease along with the overall quality of content.

One notable trend during the coronavirus pandemic was a proliferation of live music releases. Artists couldn’t get out on tour and many couldn’t access recording studios, so record labels scoured existing unreleased resources as a pragmatic stop gap during the lockdowns. Some of these live concert recordings are OK and many would normally be regarded as superfluous under ordinary circumstances. However, when needs must. One silver lining to arise out of the so‑called ‘Chinese Virus’ plague has been the rate and quality of subsequent studio releases once the ‘new normal’ was established. And, thus, the search goes on.

“I look forward to the future – and going into the studio to make new music.” Diana Ross (1944‑)

Record label gap‑filling

Some collectors also go for label gap‑filling but that’s a step too far for me, although there are some great independent labels worth giving a shout out to, such as Ninja Tune, Italians Do It Better, PIAS, Sub‑Pop, XL‑Recording, Jamaican Recordings, 4AD, Bella Union, Pressure Sounds, On‑U Sound, Ariwa Sounds and Hyperdub Records. Beyond the major corporations, there are thousands of record labels out there, so chasing artists and releases starting with a record label is neither quick nor easy. If it wasn’t for the small independent labels, though, we would be subject to commercially driven mainstream mediocrity. However, the method of looking at artists belonging to a certain label can prove promising for finding ‘new’ artists, which can then lead directly onto gap‑filling of their previous works.

“John Peel made his reputation with his radio show and his record label, Dandelion, by championing the underdog.” Jimmy Page (1944‑)

Musical discovery

There is much to be said for and against ‘taking a punt’ on something with which one is unfamiliar. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but there is always some sense of eager anticipation involved in lucky dips. This intentionally random exercise can lead onto other artists, and so on, basically ad infinitum. Due to the finite number of listening hours in any given day, week, month, year, this means that some music can only be listened to once or twice, while others warrant repeated auditions. Buying one‑off listens is not really very productive but it happens. One day, they can be re‑used by going to someone who might appreciate them more than I do. Often, genuine appreciation or enjoyment can only be gained by listening multiple times, especially with more experimental, leftfield or avant‑garde music.

“What motivates us is always new music.” Nuno Bettencourt (1966‑)

While physical media has been a main source of content for at least the last 40 years, this is rapidly changing. According to Spotify in 2021, over 60,000 tracks are uploaded to their platform every day. One, perhaps, might wonder about the depth of quality behind such figures. I know I do but then again, I’m a sceptic. There is no shortage of music to discover and no hope of listening to even a tiny fraction of it all. Spotify is also the platform that boasts the most effective method of curated music discovery. Even so, there is still a lot of inherent chance to finding something that will stay with you over the years. One might think that genuinely new discoveries would be infrequent, especially as time goes on. Far from it in practice.

Just one example, I recently came across late Canadian composer, Mort Garson (1924‑2008), renowned for his album, ‘Mother Earth’s Plantasia’ (1976), tag lined, ‘warm earth music for plants… and the people who love them’. When looking more into him and his music, I felt that, somehow, I should have been more aware of him before now. There is plenty of info on him on the hinterwebby thingummy but our meandering paths had not crossed before now. This sort of experience, which many readers who are familiar with Garson will probably snicker at my evident naivety. Such experiences are annoyingly common.

“I actually spend as much time listening to new music as to old. Probably more. I just try to get something out of it all.” Mark Knopfler (1949‑)

So, after all that preparatory exposition, you might well be wondering, just who the heck has been ‘discovered’? Here are just a few artists that I came across during the last 3 years. Some of which readers may know, some not. I might, though, challenge anyone to tick them all off so as to expose, pour scorn and ridicule my raw ignorance for what it is, sheer witlessness. Time to position the currency where my oral cavity is (lol!). The following list covers any genre and is in alphabetical‑ish order (Note: These are indicative only and should not be regarded as recommendations)…

*Shels, 100 Gecs, 2814, 9 Lazy 9, A.M.P. Studio, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Agnes Obel, AK/DK, Aggrolites, The Airborne Toxic Event, The Album Leaf, Arms And Sleepers, Atoms For Peace, Autechre, Be, Benis Cletin, Bent, Big Thief, Blue In Tokio, The Burning Of Rome, Burnt Friedman, Cave In, Chezidek, Clark, Cloud Control, Craven Faults, Creation Rebel, Deadbeat, Deptford Goth, Desire, Devics, Dirty Loops, Divination, Dubkasm, Dynamic Syncopation, Ekoplekz, Ethel Cain, Fink, Flanger, Fragile State, Gallows, George Faith, Girls In Synthesis, Glass Candy, Goblin Cock, Helium, Hint, How To Dress Well, Hybrid, I. Benjahman, The Irresistible Force, Ital Tek, King Creosote, Konx‑Om‑Pax, Labradford, Laurel Halo, Lemonade, Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza, Loop Guru, LoveTrio, Machinedrum, Male Bonding, Man With No Name, Martyn, Midnight Juggernauts, My Sleeping Karma, ott, Plastikman, PreCog, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Psychonauts, Pure Bathing Culture, Purity Ring, The Qemists, Rakoon, Red House Painters, Rhombus, RJD2, Romare, Scrapper Blackwell, SkyTwoHigh, Sleep Token, The Slew, Sentre, Some Girls, Sparklehorse, StarOfAsh, Steve Roach, Suckle, Sunda Arc, Sundara Karma, Sunmonx, Swayzak, Symmetry, The Syncope Threshold, T e l e p a t h, Temu, Trembling Blue Stars, The Vacant Lots, Vessels, Wooden Shjips, Yellowcard and Yppah.

… plus many, many, many more. Phew! Some amazing, some good, some interesting, a few less so, etc. One may wonder how many of these artists – regardless of how ‘good’ they are – may attain the superstar status of, say, another Rolling Stones or The Beatles from the ‘good old days’. Not many, I’ll wager. And, thus, the search goes on.

“The times, they are a‑changin’” Bob Dylan (1941‑).

Live Music

Physical media

From the beginning of recording and playback in 1877 (although there were earlier experiments dating back to 1857), with Thomas Edison’s phonogram, first through wax cylinders and then shellac discs, followed by vinyl discs with the advent of the gramophone, people have been collecting music. For decades, vinyl was really the only practical medium for collectors. Collecting became more popular by the late 1970s with magazines dedicated to the hobby and suggesting values for some rarer releases. Magnetic recording technology added to, rather than replaced, vinyl and became popular with reel‑to‑reel, eight track (remember that?) and audio cassettes.

Portable music was made possible for the masses by the Sony Walkman (TPS‑L2), introduced in 1979, using the then‑ubiquitous analogue compact cassette. Perhaps the most significant portent for the demise of physical media was the introduction of the Apple iPod way back in 2001, sadly now no longer made, which led into the convenient access to music on the go, now with today’s smart phones.

Digital music, mainly through the introduction of digital music Compact Discs (CDs) in 1982 led to a revolution in collecting. CD sales peaked in 2000 at over 2.5 billion worldwide accounting for 91% of the market. By 2020 sales had fallen 95% and accounted for only 5% of global sales. However, CD sales increased again in 2021, although it is too early to predict a revival. The introduction of downloads and streaming has significantly impacted CD sales, precipitating a dramatic decline in physical album sales, as more and more consumers switched to digital streaming services.

Some alternative digital formats arrived in the wake of CD but didn’t survive for long, including Sony’s Mini Disc and DAT (Digital Audio Tape), as well as Philips’ DCC (Digital Compact Cassette). HDCD (High Definition Compatible Digital) and SACD (Super Audio CD) were promising but ultimately failed to supersede CD.

By the 1990s, I had disposed of my collection of then‑seemingly redundant vinyl LPs and singles (and my turntable) and embarked on collecting CDs, starting off with replacing what I had on vinyl and then adding new content over time. Ditching vinyl was something I might have regretted, but don’t. Vinyl represents nostalgia to me and I’m not going back. It is neither practical, desirable nor possible to embark on such a regressive approach now. At the time of writing, my music hoard of CDs comprises well over 6,000 releases by over 2,500 artists. This conglomeration has recently been organised into over 50 crates packed to the gills with the little silver discs. That equates to around 85,000 tracks on iTunes and counting. I don’t know whether this is a lot or not, with all things being relative. Currently, CD remains my main medium of choice. I predict that CDs will not become totally extinct and will experience a resurgance at some point.

The advent of CD was a catalyst to the long‑running analogue versus digital debate. For what it’s worth, my view is the debate is not about encoding, it’s about something far more subjective. Vinyl reproduction flatters music in a way that digital doesn’t and that appeals to us. Digital is technically superior but not as warm and cuddly as vinyl. Simples. Fans of analogue still swear that digital is a poor representation of real music. Fans of digital swear that analogue (and even digital CD) is outmoded and obsolete. That’s a lot of swearing. Streaming has added further fuel for opposing viewpoints with the compressed versus lossless argument. The truth is, does it really matter? As long as we enjoy the music, that’s what counts, isn’t it? Focus on the content, not the carrier. If we have a preference, make the most of it. I do think that the audiophile press is somewhat hypocritical in only going along with the latest tech after having criticised it before it became commercially established. That way, we all keep buying new kit. That is a personal opinion. Ain’t hindsight great?

“The digital world is so convenient and nice, but just playing back a vinyl record is a much warmer, hotter, more present feeling.” Steve Miller (1943‑)

Physical Media (credit: Andre-Moura)

Music streaming

A brief recap of developments may be in order, so a short diversion first. Let us rush past the short‑lived phenomenon of downloads, which have largely been superseded by streaming (which includes off‑line listening). The storage problem associated with physical media has led to the next revolution in listening, which is to dispense with physical media altogether and access music on remote servers held in huge data centres somewhere. This marks a watershed where the listener no longer owns a tangible product but only purchases the right to listen to it. You cannot easily donate tracks to charity or sell purchased music on to other people. Mixtapes? A thing of the past. How unromantic. All this is, to me, a major drawback. I like having something tangible that I can pick up, look at, read the liner notes, view the artwork and so on. Somehow, the old‑school ownership of a physical item is something I value. Streaming just seems like an ephemeral audition of someone else’s music, rather than something personal, bestowed by genuine ownership. Is this simply a transitional symptom? Probably, maybe.

Although streaming was introduced in the early 1990s, it wasn’t until the launch of Napster in 1999, using the new compressed MP3 digital format and exploiting new Internet‑based Broadband services, that downloads and streaming became widely popular. The licensed subscription music service Spotify was launched in 2008, rising from the ashes of the flirtatious fleeting dalliance with illegal downloads. Once again, the industry ‘big boys’ have found a way to re‑assert their dominance over us. Digital streaming now accounts for more than 80% of global music industry revenues.

The Internet and the major music streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, Qobuz, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, etc.) have facilitated exploratory listening greatly while, at the same time, enabling artists to gain exposure in a way that they couldn’t previously through the traditional studio/record label system. Streaming generally can be on demand, through curated playlists or via Internet radio stations. All are valuable resources for the curious listener. The streaming platforms often state that they have 100,000,000 (100m) or more tracks available to customers. In practice, this is both a mind‑boggling and meaningless figure. There is such a thing as too much choice. It also gives some sense of scale, although it may call into question the balance between volume and quality. Suddenly, my meagre 85,000 tracks seems somewhat miniscule in comparison. I do, however, find it a sign of progress when more than 50 crates of CDs can be stored on an SSD (Solid State Disc) that’s less than half the size of a cigarette packet (remember those too?).

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” John Cage (1912‑1992)

Another problem exposed by streaming is that there is now plenty of material that is not distributed or sold on physical media at all and is only available via the Internet. Streaming‑only releases are essentially simpler and cheaper than managing traditional physical distribution channels. It also pushes new customers towards expensive streaming subscriptions whereby they earn money whether they are used or not. Talk about milking a cash cow! This online‑only approach affects some genres more than others but it means that, in order to continue with this ambitious side project of mine, streaming has become a necessary additional resource. In effect, physical and virtual music has to co‑exist; being an ‘and’ rather than an ‘either/or’ approach. For info, after much deliberation, CRAVE Guitars subscribes to Apple Music.

Some streaming services provide high definition listening, such as Tidal, and they charge a premium for it. Others, such as Spotify are content to go for volume at low definition. The lesson to take from this is that streaming services are not all alike despite peddling similar wares to punters.

“You pays your money and take your choice” A British lexicographic irregular that first appeared in print in Punch magazine in 1846

Does streamed high definition music (i.e. better than CD quality) make a difference to most listeners? Big question. Well, apparently, not really. The evidence suggests that most average (i.e. non‑industry) people cannot tell the difference in blind listening tests conducted under ‘normal’ conditions. Trained listeners can, allegedly, differentiate formats but “If there’s any discernible difference, it’s so subtle and so slight, you’d have to be somebody who’s been in the business for decades like me to hear it.” (recording and mixing engineer, Prince Charles Alexander, Berklee Online study, 2019). A case of fidelity vs artistry vs money, always good for an argument. Why on Earth spoil music listening by teaching people to identify comparative digital encoding anomalies when they are so small as to be meaningless? Spotify’s strategic positioning seems to agree, while Tidal doesn’t. People who go down the high definition route are, perhaps, hedging their bets. If they have the best, it doesn’t matter whether they can hear a difference or not. No doubt there is some audiophile snobbery lurking in there too. For the sake of throwing my two penny worth into the ring, I can neither tell the difference nor can I be bothered to waste my time trying to spoil the enjoyment that music brings by attempting to do so. Time for some good ol’ fashioned snake oil to leech the contents from your bank account?

Does streaming stop me ‘digging’ for used CDs? NO. Does it stop me buying new CDs? NO. Does it encourage me to buy more CDs? Actually, YES. I still prefer to purchase and store music on CD, while recognising the inevitability of embracing the dark side of streaming culture. On the basis that vinyl and cassette have seen a popular resurgence, CD is not going away anytime soon. In practice, and probably being totally hypocritical in doing so, I tend to rip music from CD on iTunes and then stream (or rather cast) it to my music system. I know that this practice probably makes little sense but, for me, it is the best of both worlds, I have the physical media and the convenience of digital storage. Which leads neatly onto…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘music room’

If you read my October 2023 article, ‘Return to and from Obscurity’, you will know of the sad loss of ‘mi media naranja’ (my better half) due to the vile and relentless ravages of cancer. Initially crestfallen, once accepting the loss, I set about repurposing the small ‘dining room’ which had been my wife’s bedroom into a dedicated ‘music room’, used for noodling on vintage guitars and listening to recorded music. NO TV or clock allowed! Having previously lost our home and the vast majority of our belongings (another story altogether!), I had to rebuild a hi‑fi from scratch which, in itself, was quite an exciting experience, along with uniquely decorating the room to provide a suitable listening/playing environment. It took a year of painful sacrifices involving the sale of some beloved A/V gear (I’m also a film & TV buff) to raise funds and some lengthy (re)searching for used ‘bargains’. I fully acknowledge that this indulgence seems an excess of a luxury, given everything else but other things had to be compromised to enable it. My choice.

The ‘music room’ is used every day for music listening. For those who are interested in the techy side of things, the main hi‑fi system comprises:

  • Naim Uniti Core music server with 2TB SSD storage
  • Naim ND5 XS2 music streamer
  • Naim CD5 Si CD player
  • Bryston BP17 pre-amplifier
  • Bryston 4BSST power amplifier
  • PMC Twenty.24 floor standing speakers
CRAVE Guitars Music Room

While this is neither a high‑end system nor a budget system, it has been carefully selected to meet the need for critical and enjoyable listening of both physical and streamed music (and within budget). My 500 or so most preferred CDs are immediately to hand in the room, as well as being stored in lossless digital form on the music server, thereby also making them available throughout the house via Wi-Fi (in due course). It’s certainly more than good enough for my tired, aging ears. Being pragmatic, the electronics are, after all, only a means to an end, which is to stimulate an emotional response through music.

At this point, you may be wondering whether I actually listen to all that music. Fair question. Well, yes, is the answer. There wouldn’t be much point in writing about it if I didn’t experience the results of my labours. While I try very hard, there may be the odd track here or there that gets shunted down a listening list but I would hope that’s the exception, rather than the rule. Heck, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it!

“Don’t tell me baby you gotta go, I got the hifi high and the lights down low” from, ‘I Need Your Love Tonight‘ (1959) by Elvis Presley (1935‑1977)

Personal top 20 ‘desert island’ albums

Depending on mood, I do go back to long‑term favourites, simply for the comfort and familiarity of a ‘known quantity’. Like chatting with an old friend. At the outset, I said this wasn’t about compiling any sort of ‘best albums of the last 75 years’. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some albums for which I hold a special affection and which have been part of the hoard for many years (so not ‘new’). Here are 20 of them, all pretty well known mainstream releases, and which I feel have stood the test of time. Regular readers will see no surprises here. This is very much a personal list, chosen at the time of writing – it would undoubtedly be different on different days/weeks/months. Some entries hold special meaning and are therefore highly evocative.

I call this my ‘desert island’ security list. That is, if I could only have 20 albums as a castaway, what would they be? Perhaps, more accurately, it could also be called ‘top 20 memories’ or ’20 comfort classics’. Now how’s all that for wistful nostalgia? For what it’s worth, here is today’s list:

  1. The Cure – Disintegration (1989)
  2. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
  3. The Doors – L.A. Woman (1971)
  4. Pink Floyd – Meddle (1971)
  5. John Martyn – Solid Air (1973)
  6. Steve Hillage – L (1976)
  7. Talking Heads – Remain In Light (1980)
  8. Lee “Scratch” Perry – Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Corn Bread (1977)
  9. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992)
  10. Burning Spear – Garvey’s Ghost (1976)
  11. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Live! (live) (1975)
  12. Deep Purple – Made In Japan (live) (1972)
  13. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away (2013)
  14. Depeche Mode – Violator (1990)
  15. Massive Attack – 100th Window (2003)
  16. David Bowie – Let’s Dance (1983)
  17. Burial – Untrue (2007)
  18. Tangerine Dream – Rubycon (1975)
  19. John Lee Hooker – Boom Boom (1993)
  20. Beck – Sea Change (2002)

“Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

The future

OK, that’s the past, so now let’s take a brief, casual look at what may happen into the near future. While vinyl is doing remarkably well and CD is showing possible signs of life, it is clear that streaming is the future until something better comes along. It is certainly in the interests of the music industry to retain tight control over their valuable assets, although many artists say that the practice is detrimental to their income. However, this actually means little to the consumer. Better returns for the companies and artists simply mean higher prices for the public who have no say in the matter. The reality is that the few rich get much richer and the many poor get much poorer; sadly the dysfunctional norm of the modern capitalist world.

The commercial interests of multinational companies like Sony BMG, Universal, EMI and Warner Brothers rule their respective roosts. Interestingly, the major corporations don’t own the streaming companies, unlike in the parallel dimension of film and TV where the studios control all levels of vertical integration.

Mega‑artists with mega‑egos to match like Taylor Swift, Madonna, Adele, Jay‑Z/Beyoncé, U2, KISS, Dr. Dre, Timberlake and Ed Sheeran, along with many other big names in the lofty reaches of the higher socioeconomic hierarchy are laughing hysterically all the way to their already mega‑well‑stocked tax‑free offshore bank accounts. The industry ‘big four’ major record labels and powerful business artists together make up a resilient ‘pyramid of power’, that will continue to dominate the economics of the music biz for many years to come. Sadly, your ordinary talented hard working musicians don’t attract such filthy lucre. When push comes to shove, it’s all about the money. T’was ever thus, or more accurately…

“Oh! Ever thus from childhood’s hour” from the poem, ‘The Fire Worshippers’ (1817) by Irish writer and poet, Thomas Moore (1779‑1852)

Perhaps more worrying for creative artists and for many music enthusiasts is that the focus is clearly moving away from coherent album releases and more towards the production of single tracks out of context of other material by the same artist. By that statement, I don’t mean a rejuvenation of chart singles, which have long ceased to mean anything. The evidence shows that people are streaming individual songs, rather than a collection of tracks that would historically have made up a cohesive LP. Just look at the streaming stats of albums on any digital online platform and the predominance of maybe one or two tracks over the rest is unmistakeable. There is a feedback loop that encourages artists to change the way they make music and which goes on to influence curated playlists, radio coverage and, ultimately, sales, then repeat. The modern equivalent of the old‑fashioned radio playlist.

In 2016, it was reported that album releases were plummeting while EPs and single tracks were skyrocketing. Will we ever see (or, rather, hear) any more all‑time classic albums like ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, ‘Rumours’ or ‘Thriller’? Only time will tell. Will the way that music is created, distributed and accessed mark the death knell of the ‘album’ as we know it? Highly likely, but not just yet. The album may, like many things, see a revival. We’ll just have to wait and see (if we live long enough). Personally, I grew up with the antiquated concept of the album or LP, so it retains a certain sensibility but, then again, I am destined for premature oblivion myself, so what the heck do I know?

The topical buzz around Artificial Intelligence (AI) will inevitably play its part in music creation with virtual artists and AI composed tracks. It’s already here and can only evolve from here on. AI isn’t new, its roots go back to 1956 and the American Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. AI generative music goes back to the mid‑1990s. Is AI a threat? The jury is currently out. Thankfully, if AI is used for music, literature and art, it won’t be used to annihilate mankind (except, perhaps, through technological mediocrity). The ultimate demise of humans is up to humans, directly or indirectly, at least for now. Who needs doomsday generative AI when we all have to endure the antics of egregious corrupt despots like Putin, Xi, Kim and too many others of their insane immoral ilk? Don’t you just love mankind’s determined destiny of denial and doom? I digress (again).

“If we don’t end the war, war will end us.” H.G. Wells (1866‑1946)

One certainty is that music will survive in its manifold forms. One hopes that tired and clichéd genres like the current vapid world of commercial pop and dance music since the new millennium will rejuvenate into something more interesting at some point. Conversely, let us also hope that the more dynamic genres don’t descend to the deplorable depths of hideous homogeneity.

Musicians will proliferate. Music will proliferate. The way we access music will change. Whatever happens, change is inevitable and it will be fascinating to see how it evolves and how we adapt. Music as an essential component of the human condition will prevail in one form or another as long as humans exist. Music is, after all, a phenomenon unique to the human race. Thank goodness for that. And, thus, the search goes on.

“When I hear music that parents hate, or older musicians hate, I know that’s the new music. When I hear older people saying, ‘I hate rap or techno’ I rush to it.” George Clinton (1941‑)

Amateur musicology?

I do not pretend to be some sort of self‑appointed authority on contemporary music. My main obsession is still vintage guitars and vintage guitar gear. Perhaps, though, my passion for music predated my addiction to guitars. Over the decades my love of modern music does, I believe, provide a reasonable insight into the science as well as art of music, with a little alchemy thrown in for good measure.

Strictly speaking, musicology is the analysis and study of music. Musicology belongs to the humanities and social sciences, although some music research also belongs to the fields of psychology, sociology, acoustics, neurology, anthropology and computer science.

Musicology covers three general disciplines; music history, new musicology (the cultural study of music) and ethnomusicology (the study of music in its cultural context). For the life of me, I can’t really (be bothered to) differentiate between the last two of those.

Clearly, I cannot compete with professional experts in the field and my research methods are hardly scholarly. I am, however, happy to be an amateur sleuth, as it allows for significant enjoyment. Music should be overwhelmingly pleasurable, rather than playing second fiddle to methodical and clinical academic enquiry. Again, my choice.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music” Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

In addition, and hopefully obviously to readers by now, I also play music (very badly it must sadly be said). I wouldn’t hoard vintage guitars unless I could actually conjure up something vaguely creative and emotional out of them. Perhaps interestingly, I don’t play other people’s music; I much prefer to ‘do my own thing’ for better or worse. Usually the latter.

I am incessantly amazed at what I don’t know. I know that shouldn’t be the case, but society tends to prejudge ignorance as a weakness and expertise as a virtue. What others regard as the blatantly obvious is utterly oblivious to me until I encounter it. However, isn’t that what exploration and discovery is all about?

If we accept that “Music is the universal language of mankind” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), one can only trust that exploration is the means by which we enhance and articulate our own individual musical linguistic skills.

Musicology may not be quite the right word for my approach towards modern music but I sure can’t think of a better one. Musicology Lite perhaps? Deluded dilettante? Possibly. Biased? Definitely. We all have our own opinions, right? And, thus, the search goes on.

“Music is the strongest form of magic.” Marilyn Manson (1969‑)

Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll

Musicology suggests an interest in music psychology, which is how music affects the cognitive functions of the human system. Building on some of my opinionated comments last month, here’s a thought for the day. Let us remember that music carries with it enormous power to improve our mental health and wellbeing. Music can boost serotonin, dopamine, endorphin and oxytocin levels that work on the pleasure receptors of the brain. Put simply, these magic substances can act as effective natural anti‑depressants and can help to improve both mood and behaviour. All in all, mostly good stuff then. As we all know, music, can also irritate the heck out of us sometimes, so remember to love what you love.

Now here’s an interesting diversion into music cultural history. All three human activities, sex, drugs and music directly affect the pleasure centres of the brain, so there is something scientific behind the old rockers’ adage, ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’ after all. While some suggest the phrase came from Ian Dury’s 1977 single, its roots derive from a much earlier hendiatris, ‘wine, women and song’, emanating from Germany in the 1770s, although there is some debate as to who actually coined it. Many scholars attribute its origins date back even further to theologian, Martin Luther.

“Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weib und Gesang, der bleibt ein Narr sein Leben lang. (Who not loves not wine, women and song, remains a fool his whole life long).” Martin Luther (1483‑1546)

The first modern use of the phrase was printed in a LIFE magazine article that dates from 1969, “The counter culture has its sacraments in sex, drugs and rock.” In 1971, The Spectator magazine printed, “Not for nothing is the youth culture characterised by sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” Ian Dury certainly made the most of it.

CRAVE Guitars ‘Record of the Month’

Once again, as this is a bit of an outlier in the overall scheme of CRAVE Guitars’ articles, I cannot leave without at least mentioning one of those albums that warrants repeat listening (for me). While last month, I was clinging onto sultry summer with dub reggae, this month, with the rapid decline into grim winter, I’m going for something a little more contentedly contemplative.

Biosphere – Microgravity (2015 reissue of the 1991 studio album with additional tracks). Biosphere is electronica artist, Geir Jenssen (1962‑) from Tromsø, Troms, Norway. The 16 tracks fall broadly into the ambient, ambient techno, ambient house, field recording and progressive electronica genres. Microgravity was Biosphere’s debut studio album. Laidback ambient grooves are a wonderful way to escape and transport one’s consciousness into an otherworldly, serene dimension, great for relaxation, stress relief and focus. It is also great for testing the hi‑fi.

“If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die” from the play, ‘Twelfth Night’ (c.1601/1602) by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


Well that’s another monthly article done and dusted. Number 75 to be precise since I started writing CRAVE Guitars’ articles way back in November 2014. It’s come a long way.

I am genuinely grateful to be in the position whereby I am able freely to undertake such projects as this one. The author is acutely aware of the extreme difficulties faced by innocents around the globe.

The pursuit of new stuff is unlikely to abate now that it has begun in earnest. Is there anything I regret uncovering? Nope. I try hard not to regret anything; I would rather use any missteps along the way as a learning experience. Are there any guilty pleasures that have been adopted? Probably, but now isn’t the time or place for shaming my deviant musical proclivities! Surprises? Plenty. Pleasure? A mixed bag. Top tips? A few. Anticipation? Always.

What is most encouraging is that there is an almost unlimited wealth of awesome, incredible music out there waiting to be discovered if you want to look hard enough. Enjoy!

The plan is to get back to more CRAVE Guitars core raison d’être for the next article. However, we all know what happens to “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men” from the poem, ‘To a Mouse’ (1785) by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759‑1796), so no promises. OK? Thanks for reading.

Peace, love, truth and guitar music be with you always. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Material possessions feed the vanity of the ego, while music nourishes the spirit and sustains the soul”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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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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