The Future of Music?

How does YouTube affect music? KATE WILSON muses.

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The Re:Generation Music Project says a lot about the shape of music at the present. As John Bardsley points out, the result of the enterprise is to blur the distinctions between different genres (and ages) of music; Skrillex and The Doors, for instance, have collaborated for the project. And this says a lot about where the future of music might be headed.

The existence of platforms such as Spotify and YouTube mean that music from any era is always available – without spending any length of time acquiring the music, or any money to listen to it. These platforms provide an unprecedented archive of pop music: an historical record that is available to everyone. And this is groundbreaking stuff.

In the past, new musical genres were created as a direct reaction to the previous sound: the previous “scene”. The materialisation of 70s punk, for example, emerged as a self-conscious retort to the “dinosaurs” that dominated radio play: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd et al. Happy Hardcore in the 90s arose as a reaction to Acid House becoming more and more dark. However, given that present-day music is so comprehensively archived and so well-preserved, this same culture of reaction cannot drive music into the future. Future music will be no longer “scene” based, as the internet removes both geographical and temporal boundaries.

As such, cutting-edge musicians are instead focused on breaking down the boundaries of chronology, by synthesising sounds of the past into music of the future. Modern artists do not have to take the sound of the previous “scene” as their starting point; in the internet-era, they have all the sounds in pop history to either utilise or react against. The future of pop music is, therefore, to pick and choose the best parts of music from the genres of the past, in a form of creative collage.

And this is a good thing, right? If musicians can utilise the raw material of any genre of music, present and future musicians should, theoretically, have the capability to synthesise the best music that could possibly be made from the pop traditions that we have.

But there are flaws with this. The process would remove the distinctiveness of a sound associated with a particular “scene”, because the creation of new “scenes” would be considerably diluted. With the entire archive of music at their disposal, different musicians can privilege different sounds, and pick and choose different musical ideas from various eras; as such, it is unlikely that musicians will choose the same sounds from the same eras in their composition – leading to little cohesion in musical output.

This lack of cohesion and “scenes” could lead to a corresponding shift in music criticism. If future music is based on the act of collage, an appreciation of the piece would stem not just from the sound of the final composition, but would be judged for the process of composition – how the different sounds from different eras have been grafted together. The idiosyncratic stamp of the musician would adopt another dimension.

We are entering an era of heterogeneous music, hitherto unseen. Judge as you will.