Is Music Worse Than It Used To Be?

Psy Gangnam Style

Has music hit a new low, or does today's massive choice mean there's more good music out there than ever?

Dance music’s recent mainstream acceptance as "EDM" has brought about a fury from certain elements in the artistic/underground scenes, which is nothing new in itself - it happens whenever anything "underground" finds love from the mainstream.

From articles like a recent one in SPIN Magazine to those carried by a plethora of blogs, many DJs, critics, and producers have been claiming that the music has hit a creative zero. That we’ve lost that innovative spark that can do things like make one sound explode into a plethora of ideas and genres, as has happened in the past. That it's lost its soul.

The first sign of this dissention came in 2009 when blogger Mark Fisher wrote:

“The current decade... has been characterised by an abrupt sense of deceleration. A thought experiment makes the point. Imagine going back 15 years in time to play records from the latest dance genres – dubstep, or funky, for example – to a fan of jungle. One can only conclude that they would have been stunned – not by how much things had changed, but by how little things have moved on. Something like jungle was scarcely imaginable in 1989, but dubstep or funky, while by no means pastiches, sound like extrapolations from the matrix of sounds established a decade and a half ago.”

I sense a bit of truth as I listen to electro-house now, and feel like it’s only devolved from the tweaky ideology Benny Benassi started with Satisfaction back in 2003. I’ll admit while the newer sound pushes epic trance-like buildups and synths, it hasn’t changed much. I’d even agree with Fisher that most of the popular dubstep reminds me of the jungle I’d hear 10 years ago, only with a different beat.

I even gave Trap a listen recently and found myself asking how it's any different than rap music.??It would be easy to believe that the well for creativity has run dry - but I don't think it's that simple.

"Normal" people are not DJs

One might wonder why it seems there is so much bad "manufactured" music being released, while "creative" or "good" music seems non-existent. You all have to remember that the regular market of people consuming clubs and dance music are not DJs. They aren’t drawn to the intricate little things about the music the way we are.

Ultra Miami

When dance music draws crowds like this, surely it has to appeal to lowest common denominators in order to do so? Is this wrong?

They’re drawn to the images of posh cool clubs with gorgeous people or big massive festivals that are out of this world.?? The masses might be drawn to the images they carry in their minds of what the club and rave scene is, but they still want the safety of their familiar music. Jim Fusilli of the Wall Street Journal had this to say:

“As EDM and its related events continue to grow, an audience may be developing that wants nothing more than predictable, middling entertainment.”

Maybe for some of us here in this blog, as "serious" clubbers/DJs we were/are drawn to that uncertainty. To go to an event, see a DJ come on, and just hear new sounds we’ve never heard. Unfortunately for us, we’re part of a small number of what I call “the converted”. We get it, we know it, and thus we’re capable of opening our minds to new things. Most people who simply rush off to Vegas or Miami to party in the usual touristy/glam spots do not.

Thus the music industry will jump on the bandwagon. You’ve seen this many times. Right now everyone is copying Guetta and Harris. A few years ago it was everyone copying Deep Dish and Benny Benassi. Years before that they copied Armin Van Buuren, Tiesto, and Paul Van Dyk.??This is the usual cycle and problem of a mass of producers more interested in being famous/successful as opposed to being creative. In a Mixmag interview, trance artists Above and Beyond had this to add:

“I've noticed that many smaller producers are seemingly feeling a bit lost in where to go with their direction, and are perhaps seeing artists like David Guetta having mainstream commercial success and saying, 'I want a piece of that!’ They are then diverting from their chosen flight path and heading towards that, which is of course fine if it's where they genuinely want to be, as some do. But for a lot of producers, they dilute what they are about because they are not David Guetta and don't do what he does best. That's not experimenting in my eyes, it's panic!”

I somewhat agree with Above and Beyond. You would think that the drive for mainstream success may have brought about an end in creativity. But this isn’t the first time the scene has hit this conundrum…

It’s a perpetual cycle

For anyone who really remembers disco, they’ll remember when underground scenes like the Paradise Garage and the Loft played the cutting-edge of the 70s. A wonderful world of funk brought to a faster tempo. Once Saturday Night Fever and Studio 54 came about, we saw the music go downhill... but even after Steve Dahl killed disco here in Chicago, things just wouldn’t die. Ironically enough it all came back as house... in the same city!

Studio 54

Bianca Jagger famously turned up at New York's Studio 54 in a horse... the club marked the height of disco's excess, but also for many sparked its demise.

We saw this same demise several times in the 1990s. We had pop music with house beats, eurodance music from the ashes of the rave/hardcore scene, and let’s not forget the soundtrack to A Night at the Roxbury.

It happened again after trance’s big explosion at the end of the 20th century. I personally will never forget how in 2000 I’d show up to play a set and drop amazing tunes from the likes of Sasha and Paul Van Dyk, but then a year later would have audiences begging me to play more mainstream like Ian Van Dahl and Sarina Parris.

All those times when I'd seen the creativity go downhill, I'd eventually find a new sound to my liking and thus move on. I like to think that dance music isn’t a person that is born, grows up, and then dies a slow stale death. It’s a phoenix, that dies to rise again.
Yes, we could see the same tweaky basslines of dubstep and think it’s just jungle with a new beat structure, but that’s again how the music is a phoenix. Think about it. How much jungle or even drum and bass are you hearing at events now compared to dubstep? From the ashes of jungle came dubstep.

There is no stagnation, only saturation

Imagine your favourite record store... or something similar if you never bought a record your whole life. It’s in a small storefront, and the space is packed with bins of vinyl and the walls contain top picks from the staff. Every time you walk in, you can quickly and easily find a small stack of music you would love to buy.

Now imagine one day you find that store expanded into the adjoining storefronts, and now it's as big as a warehouse. More bins were added and more stuff was placed on the walls, but you find that the music you think is great has been mixed in with loads of more stock that you find mediocre or terrible.

Music saturation

This doesn't even come close to the choice available online. Isn't the issue now more than it's harder to find the good stuff, rather than it doesn't exist?

This is what’s happened now in music. We’ve gone from having a finite space to infinite space. We’ve gone from having access to only one local record shop to access to a plethora of shops all over the globe. Even before MP3, I used to buy vinyl from all over the planet. If I heard it and wanted it, somehow I would get it.

Now, some can still push that music just sucks nowadays, but I disagree. My only rationale of why is that I still go on Beatport or Traxsource, and end up with a shopping cart or wish list full of tunes. I’ll want to spend $20 and end up with $100 in stuff I’d like. So in my opinion, there is still plenty of great stuff being released... you just have to sift through a lot of mediocre or terrible music to find it. Some make the claim again that vinyl record shops kept the quality level up and the crap out, but I more look at the music industry as the culprit, as they will pick whatever will easily sell.

So let’s say we were all still playing vinyl records: Imagine how you would react if your local small record shop is stock full of big label David Guetta-sounding copycat artists, and not many small innovative producers?

We might have ended up with an over-saturation of music because of the internet, but we also ended up with an even playing field where the small bedroom artist can still blow up without any big label support. That’s a big win in my eyes, because it means I’ll still find good music out there... I just have to dig for it like I did in the past with vinyl.

How to find the good music...

If you’re one of those DJs who goes online shopping and can’t find anything that excites you any more, check out my 5 Smarter Ways To Buy Music Online post. I give you some great tips on how to beat the “saturation blues” and help you get more for the money you spend on music.

If you've been DJing for a while, do you have an opinion on whether the overall quality of music has gone up or down? How has the shift from vinyl and record shops to digital files and online stores affected this? what does the future hold? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Comments

  1. I must agree more than 100% with the statement that the Internet has caused an over-saturation, way too fast, in music crowds.

    Good music is still out there, and judging from the massive drop in production costs, it is also bigger in numbers nowadays.

    But everything is getting exhausted very fast in the eyes (and ears) of everyone. 10 years ago you had enough time available to listen to a couple of new records per day. Now, you have to dash through 50 tunes, because this is the release rates online.

  2. I have no trouble finding good tracks to DJ with but I feel there are no unifying musical, cultural movements, not like the last century and nothing to get excited about. The 21st century has given us broadband, digital cameras, mp3 players, cellphones then smartphones, tablets, high definition, social networking etc. Kid geniuses aren’t writing songs, they’re writing apps and I’m left wondering if IT is the new Rock and Roll. If I’m honest, I’d rather play Faster Than Light for an hour than listen to whomever’s latest album.

  3. Mike Blades says:

    The quality of commercial music has gone down. 10-15-20 years ago for an artist to make it they had to have super talent. they did it on their own and record labels would only pick the cream of the cream and give them contracts. Now that the price for buying music has dropped record labels still need to make the same amount of money, so they have to sell more records to maintain the money level. So they sign more artists and put out more records. problem is they are taking the cream of the cream PLUS all those who are close to the top….it has diluted the quality of music. now record labels have artists who are decent, but not super, so the music is not super anymore, its just decent.

  4. Beatport and others need to build more intelligent search functions that can NOT be influenced by labels…
    I spend monthly hours listening to more then 1000 tracks to only find a few…and from those few I have some from whoom I think afterwards that they are almost crap…

    There is still al lot of good music, but a lot of it will never be discovered due to the amounts of crap piled upon them…

    • I aree with you I also think there are way to many copycats out there that are keeping the best ones from coming to the top it become very diluted with more of the same and less innovation

    • I have yet to find a decent track on beatport. Soundcloud and TrackItDown have been much better.

      • I’ve had similar trouble consistently finding good stuff on Beatport – for some reason, Juno is a lot better for me. I rarely go to that site without finding a track or two that I need to buy.

    • RE BEATPORT:
      Follow artists and labels and then in the “My Beatport” section you will find all relevant tracks in release date order. I follow about 320 artists and 450 labels. I listen to about 600 tracks a week through My Beatport. Every time an artis I follow releases on a new label or vice versa I add them to the list and the net widens. I have about 700 tracks in my hold bin on Beatport that I think are good enough to buy but don’t make the cut for the gigs I am playing that week.

      RE OTHER STUFF:
      I also get sent dozens of promos, listen to podcasts, read about 15 blogs (reviews, not illegal file STEALING sites) and follow almost 2000 artists/labels on soundcloud. Not to mention finish a new production of my own every week or two…

      There is so much good music out there. Too much great music. I have to limit myself because I could never play it all so I actually say I can only have a max of 10 new tracks per week from any sources. It is a waste to get more.

      Dig deep, play what you love and only take what you’ll play!

      • Luke James Taylor says:

        I think the prominence of Beatport as the major online purveyor of electronic music also skews the playing field in favour of less than innovative productions. Unlike Juno Beatport doesn’t really represent the black musical lineage where most house and techno derived from. It caters for a very white musical lineage which tends to lack the innovation and soul of a black musical lineage.

      • Too much heaven!!
        I’ve found myself repeating this mantra lately quite a lot.

        So we need ways to navigate/surf the fastly evolving landscape.

        Now, (as compared to 19 years ago) you don’t need to be at the forefront, knowing everything in certain style or sound.
        You just choose your strategy and create/follow your path. Aand so many would copy the ways, use same products, presets and some will be copycats…
        Variety anyway.
        Interesting times

  5. In the old days there were hundreds of great tracks and hundreds of bad tracks. Obviously, now with the (easy and speed) massive production of music there are hundreds of great tracks and thousands of bad tracks.

    As in many areas, I remember some old tracks people now say are massive, classics, killer tracks, when they came out were considered junk.

    Machines don’t have feelings, people do. That’s why music and technology changing faster than people minds.

  6. Is music worse than it used to be ? Ofcourse not! For a person who’s not simple minded and likes a variety of genres there’s plenty of good music. Is commercial music worse than it used to be? You bet.

  7. You must know yourself. You must know your favorite genre and focus on it. If don’t do that, you’ll never get enough, you’ll never be happy with music. Instead, music will be a hassle, something that stress you cause you can’t find what you like. But why? Because you don’t know yourself, you don’t know what you like.

  8. ” there is still plenty of great stuff being released… you just have to sift through a lot of mediocre or terrible music to find it.
”

    ^this^.
    i’d even say there’s a lot more great music available than 10-15 years ago, and most of it is free. i spend pretty much every sunday digging through soundcloud and my feedreader, and there hasn’t been a weekend within the last 2 years that i didn’t find several gems, most of them from smaller producers all across the globe. when in the past your record dealer/magazine reviews were the filter to sort out most of the crap, these days you just have to build yourself a network of trustworthy people, blogs etc that recommend good music. if you stay alert, helpful, social towards others, in the end you’ll benefit from their tastes as much as they do from you. case in point: i wouldn’t have found one of my absolute favourites of 2012 – http://soundcloud.com/bedlam-records/blunt – if it hadn’t been recommended by a facebook friend i’ve never met in real life, but with whom i’ve shared music, jokes and great conversations over the last few years…

  9. Whenever people tell me that (dance-) music got worse and even might be now at its lowest point ever, I usually just show them this track, that came out in 1994.

    http://youtu.be/3h7SqIaC73U

    Yes, it’s a fairground techno remix of the (German) rubber ducky song from Sesame Street. You can’t tell me that whatever is on the radio and in the Bratport top 10, is really worse than this. :D

    • There’s always been crap music and people do tend to romanticise the music of their generation forgetting all the junk that is always around at same time as their favourite songs.
      But music consumption, the availability and production of music has changed dramatically in the last decade or so which has altered things, in ways that are actually different from how things used to work.

      • dennis parrott says:

        imajez, you are at least partially right in what you say with respect to people romanticizing the music of their era. but there are other very, very important trends that play into the inability of people to focus on music these days…

        as you go back in time, there were less distractions taking people’s time away from music. i grew up in the sixties and seventies and there were less TV channels, less print media, less radio stations, fewer leisure pursuits, and on and on. people had more time to spend with music vs all other possible distractions. today, what “attention space” people have is fractured by the plethora of distrations; a jillion cable channels, internet and satellite radio, a full universe of print media, the internet, video games, and on and on…. people simply have put music lower in their hierarchy of needs/wants.

        the other thing that plays into the relentless march to the toilet bowl for music is that the “commercial music” giants have learned all of the lessons of how to propagandize to sell their stuff. they have also learned the lessons of how to use focus groups and other such technologies to make sure that their stuff will SELL on a massive scale. and they use those weapons of mass distraction against an unprepared public…

        the real issue is that “art” is not a word those “music industry” types really understand. they only care about making scads of cash for the least investment. if they could make bank on glitched-up recordings of people “covering” songs using a fart app on their mobile phones, they would do it. expecting the mass public to be able to tease out “art” from “trash with a catchy hook” is unreasonable. they don’t have the attention span necessary anymore to do that.

        BUT — this is NOT as dim a situation as it would appear to be on the surface…

        DJing can be a delicate courtship between you and audience. when we step out to play we need to understand that we have to build trust between us and that audience so that we can help them experience not just a good time but experience that new and challenging music that they might not be aware of. i have always taken pride in being able to slip in great tracks at various times that cause people to stop and go “wow, what song is that?”

        we have a responsibility to the producers of the music and the audience that comes to listen/dance to that music to honor their mutual commitments to the music. we have to give the dancers what they want AND we have to find a way to give them what we know they need.

        sorry to prattle on but this debate actually means something…

    • dennis parrott says:

      WOW. Just WOW.

      Nope. I will not complain about crappy commercial music EVER AGAIN.

      That was pretty horrifying.

      Psychofrakulator, you have a terrible and awesome gift that you need to be careful with. You just might find the one track that destroys the space-time continuum.

      • Foldable disco says:

        I love what you wrote,’weapons of mass distraction’ man that’s awesome!!!

      • Luke James Taylor says:

        “the other thing that plays into the relentless march to the toilet bowl for music is that the “commercial music” giants have learned all of the lessons of how to propagandize to sell their stuff. they have also learned the lessons of how to use focus groups and other such technologies to make sure that their stuff will SELL on a massive scale. and they use those weapons of mass distraction against an unprepared public…”

        This is very true but I would add that the fact that mega corporations like Clear Channel have bought up almost all of the radio stations which then saturate the airwaves with the same Top 40 artists and play them over and over again.

        On every radio station from New York and London to Bangkok the same playlist is being played by every radio DJ ad-infinitum. This is impossible to compete with.

        Add into the mix super powerful TV shows like X Factor and most of MTVs output and the commercial Juggernaut seems unstoppable.

    • Not to mention that miserable dance version of Cotton Eye Joe.

      • Luke James Taylor says:

        Phil you would expect that to be the case but we have never been in the situation we find ourselves in now. In the past the underground has always been fueled by the passion and innovation of the young whereas today -for the first time in history- underground music is more of a middle aged pursuit than a young persons game.

        I can’t think of any other decade when it was mainly the young who embraced the middle of the road mainstream and a bunch of middle aged punters making and listening to the cutting edge rebellious music but that is the situation we find ourselves in and it is unprecedented.

        I fail to see how the underground will survive indefinitely without a groundswell of support and contribution from the young but that doesn’t seem to be happening and hasn’t for over ten years.

      • Luke James Taylor says:

        I agree things do tend to go in cycles but this has been one loooong off season :)Nearly ten years and counting as Psy out sells the Beatles. Doesn’t look like the change is around the corner just yet.

      • Luke James Taylor says:

        Come to think of it it has probably been longer than 10 years since there was any serious groundswell of support for anything other than the commercial realm.

      • Luke James Taylor says:

        I think it is also different today because the mainstream music industry watch the underground carefully; not for new talent but for new trends, which they can co-opt and release their own watered down versions of, killing that underground spark before the fire spreads.

        In the past the industry tended to fight any new musical trends leaving them germinating in the underground until they grew to big to ignore then the underground artists crossed over taking a little slice of the underground with them.

        This doesn’t seem to happen anymore.

  10. I agree with many of the above posts but would also add there’s been a big change in how music fits in culturally and how culture itself has changed.
    At one time music was one of the very few main sources of entertainment and new music was usually made as a reaction to the music of previous generation. Rebellion was what young people did and music [and the clothes that went with that genre] was how they expressed their ‘individuality’.

    Nowadays most current music sounds like it could have been made at any time in the last 30 years and the yoof of today are quite content to listen to anything from the last few decades. Not to mention that they also now have many other distractions and a bigger variety ways to spend their money or take their interest. New technology being where most change now happens
    Can you imagine teenagers in the say late 70s listening to or making 1950’s skiffle music or 1940’s swing as that is the equivalent of what many of today’s teenagers/musicians do?
    All the rebellious musical forms since the 60s are now as mainstream as say Jazz and Ballet are. Both of which in their own time were quite avant garde/shocking/rebellious and outside of the mainstream.

    Hard to recall hearing much music of late that didn’t already sound like something I’ve already heard before. The charts reflect this as I saw a top ten a while back where 9 of the tracks were either cover versions or songs by acts that had been around for 20 odd years. And the one exception sounded like it was made a decade or so earlier too.

    • I think this is the most substantial shift in pop music history: the recycling phenomenon.

      Seems like sometime in the 90s artists stopped understanding the difference between expression and promotion, and the music sure reflects that.

      In the 80s there were so many groundbreaking trends happening, that the last thing I wanted to do was look back.

      Back then, some friendly old hippie suggested I should check out Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd’s synth noodling. I politely ignored him, even though now I see he was being sincere and helpful.

    • Luke James Taylor says:

      Bang on. Gangnam Style sounds like a bad 90’s trance tune and almost all of the X Factor output is nothing but glorified karaoke.

  11. I can agree with this post for the most part. There a little minor things I think deserve a clearer explanation and can be tweaked but all in all the concept is spot on in my eyes.
    Vsauce, in YouTube did a video recently on “Wil we ever run out of new music” and it’s actually an incredible video, I’d recommend to watch it http://youtu.be/DAcjV60RnRw

  12. I don’t think music has got worse, there is just more of it. Back in the day, it was only people who could afford the time and the equipment who could make the music… nowadays anyone can pretty much download any cracked program like Logic or Cubase and start making music instantly, subsequently the output of music as a whole has increased massively, which means (for example) instead of 1000 releases in a week there are now 10,000. I think for every 1 really good tune there are 5 really bad ones, so you really have to search hard to find the gold.

    Let’s not forget that in the past, record labels generally cost a lot to run and set up. This meant that quality control was tighter and a lot of the crappy music just didn’t get signed. Today, however you can set up a label and sell your own music for really not very much at all. As a result, there are more and more labels releasing mediocre music because they couldn’t get their own music signed as it wasn’t good enough or people are just looking to try to make money/get more gigs or whatever.

    • this is on the money…. there really is alot of good music out there but its harder to find…. every dj nowadays has his her own label… its really nuts. bedrock and minus are the only two labels that keep a high stanard of release.

    • You are 100% bang on here. You can blame the Internet and big record producers. But the tools to create content has made consumers of music into content creators. And creators are their own producers. The big record labels are losing the fight to the flood of mediocre self-producers, self-promoters etc… The documentary “Press Pause Play” speaks to exactly these points. Decades ago you may have had access to 100’s of tunes. And you can say most of it were worth the listen. Nowadays you have access 100,000’s of tracks. But most are crappy reproductions of originals. The side effect is that the best stuff is being drowned out by the mass. This is the effect of democracy in consumerism and the new creative. To quote Beck, it’s all “Noise Pollution”.

  13. Beiber.

  14. Yes yes yes…. I spend 1000% more time now looking for the right music online than the 3 major record shops I would got to at least every 2 weeks back 20 years ago. I have truly dedicated at least 1 hour a day 3-5 times a week just to go through my online record pool. It’s nuts – BUT worth it.
    Thanks for writing this D-Jam :) looking forward for insite on your technique your next write.

  15. I think this is a good topic and worth discussion. As with many things much of it comes from context and your own background and experiences. As a DJ/Producer/Controllerist with a background as a jazz and classical (and pretty much anything else) percussionist/drummer, I take the longer view on overall recorded music from the REALLY early days of Vinyl (when it wasn’t even vinyl). Truth is there has never been a shortage of “bubblegum”, 5 years behind music somehow appearing to be loved and consumed by the masses. Copycat style music makes the enthusiast cringe with memories of when the copied music was really popping. In retrospect the 90’s were an inspiring and creatively revivalist time in all forms of music compared to the corporatization of the mid-70’s through the 80’s, but it didn’t necessarily seem so at the time. Even within that decade we went from fresh sounding rock bands like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam to the ridiculous (but popular at the time) Creed in a matter of only a couple of years. Where are the Creed fans today however compared to the continued respect for the earlier two mentioned. I had been carrying on for years that the ought’s (00’-09’) were the worst decade in the history of recorded music, but this was due not to over saturation, more the consolidation of style over substance at the top of the industry. I have always thought that it was important that there is “popular” music that is actually good because when given a true choice to the uneducated ear, the masses usually do gravitate towards quality, but they do need to have that choice easily available to their ears. Essentially the digital era has busted the scene, musical genre wide, in order to build it up again much like the writer eludes to in earlier eras. As bad as so much of the music seems out there, it has never been more possible for small independent artists to produce great music, at a lower cost, leading to more independence and originality. It will, however take time for this effect to truly blossom and we are starting to see the fruits of that now. Even the pop music of right now is a bit better than 4 or 5 years ago (Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, like ‘em or not, are actual musicians in a overblown pop world). Really it all comes down to talent (which, in essence is a combination of inspiration, and a will to PRACTICE and achieve virtuosity). With today’s digital music scene, as saturated as it is, the next Mozart, Hendrix, or Aphex Twin is right now sitting in his/her “bedroom” with more tools at their disposal and means to get it “out there” than ever without the need of “Patrons” or in today’s world, record labels large AND small.

  16. Great article, I really like the anology of the storefront vs. warehouse. As someone else pointed out, there’s great music being released it’s just exhausting to sift through the garbage to find it.

    The other thing that has changed greatly is the way that people consume music. I remember in high school buying a CD and sitting for an hour listening to it giving it my full attention. Most people today would never think not multitasking while listening to music. I can imagine it’s disappointing for artists to think that they spent countless hours pouring into their craft and the majority of the audience treats it as nothing more than background noise while they do random things like watch TV, talk on the phone, surf the web, etc.

  17. There is more rubbish out there thats true due to saturation, but also just as much magic being created!!! İ believe MOST FORMS of EDM and related music is going through an absolute renaissance! İts all about where you look, how you look and find out about these gems. The young generation of quality producers have upped their production game thus pushing the older more established producers and artists to do the same. Healthy competition!

    The idea that EDM hasnt moved on is absolute rubbish, dance music isnt supposed to radically evolve, just in small increments like all of evolution.

  18. Love the discussion articles/posts like this spark, thanks Phil!

  19. A simple to solution to a lot of this is to stop looking for music in the same places. I love techno, and for me techno means producers pushing constantly evolving new futuristic sounds in the same spirit that came from ‘Krautrock’ and Industrial music. This does not mean every track sounding the same, using the same stab sounds, the same builds, the same drum samples, the same track structure, instead, what it means is constantly pushing the boundaries. Through the wonders of electronic technology you can produce any sound you want and warp samples in crazy new ways. I find a lot of the articles on sites like Resident Advisor eulogising producers who use the same ‘retro synths’ and make the same tepid electronic music sickening. There is a world of possibility out there. I find a lot of my music now on sites like beatport from producers not listed under ‘techno’ but producing everything I understand techno to be. Likewise, I still buy vinyl and DJs who don’t miss out on a lot. There are plenty of small labels putting out great vinyl-only releases. All it takes is a bit of searching. DJs were always first and foremost record collectors and this spirit needs to return even if it is in a digital format. A record collector might spend months or years searching for a particular record or sound from a particular artist, label or genre. If you only go to beatport or itunes for your music, and only search in their confined genre classifications and charts expect sh!t! Good music has always been worth more time and effort than that!

  20. Just look toward the Pop Top 40 charts when was the last time you remember a song staying number 1 for more than a week? In my experience people who buy songs for listening only tend to search tracks by a certain artist and think everything they release is amazing rather than listening to a tune on its individual merits. Hence why you get artists like Rihanna with like seven tracks in the top 40. The internet has definitely watered down new music as wherever you go in the world nowadays you hear the same tracks. Whereas it used to be that certain styles/scenes could be localised to one country or even town now the whole world has access to the same stuff.

  21. I just want people to know that dubstep really isn’t something “new” that came from jungle. The real dubstep, that came before the mainstream wave was original and deep. That kind of dubstep is the only thing that sounds like dubstep, and shall therefore be kalled dubstep by the masses.

    The mainstream dubstep is not even a brother/sister to real dubstep, it’s like comparing The Beatles with a crappy metal band.

    Listen to sounds made by the following producers and you will get what dubstep really is: Mala, Coki, Skream (the old ones), Quest, Loefah, DJ Hatcha, Breakage, J:Kenzo.

  22. I enjoyed your post and I think you make some great points. I have to say though, that all music, especially “sample based” music (Hip Hop, House, EDM and to a lesser extent Rock/Punk) is cyclical. Atreyu will credit Metallica as an influence and Metallica will credit Ozzy. It’s apparent in the actual music being produced as well. I’m in my mid thirties and I have been DJing since I was 17. At no point in my music lifetime did I ever think that the greatest music ever made had already been recorded. There’s bands and genres that I love and believe to be the greatest of their individual time period. But, if you are a true music lover, you know that as long as a few High School kids get together and realize that chicks dig guitar players (or any guy who stands in front of a crowd and commands attention a.k.a. DJs) then there will always be good music in the world. There will also be bad, mediocre, and truly innovative music out there. I have to admit that I did not read all the comments but, I’ve heard the argument so many times before. Especially with Hip Hop. Keep your ears open and you will will realize that Lil’ Wayne is not the worst thing to ever happen to Rap music and the Neon Trees are not the death of Rock. Close your ears and mind and be the old hesher guy who still rocks a mullet and a denim Slayer jacket.

    • I agree.

      I think anyone who believes “unpolished” music is instantly “bad” should read up on Lenny Kaye. He was the lead guitarist for Patti Smith and a rock critic, but he was also very known for making these compilations of old and forgotten “garage band” music.

      In many ways he inspired all the punk rockers of the 1970s to go DIY. To learn three chords on a guitar and then get on stage…rather than take years to get polished.

      I remember how many budding producers sounded like crap when they started, but now they sound amazing. Let’s see how many “mediocre” guys stick with it and eventually evolve into “amazing” producers.

  23. Can’t say I’ve been around long enough to remember the ‘golden’ periods of music referred to in this article, but I can say that it’s a lot harder to find ‘classics’ in our generation than in the past (think Beatles, Earth, Wind, & Fire, etc.) I’m not sure exactly why that is, however it is a shame that my generation probably won’t have any classics such as tunes like this.

    Also D-Jam, you are right. The ‘Trap’ genre is no different than Rap/Hip-Hop because it was originally started in ‘The Durty South'; or rather, southern state-based American Hip-Hop/Rap music that was different than what you would hear from Rap in New York or the West Coast. It’s interesting to me that it’s a genre of its own, albiet mainstream and watered down now since I’ve been listening to it since I was a child (now 22).

    Fair article and thanks for your honest opinions – it’s always welcome to hear input from people that have been around for multiple ‘golden’ periods.

    • I was in high school at the height and end of Chicago’s WBMX radio station, and the instant explosion of house through hip-house all over America.

      I finally started DJing in 1992 when the German/Dutch/Belgium rave techno sounds were all over.

      In all honesty, I have many “periods” of classics. I have the earlier house from my high school years, the rave of my college years, the deep house and underground of my 20s, etc. I even see many of the trance of 1999-2001 as “classics” now.

      I like to encourage DJs and music fans to tell me their “classics”. The music of their youth. Give me a glimpse into their world, their life, and what they were into in their high school and college years.

      It’s tiring when I see DJs and others act like music came to a grinding death when “their time” passed. In Chicago, I see loads of “classic house” nights where they simply play what I think are the “ghetto anthems”. They mainly pump late 80s house and mid-90s hard house. I think it’s even more astounding that as the music change, many of my DJ peers simply stopped evolving, as they continually play sets of the music they were pumping 10-20 years ago. Others just quit, thinking it’s not worth it anymore since the times changed.

      In the end, my point was to show this perpetual cycle of evolution and change in music genres. To show that for every time people think the music has gone downhill, it’s on the cusp of the next movement to climb up. I went into it on my personal blog here: http://d-jam.com/tdGDTiZ

      I guarantee in 2022, we’ll see people talk about the Guetta music as anthems and go on and on about how they went to UMF or watched TomorrowLand on YouTube “back in the day”. I’m pretty sure those people will say music in 2022 sucks and we’ve lost creativity.

      Oh well…just makes for easier topics to blog about. :)

  24. I personally only have been listening to house music for the past 3 years but I did do my research on Chicago house music to see where it came from. I will compare the current state of edm to hip hop in the early 2000’s where music was being put out at poor quality and no substance. Hip hop industry suddenly went commercial and gimmicks and label/studio acts started gaining the attention, you still had your artists putting out great music but it was suppressed by the hype.
    Fast forward to this year and all those acts that were once popular no longer are relevant in the scene. But you have new young artist that are pushing the envelope of creativity and doing so by their own means and not some trend or hype. House music will get back to the creativity that it once came from. A new wave will come where these acts are seen and highlighted as being irrelevant.

    • Agreed. It’s all cyclical.

      The “legends” of House Music here in Chicago are not all superstars globe-trotting and making millions. Many now simply do little shows on weekends while working normal 9-5 jobs. A few did make and keep a career in music, but many simply didn’t.

      I’m sure in 10 years, Guetta, Harris, and the rest will either have retired/moved on from music, or evolved into some “behind the scenes” position where some younger new people go into the spotlight and they’re simply backing them up in production, promotion, and/or marketing.

      Look at pop stars in general. Where’s Tiffany and Debbie Gibson? How’s Britney Spears doing now compared to back in 2001? How many members of NSYNC are out there blowing up big? Anyone notice how NKOTB and BSB are now some “old school act” touring in that retro fashion?

      It’s all cyclical. The only ones who survive are the ones who continually evolve and change. The Beatles did. The Rolling Stones did. The Who did back in those days. Pet Shop Boys are a very good example of longevity through musical evolution. DJs should think like this in their own ways of doing things.

  25. DJ Forced Hand says:

    I don’t think that music is worse, I think that musicians are either more aware of what people want to hear today or the people consuming the music (and paying for it) are either lazy or satisfied with what they already have. DJs have a REALLY hard time playing music to their crowds when the crowds are not only interested in what’s on the air but also resistant to anything different than what they’re already hearing… the latter is a factor of conditioning.

    Additionally, with so many people doing the D.I.Y. solution to making music, there seems to be a real lack of professional polish on new music. Record labels used to have a whole army of people that would do things for bands (before they became bloated juggernauts which simply churned new talent for the easiest cash). A P.R. person would work for a band, so would music coaches and visual artists. Today, a D.I.Y. band may have access to the Apple Store and receive more money from all of their tracks, but a great deal of the tunes being made today aren’t made to pre-21st century standards. This is a process similar to the poor little rich kid who has all the toys they want but no one to help them become a functioning member of society.

    If you want to be a really good DJ, you have to reach way down deep in your own soul and pick tunes that touch you and ask yourself “will this tune speak to other people as deeply?” It is obscenely hard now to find good tracks to play with others when people are not only oblivious/uninterested in genres of music but to read the people and determine what they will be interested in dancing to next.

  26. I think your personal bias makes it impossible to say if music overall is better or worse. I think music genres have golden eras because of chance combination of style trends, enough talented people to express them, a social situation that supports it, and your own personal disposition towards it.

    My opinions on hip-hop over 25 years illustrate this. I think current hip-hop is crap. I used to love DJing it in the early 90s. Did I change or did the music change? It’s probably a bit of both.

    I keep wanting to come back to hip-hop, but I’ve lost interest. I got turned off by violent lyrics in gangsta rap in the mid-90s. Then I never liked the more jittery rhythmic style that followed gansta. Was I being nostalgic for old school beats or did I have a style of my own? Hard to say. Today’s hip-hop beats are better, but I’m turned off by its incredibly stupid lyrics. Maybe if I was in my 20’s I’d think they were funny.

    Personal and social changes also come into a play: I fell in love with a black woman, and it got a lot harder to ignore all those lyrics about ‘bitches’ and ‘ho’s.’ Hip-hop fans have changed, too. Hip-Hop is associated with Jersey Shore meatheads, and it wasn’t back in the 90s.

    But one thing I won’t say is that Hip-Hop is “no good anymore” or “not what it used to be” Part of that is because I don’t want to sound like a crabby old man. But mainly its because I accept that it’s a new sound for a new generation.

    • I think I only said I could not get into trap music.

      The crux of the article is more saying that there is good hip-hop out there, but it’s buried in a mountain of bad or mediocre music. Dance has the same problem.

      • reason808 says:

        I should’ve written “one’s” personal bias instead of “your” personal bias. Re-reading this it’s coming of as a snotty criticism of you, D-Jam. Certainly not what I was intending. Sorry about that. I thought your article was amazing. The hazards of late-night posting!

        I was trying to talk about people’s generalized subjectivity. Looking for the gems in a mountain of mediocrity means DJ’s are particularly vulnerable when trends shift, and leave us behind. Or maybe we shift and leave the trends behind. My history with hip-hop shows both sides of this.

        And on a lighter note, I saw De La Soul perform last night and they were absolutely fantastic!

  27. In my opinion, Yes,..

    Music has worsened,.. in all aspects,… but in defense, one has to admit that musicians nowadays have a real hard time turning their efforts into money,…
    thus, good musicians just don’t bother with it anymore,..
    there will be a time, and not to far away, the public won’t accept all that bleepy, squeeky music produced by DJ/Producers on cheap software,..
    they will ask for propper music,.. made in studios, by real producers, who understand their trade, marketed by online shops and streaming-services.
    and if the industry doesn’t react to it, they will miss the train that has already parted,.. away from all the simple sample, midi, dj this, dj that monotony,..
    bringing real musicians back into business, making music playable and mixable on whatever decks u like,..

    Enjoy Music

  28. Great Article

  29. I have not been alive for very long (18 years) but I do consider myself somewhat knowledgable in music over the past 60 years and then extending from 1500-late 17’s. First let me just state that this is just my opinion. Technically speaking, the most impressive genre by far was baroque classical. It’s musical composition and note progression blows modern music away. Rhythmically speaking I myself am a fan of classic rock. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some great things in music in the past 20 years in the electronic music category (i know unspecific but we could list prevalent accomplishments in individual edm genres all day) and I love many kinds of electronic music but it doesn’t have any characteristics that in my mind put it above music of the past (another generalization). now in EDM’s defense it is by far the newest genre and hasn’t had time to grow. Classical took hundreds of years to progress past the same ten or so melodies.

    • DJ Forced Hand says:

      Yeah, but there aren’t a lot of DJs spinning strictly classical music (from experience, it’s a rather exacting art requiring a lot of skill to pull off if you don’t want to sound like the radio). This site is for Digital DJs of music and if we can find a way to work Classical (thinks of the guy standing up at a concert hall throwing up his arms screaming at the top of his lungs “CLASS-I-CAL!”) music into the DJ spehere, I think it would be covered more. I’m sure there’d be some country clubs somewhere that’d enjoy a “Classical DJ.”

    • Foldable disco says:

      You are right if you want awesome chord progressions, harmonics etc. then Classic is your thing.
      But dance music is belly driven music, where you can loose yourself in a different way. It should pound all your week day worries away and get you tribal with a few other peeps on a dance floor.
      So in my opinion you can’t compare it with classical music, because both “genres” are made for different purposes.

  30. I mean.. I’m not gonna lie here, whether you like or dislike baroque classical music, it is factual that it had more complex arrangements and note progressions than anything today. (changing my stance on this to a more bullish one)

    • More complex is not necessarily better. “Too many notes” is the phrase that springs to mind. ;-)
      A cabinet maker friend of mine once mentioned that minimalist modern designs are in fact much harder to do in may ways as part of the reason for all the fancy detailing was to cover up poorer jointing. Plus as there was no fancy detailing to distract the eye, proportions have to be absolutely spot on.
      Philip Glass’s very minimalist work is also harder to play than people may imagine as it varies in different and more complex ways from that of other more ‘traditional’ music.

      Also at end of the day, very , very few people care how hard a work was to perform or say how difficult a photo was to take, all that matters is does the listener or viewer like the end product.

  31. There are some really good tracks and artists coming through right now, but you have to dig deep to find them. I’m finding the percentage of tracks I purchase or download versus ‘preview’ is getting less and less. Especially on the pools where the overall quality seems to be going down.

    My favorite era in music has been, and likely always will be the ~96-2000 – Speed Garage, UK 2-Step, etc. Thankfully the likes of Sunship, Mike Delinquent Project and others still bring out the odd old-school style track, even though it doesn’t seem to have the same character as the original skippy & happy mash of vocals and deep bass lines.

    I’m satisfied with newer music though; plenty to get a musical high from, plenty to mix, and although there seems more ugly music to weed through, there are still some real gems to be found!

  32. Tottaly agree with Imajez:
    “There’s always been crap music and people do tend to romanticise the music of their generation forgetting all the junk that is always around at same time as their favourite songs.
    But music consumption, the availability and production of music has changed dramatically in the last decade or so which has altered things, in ways that are actually different from how things used to work”

    And I would like to add: a lot has changed but it’s still all the same. Say before it was harder for new artists of any genre to be heard/contracted by a label and so on than now. Today, because of the plethora of music it’s still hard for them to be discovered and recognised out of the pile of bad/mediocre new releases. The difference? The tools to make music are more widely available, but you still, not only need to have studied and know music, but on top of that have the talent and inspiration to produce a decent song. And of course there will be influences by current artists, that is inevitable. but influence and copy is not the same but both happen in any decade from the fifties to now.

    I like the metaphore with the phoenix. Everything changes and deep inside it’s still the same. since the late fifties i would say because i have no idea about music before that.

    And as far as multitasking is conscerned i think that’s more of an age thing. someone mentioned that people do other things while listening to music. well, i do now myself but when i was younger i knew the exact lyrics to my favorite songs, the album, the track number in the album, all the members of the group, who their girlfriends/boyfriends were etc etc. Now i just know the artist/band and name of the song. but i was driving my sixteen year old cousin somewhere the other day and he was singing to some rap song that came on the radio, knew all the words by heart and that was not even his mother language and you know that rap songs are hard to understand, sing, let alone memorise. so go figure

  33. In my opinion new fresh and exciting music is waay harder to find today then it was 15 or 20 years mainly because the bigger record companies today push same ol same ol trendy stuff that pertains to the lowest common denominator instead of pushing acts that really innovate. This my friends is a business decision, and thats all it is, these record companies dont really believe in the “talent” they represent they believe in the dollar theyll make, so alot of copycat crappy artists big or small that chase trends are pushed to the top and being done in a an avalanche manner because they’ll make the money. Meanwhile worthwhile fresh and innovative artists have to fend for themselves pretty much like they always have, that is until the day when a bigger record company looking to be different ‘discovers them’ pushes them real hard to the masses and then said act becomes the latest trend. Its very cyclical. But new and exciting music is out there just under a pile of garbage now bigger than ever because of the internet. Also in my opinion 92-94 were the most exciting years for music lol AIC conquered and still conquers all!

  34. I don’t think it’s gotten worse. Yet, when something does get popular, things get worse for it. After Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, many hip-hop acts began riding the pro-black route. So much droppin’ science was out that it soon ran out favor. Then, after NWA, everybody went gansta. Even MC Hammer went gangsta. Recently, just when I finally started getting into dubstep, the trendy folks almost ruined for me by saying I wasn’t playing the good stuff. And what was the good dubstep? Skrillex. Good article, D-Jam. Some months back, I wrote a blog concerning folks and nostalgia. http://stonecrazydj.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/bullshit-happened-back-in-our-day-too/

  35. There is so much good music out there, if you don’t like new stuff, check out some old music there will be loads of amazing tracks you will have missed!

    It takes patience to find the good stuff though. After 3 years of trawling the likes of beatport and Juno etc my advice would be to learn what and who you like as your taste develops. Then tailor the options like MyBeatport towards these artists and labels. Don’t add every label you buy a tune from to your list as it will just throw up lots of crap. Watch out for the compilation labels who just hoover up loads of tracks from one genre they can clog your new releases.

    Get on soundcloud and mixcloud and listen to DJs that you like.

    Always remember as well, that your tastes are always changing, I love dance music, but at the end of the day it is repetitive so if you listen to the same stuff all the time you will get bored, except this is the case and just go with the flow, my favourite past time is searching the music :)

  36. Nicely written D-jam. About 6 years ago I found myself at a dead end as far as finding new music I liked. So I did a 180 and went back, 70s rock, 60s rock, jazz, all the way back to the delta blues. A world far bigger than I had experienced for a long time opened up to me. This year, getting back into DJing after a 10 year hiatus, and thanks to a lot of you guys, I’ve done that 180 degree turn again and am finding lots of new stuff that I find exciting. Sure I gotta dig through the crap, but we always have and it’s a lot more convenient doing it with a computer and a mouse than it was grabbing a stack of vinyl and plonking yourself down at the record store’s turntable to track through your picks to find the gold.

  37. I think you nailed it, there is a lot of good music out there it is just harder to find because you have to dig through so much more now days to find it. I am conflicted on this because it is amazing the quality productions and recordings that bedroom producers are able to create these days. With the good however always comes the bad. Now that it can be done from home the amount of people creating music has dramatically increased. Especially with the interest in music being elevated with games such as guitar hero and more. On top of it being easier to make music it is also becoming increasingly easier to distribute music with social media and music related websites. You no longer have to be well known or established to reach a somewhat large audience. Good music will always exist, whether or not we can find it is a different story.

  38. Luke James Taylor says:

    There’s plenty of great music out there and some of it very innovative -Flying Lotus, Floating Points and Joy Orbison to name a few- but in the past underground music filled massive dancefloors whereas now it has been marginalised; pushed to the boundaries in a way I have never seen before.

    Sure there is still an underground scene but it is kept alive by an aging and dwindling audience. Most of the next generation just want to hear Gangnam Style and David Guetta and most clubs are adapting to the new market.

    Underground music is relegated to small but trendy inner city venues, bars and weeknight outings and is supported mostly by over thirty-something hipsters and long in the tooth old ravers.

    In the past it was the underground which led the mainstream and fed the charts with it’s most exciting hits but today the mainstream is self sufficient; having dropped it’s previous conservatism it is quite happy to co-opt Gangsta swagger, porn star imagery and underground production techniques which kind of neutralises the influence of the underground.

    Most kids are more enamored with the shiny celebrities in the MTV shop window than they are by music as an act of rebellion or as a spiritual thing. When they can have a catchy pop song that utilizes a fat bass and an 808 whilst being reprasented by a celebrity who is surrounded by bikini clad models on a million dollar set why opt for music created by normal people in a bedroom somewhere in Detroit or London?

    Anyone for Gangnam Style? Unfortunately it’s the future.

  39. These Days ft. Kevin Knapp by Audiojack. Def says it all in the lyrics.

    Incidentally, it’s an awesome, MODERN little house number that kick ass.

    I’m just glad I forged my musical taste and standard of acceptance in the good old days (that means since Disco and House since I’m 42 now). But I agree that there’s loads of incredible, innovative and fresh music out there.

    Crapy, superficial horrible dance music exists since forever, nothing new here. We used to buy crap in vinyl too, thank God mp3s are way cheaper and easier to get!

  40. Which is why I don’t even listen to radio or watch TV anymore. Thank God for the Aux input in my car. Underground EDM forever.
    Luckily there are still quite a few decent underground producers and labels out there, my favorite being Anjunadeep and its head honcho James Grant :)

  41. Robert Wulfman says:

    There’s just more out there, both good and bad. Just because the bad is thrown at you doesn’t mean there’s less of the good. you just have to know where to look and be willing to search for it. Music is better than ever, you just have to go deeper than the latest youtube craze and whatever gets played at you on the radio. Half of the reason people like that stuff in the first place is because it’s all they hear and it’s easy to find. It’s like a choice between a full turkey dinner and a generic-brand bag of crisps. Turkey takes a while but you just have to open the bag of crisps before it’s ready to eat, even if it is bad for you and doesn’t really taste that good.

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