Rock music is dead and the sky is falling!

Rock music is dead and the sky is falling!

I’ve been reading a lot about how rock is dead. I’ve read at least two high-profile music bloggers who seem to have decided they need to trumpet the news in every other blog post they write. And for good measure, some of these would also have us lament the demise of the guitar in music. Well, yeah, that makes sense. Since rock is dying, of course the guitar is dying. Or, is it that the guitar is dying, so it just follows that rock is dying? Either way, it’s a tragedy.

There’s only one problem: I don’t buy it. Rock is dying? Really? What a silly thing to say. OK, there’s no denying that things have changed. We’re not seeing new huge stadium rock stars like we had starting in the ’60s and then ruling pop music through at least the ’90s. What will we do without our icons? No new Beatles, no more Led Zepplins, no more Elton Johns, no more Springsteens, no more U2s. How can music survive? How can we survive?

Crowd at a rock concert
Are the days of big stadium shows over forever?

Well, you know what I say? I say, thank God for the change. Sure, I love all those iconic bands just as much as anyone does, but the truth is, in that paradigm, as a musician or a band, you either made it, or you didn’t. If you were one of the chosen, and you made it, you could very well rise to the status of music god. You could be all over the radio. You could pack the huge stadiums. You could sell millions of records. And if you didn’t get totally screwed by some huckster manager (see the truly tragic story of Badfinger) or the record company itself, you might even get rich.

But the rest? Oh, go ahead and bang around the local clubs. Buy a broken-down second-hand Chevy panel van and tramp your sorry asses across the country playing for seven chronic drunks and the bouncer at some hell-hole dive in the middle of the side of town where you certainly don’t belong. Then collect your $32 share of the door take, spend three quarters of it to fill your leaky gas tank, and buy a bag of pretzels to see you down the road to the next dive.

Now, I’m not really even knocking that, because if nothing else, it’s an adventure. You and three of your band mates heading down the road livin’ the dream. But most bands could only do that for so long before everyone decides they’ve aged out of the pursuit and need to settle down to a “real” job. The chances of ever breaking through to that big-time dream? Slim to none is a cliché for a reason.

So, is it a bad thing that the days of the super groups are over? Or if not over, at least on the wane. I can’t see it as a bad thing over all. The new reality, it seems to me, represents a real trend toward democratization of the music business. Some of the hugely disproportionate attention, success, and money that were once heaped upon the very top echelon of the industry seems to have begun to spread more evenly so that now the little guys have a chance of getting some too. With the Internet comes a new business model for music and musicians. Now virtually everyone can get there music out there.

While this almost certainly means that an artist’s chances of making it to the really big time are just as–if not even more–slim than ever, it also means that the chances of achieving a more modest, yet potentially financially sustaining level of success have increased. Money is being spread around at the “everyday musician” level these days like it never was during the days of the super mega successful. You may never pack a football stadium with screaming fans, but more and more musicians can gain a loyal following that will download their music, buy their merch, support them on Patreon and other crowd funding sites, and just be there to take them to a satisfying level of modest success that makes being a musician a viable middle-class career option. How’s that bad again?

And about those flagging guitar sales. Somebody on the radio was whining on the other day about how Hip Hop is king now, and turntable sales overtook guitar sales recently. I think it’s completely cool that Hip Hop is getting its day. There are really interesting things happening in that genre. I’m not going to blame Hip Hop for killing rock or the guitar. Could it be that guitar manufacturers are killing the guitar themselves? I’ve been astonished for years at the number of guitars being manufactured. Just attend something like the NAMM show once and you’ll be flabbergasted at the number of guitar manufacturers in attendance and the sheer volume of guitars being built every single year upon year. According to an industry census of the U.S. guitar market, between 1.6 million to 2.5 million guitars were sold each year from 2005 to 2013. Each year! And that’s only new guitars.

Now, that’s worked out pretty well for guitar players in the short term because as competition has gotten tougher, and the slice of each company’s pie has gotten harder to earn, quality at the low end has gotten astonishingly good. You hardly have to pay anything for a decent first guitar these days. So between that and the years and years of new guitars being built and sold into the marketplace, it’s no wonder to me that the traditional market leaders find themselves having trouble keeping the sales volumes up. Check Craigs List any day in any town. There are tons of used guitars for sale. Maybe the guitar isn’t dying just because sales of new guitars are slacking. Maybe there are just enough instruments in the market already. I don’t know. But if so, that’s not the buyer’s fault, and it certainly doesn’t mean people are no longer playing guitars.

Well, what do I know? I’m no industry insider. I only have my own impressions and opinions, but how can anyone say that rock is dying? There’s amazing new rock music all over the Internet. Check Spotify, Pandora, CD Baby, iTunes, YouTube, and a million individual web sites. There’s new rock music everywhere you look. Along with new Hip Hop, new folk, new country, new blues, new…everything. So, yeah, one era of rock may be over, but it’s an evolution. An exciting new era would seem to have begun.

Don’t panic; the sky’s not really falling. Rockabilly died to. Except that it didn’t. The Blues have been dead for a long time. Except that they’re not. The world is only changing. You can look at that as a bad thing, or you can open your eyes and explore whatever wonders await us on the other side of change. I know which way I’m going to go. What about you?

Of course…I could be wrong…

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