My friends laugh when they see my Spotify playlist. While they play Post Malone, I play Eminem. While they play Kanye, I play Chris Brown. And while they listen to The Weekend, I listen to Lionel Richie and the wondrous plethora of African American musicians prior who made Abel Tesfaye’s career possible. It is quite evident from my musical tastes that I prefer old sounds to new sounds.
I remember the first IPod I ever received. It was back in 2006 and it was one of those black ones that could fit in your pocket. Using a dial to manipulate the screen which was the size of my palm. My dad’s ITunes playlist was loaded onto the device upon registration, and thus began my lifelong passion for music. After all this was 2006, Rascal Flatts, Nickelback, and The Fray dominated the airwaves. Yet while mainstream musical consumers were learning how life was like a highway and how Isaac Slade saved a life, I was listening to The Cars, The Beatles, Huey Lewis & The News, Prince, Joe Jackson, Triumph, UB40, The Outfield. I was falling in love with the sounds of decades passed and slipping away from where most kids were obtaining their music.
There were days when I would become so transfixed by these tunes that I would be late for elementary school. Not to mention when the IPod gave that warning that says out of power; that was doomsday.
The seed that had been planted, the one cultivating my love of musical expression, began within the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Those three decades set the ball rolling for what would eventually become a strong crutch and much needed outlet for myself. Quickly tying songs to the real world (I never forgot to blast Friday I’m In Love by The Cure on the sacred last day of school before the weekend), I was learning how this art form could be applied to the world around me. I learned the series of sounds which lead to notes which lead to pieces of artistic expression told stories. It was the idea of telling stories and finding my story through music that launched me much farther into this interest during my teenage years.
So that raises the question, is retro music better? Did growing up with old tunes make me view them with superiority? Or is it just my taste?
I did extensive research on this question. Unfortunately the vast majority of what comes up are internet forums and Reddit threads that lack the necessary substance to answer my question. That said, there is one article from Uproxx that I think raises the best point. In the ‘olden’ days, someone who wanted to make music had to either have the raw talent or the instrumental skills if they wanted to make it to the big leagues. Now all anyone has to do is log on to SoundCloud and they can acquire the right beats to make them a local rap legend.
This ‘watering-down’ of the music industry has caught my attention within the last year or so. Even pro-guitarist Ed Sheeran’s music went from ‘Photograph’ a highly instrumental song to ‘Shape of You’ a quick, techno-beat, pop song. This evolution of music from instrument to computer has disappointed me because all raw talent has blended with generic online artists. The line between true musical skill and the “wannabes” has been severed, so much that artists cannot be branded into those categories.
Not only has technology changed the way musicians get under the spotlight, but it has changed the way music is accessed. I have a medium-sized record collection which I still add to from time to time. The sound of Vinyl can never truly be replaced, but with the invention of Beats, a fresh, much more artificial sound is often preferred over the snap-crackle-pop of an lp.
This is perhaps my favorite aspect of the musical revolution. The people know what they want and style evolves with demand. The homepage of my Spotify app is typically filled with playlists bearing covers of Justin Bieber and James Arthur. These artists all have a technologically-crafted sound, which is what I found astounding: do people not actually need musicians to play instruments? Can I just whip up a beat on Garageband and set it to myself singing?
I do not hate modern music. I feel that is the reputation I get. Yet quite the contrary. I actually see talent in Ed Sheeran, I love Dave Grohl who to this day makes rocking tracks, and I think Kanye’s music is the top of the hip-hop hierarchy. There is nothing wrong with a techno-sound or a beat fresh off the computer, but that kind of music-writing doesn’t yield classics.
What I remember about ‘Tiny Dancer’ is the opening piano notes elegantly played by Elton John. Kurt Cobain’s opening guitar riffs serve as the perfect hook in ‘Come as You Are’. Not to mention Paul McCartney’s earth-shattering voice in ‘Hey Jude.’ While it is easy to get techno-beats stuck in your head, the impression is short and the memory of that song is shorter.
‘Magic!’ is one of the bands who broke away from the computer-dominated music world. Their hit song ‘Rude’ was released in 2013 and I fondly remember discovering it the summer of 2014, before high school. There is a real memory there; me sitting in my room, turning on the radio, and hearing the reggae-influenced Nasri Atweh get dissed by his fiance’s parents. The drumming and vocals are all on point and I think that’s what makes this kind of music great: emotion.
When you make tunes on the computer, the emotional component of a song can only range so far. Trying too hard to hit that sad note might turn your well-written ballad into a Crazy Frog song. That said, through the use of instruments and the right voice, you can illustrate any feeling so vividly, it might just take the listener away with you.