By Adam Waldman
The technological advancements that have taken place in recent years have shortened our collective attention spans. From the moment that we wake up until the moment that we go to sleep, we are inundated with too many choices and too little time. Thanks to modern technology, we can literally fill every second of our days with various forms of entertainment. For all of the good that technology has brought into our lives, one of the downsides is the inability to make deep connections with music. At least that is the case for me.
One of the best places that I’ve found to connect with music is driving alone in the car. It has become the only time that there are no other distractions. However, satellite radio technology has also made things challenging. It used to be that there were a handful of radio stations in any given area (if you were lucky) that played rock music. With satellite radio, I can easily scan through a number of stations looking for a song that I want to hear. And since it’s commercial-free, it’s a pretty safe bet that I’ll find something to suit my mood.
So, what spurred this epiphany that modern technology has destroyed the shelf life of rock music?
Riding alone in the car yesterday, a song came on satellite radio that I really like. In fact, it was featured in the upper echelon of the Top 100 Hard Rock Songs of 2017. Still, I instantly clicked away to hear what was on the other stations that I regularly listen to. I eventually settled on a song that I’ve literally heard several hundred times before from a band that has been around for my entire life. However, that is not why I chose to listen to the song again.
I’ll admit that I have a deeper connection with the older band than the newer one, but it’s more about the song than the artist. Newer songs from all artists tend to illicit the same superficial response, which brings me back to the diminishing shelf life of all music that is released in the current climate.
For example, there is a band that recently released a song that I feel is as good as the music from their heyday, and better than much of what they have released in recent years. It doesn’t matter. I know full well that the song will only hold my attention for a limited period of time. A few months from now (or sooner), if you give me the choice between hearing a song from the same band that I’ve heard countless times or their newer release, I’ll go with the classic nearly every time. Ironically, as I was typing the last sentence, the aforementioned band came on the radio with a song that is 40 years old. I never even thought about changing the station because I feel a connection to the song.
While it’s natural for nostalgia to make us appreciate the music that shaped our youth, there are other factors at play for the lack of connection to new songs. The music that came before the technological revolution had to overcome barriers that new music simply doesn’t have to.
Home recording studios and a direct link to fans through social media have broken down some of the most difficult barriers to entry for new music. This is not to say that it’s easier now. It definitely is not. There is so much quality music and only so much time in the day to listen to it.
Because streaming has turned music into a commodity, the listener no longer has any skin in the game. During the heyday of rock, there were far fewer choices, a more consolidated fan base, and an audience that had an appreciation for full albums that doesn’t exist today. For better or worse, we are living in a song-driven society. I used to think that rock was different, but the commoditization of music knows no genres.
Even when album prices were less than ten dollars, if you spent your hard-earned money on a purchase, you made sure to get the most bang for your buck. Songs used to be a way to discover new artists and albums. These days, the song tends to be the destination, not the journey.
Need further proof? If you asked me to put together my favorite songs from each year of the ‘70s and ‘80s, every song would have a deep connection in one way or another. That’s not the case today. Hard Rock Daddy started releasing the top hard rock songs of each year in 2013. Each of the songs featured captured a moment in time, but most don’t have staying power (from old and new bands alike). In fact, I’m sure that there are songs from past years that I couldn’t even identify right now if they came on the radio. It’s not that the songs sound dated, or that they lost their appeal, they just didn’t make a deep connection.
The rock music that came out before modern technology is like a tattoo that is with you forever. Music these days is more akin to a henna tattoo that will wash off in the not-too-distant future.
Although streaming is a significant factor in the destruction of the shelf life of new rock music, it is certainly not the only cause. We live in a world that is addicted to smartphones. I’m as guilty as everyone of “multi-tasking” when listening to music. It’s often on in the background, but I can’t remember the last time that I just sat and listened to an entire album without doing something else at the same time. I used to…quite often, I might add.
I know that I’m dating myself now, but I remember a time when we only had a handful of channels on television. Not to shock younger readers, but I also remember getting off the couch to change those channels. There were no remote controls! Now, we literally have hundreds of channels on cable, Netflix, and other streaming services, but often times still can’t find something to watch. When we do find something to our liking, we binge watch it in the same manner that bookworms devour a good book. Of course, many of us “watch” shows with smartphones glued to our hands, so we don’t give our full attention to that form of entertainment either.
The sad truth is that we’re so distracted these days by a multitude of choices vying for our attention that we don’t take the time to make deep, meaningful connections with music. I listen to music constantly, and I feel this way, so I can only imagine how others feel who listen more casually.
If this trend is here to stay (and I suspect that it is), you have to wonder how long it will be before artists start releasing songs on a regular basis instead of full albums.
What are your thoughts?