Is rock music dead as a genre? Was its living phase the period from the 1950s to the 1990s?

David Stern, Director (Company)

Answered Thu

The best way to evaluate this is by looking at the audiences. When I started playing in 1968, we were young kids playing for young kids. There was excitement when a major artist like the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, etc. were about to release new music. We would get together in the basement of the one kid who had enough money to buy an album, and analyze the music for hours.

Today, even the most progressive bands are playing from an older audience. Alternative clubs are populated by 40 somethings who would never have entered a rock club in the 60s. Rock, today, is like jazz was in the 60s. There were brilliant musicians and passionate fans, but the last great outburst of creativity, bebop, was already passe’.

Let’s look at some data points:

The basic components of rock haven’t changed since the late 60s. I first started performing in 68, yet there is not a single piece of rock music published today that I could not play.

By contrast, there is no way a guitarist trained in 1918 could use the same style of playing in 1968. 

Rock is stagnate.

All the industry energy is in EDM, Pop and and Pop R & B. Kids don’t listen to rock, en masse. 34.8% of 18 -29 year olds claim rock as their preferred format. By contrast, 58.3% of 50 to 64 year olds claim rock as their preferred format.

Rock is old geezer music.

The performers of rock are aging. From the surviving Beatles, Who, Kinks, Stones, etc. the age of the musicians is mid 70s to early 80s. Punks are in the their late 60s.

Even the most recent important musicians, like Radiohead, are middle-aged. Jonny Greenwood is the youngest, at 47, and much of his creative energies, these days, go to film scores.

By contrast, most performers in the 60s and 70s were in their late teens to early 20s.

Because of the ease and fun of playing rock, millions of songs have been written. All of the chord changes that are pleasing to the ear have been used up and most of the emotional depth of the human soul have been expressed.

Groups that do have a brief period in the sun, these days, do so by mining the palette of the past. Can anybody give me a Greta Van Fleet?

My position is that the next “big thing” will come from left field, and we won’t recognize it at the time. Here are a few things that I have noticed:

It seems like that it has been awhile since the last big “youth culture” movement. Hipsterism was a late 20s, early 30s thing, not widely adapted and generally disdained. Hip Hop culture is the last mass movement, and it is long in the tooth and generally urban. The last major rock youth movement was Grunge, a mid 80s/early 90s phenomenon simultaneously with Goth. There was a minor and regional flowering of Emo in the early 2000s. 

So, we have probably gone 25 years without a major rock-based youth culture. We have gone 20 years without a noticeable subculture that was previously unrecognized before, of any kind.

The internet has caused a splintering of taste. The constraints of availability caused mass movements, in the past. Now, everybody can self-select their micro-movement.

So, yes, there are many good rock musicians playing interesting music, but the sociological factors turning rock into a vibrant movement - the war, counterculture, newness, lack of alternative choice, have changed.


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