By Dave Austin, “Music Professor”
Let me state up front that trying to predict the future of pop music is probably a dumb thing to do, but on the other hand, it is quite entertaining to speculate about it. We can consider current styles and trends, and from these, try to extrapolate the directions they will take.
However, there’s just no way to factor in the unforeseen things that can – and do – happen. I can say with a high degree of certainty that today’s pop music is going through a major period of transition, and this transition is happening at break-neck speed.
The Ways that Music has Changed
Music has dramatically changed in recent years in ways that some say will affect how it will function in the future.
First and foremost, the music industry has lost money to an unbelievable extent. It’s not down for the count but it’s safe to say it has been knocked to its knees. And, it’s not just record labels that are hard-up. Artists are also feeling the financial pinch. Of course, there are notable exceptions such as Mumford and Sons, one of the hottest bands in the world these days. Early on, they expended a lot of time and sweat convincing labels that the world was ready to listen to banjos and hoedowns. However, subtracting such highly successful acts from our equation, we see an industry of artists, promoters, producers and companies who simply cannot afford to make wrong choices. As a downside, this opens music up to forces beyond its control.
While some have declared physical formats (CDs) dead, radio still holds the predominate influence in popular music. There are some stations in the United States that have miniscule playlists of only15 to 20 songs which they rotate over and over, ad nauseam. With such format categories (genres) as Hot Adult Contemporary, Top 40, Urban, Hot Country, Alternative, etc., each has strict rules about which songs fall into which categories, making it highly improbable that an up-and-coming act is going to get a easy shot at airplay.
An increasingly desperate music industry has granted more influence to radio and TV, resulting in pop music that, although it doesn’t sound the same, it is. Hot acts are packaged and stylized to make them fit into radio’s formats. The result is that stars who once held the promise of being exciting and fresh are quickly turned into cookie-cutter copies. Originality and creativity has suffered as songs are being turned out by committees and focus groups.
Sexual content has always been part of the way pop music has been marketed (“Afternoon Delight,” by Starland Vocal Band to “Rihanna’s “What’s My Name?,” Flo-Rida’s “Whistle,” etc.) However, the type of sex currently being sold has changed, becoming raunchier and more explicit as artists, writers and producers push for “shock value” in lyrics, ignoring the warnings of experts of future “serious consequences.” Rather than the slow-seduction disco hits of Donna Summer, today’s music sex has become more depraved and in-your-face. In a recent study, 92% of the songs from the Billboard Top Ten (Country, Pop and R&B), contained explicit sexual references.
Ah…but there’s the music on the internet, you say! True, the internet has come to play a strong part in the way bands break out, but so far, it hasn’t demonstrated the ability to make them into stars.
TV, by contrast, does have the power to launch acts into the mainstream. Getting a spot on the X Factor can cause radio to glom onto an artist or song, thus tossing a lifeline to the music industry. But, in reality, the popularity of such shows as the X Factor and American Idol are diminishing, and according to industry insiders, the focus of movers and shakers such as Simon Fuller’s entertainment giant, XIX Entertainment, will expand, not only into other musical ventures, but also into dance, fashion and even sports.
Experts predict this shift away from music to other entertainment forms will continue with, for example, a scripted reality TV show about DJs waiting in the wings.
Yes, I have some, too. So, for what they’re worth, here are a couple of mine:
The hip-hop influence is beginning to wane and is being replaced by Euro-style dance music.
Music has begun to matter less to today’s youth as they’re finding other ways to express and define themselves.
Current music forms such as mashups are a new way of expressing a new culture.
The “niche-ification” or pigeonholing of bands and artist will result in increasing difficulty in their achieving sustained or long-term existence.
I know all this sounds somewhat esoteric, but isn’t predicting the future always so? In any case, you, me or anyone associated with the music business can make predictions about where the future of popular music will take us, and we would all be right – or wrong.