One of the most important things to remember about music is that embracing diversity I the best way to get far in it. That is to say – people who have a single and monolithic taste seem to never get as far in the business as those who embrace all types of music. To some extent this may be me showing my youth, given the millennial and Generation Z tendency towards being a ‘genre-less music fan’. However I think that we are shifting from something very different that enters your music when you make a point of embracing a diverse set of genres and it not only helps with your personal life and songwriting but also with your musical career. As I sit here in a plane on my way home from SXSW, a festival defined by its vast diversity of events I think it might be appropriate to sit down and figure out why this sense of diversity is so key, especially to the younger generation of fans who we are obviously always trying to capture.
It’s fairly obvious I think that most of the great artists throughout history are the ones who were able to borrow from a diverse array of influences in order to create an exciting body of work. This can range from everything from romantic composers obsession with folk songs to the way that many modern doom metal bands have embraced some form of throat singing. It’s obviously a bit of an easy cheat to success to say “Has X been combined with Y before?” where X is a musical genre and Y is anything from another musical genre, folk tradition or even ideology. The problem this approach tends to be that the person in question who has this idea is usually not as well versed in X or Y as they might like to think and thus ends up creating something inherently shitty, or worse, borderline mocking the Y value, making everyone seem terrible. It’s an easy route to go since this is (essentially) how new genres are created – but there is a reason sustainable new genres aren’t created every day.
Of course, the problems with the X meets Y approach are often fairly obvious so musicians, especially the ‘genre-less’ music fans instead wind up trying to throw everything into one band thus making themselves looking confused. They don’t have a clear brand, because even if you ARE legitimately invested in everything from Baudelaire to Jaya The Cat by way of skoliosexual literary criticism of Victorian novels, literally no one wants something that diverse or weird – at least musically. This is one of the big keys that most people don’t want to think about. Having some form of lyrical consistency is crucial. Even if you are investigating other topics within a certain lexicon, if you are playing music where lyrics are a big part of what is going on, much like with your music, bouncing around between diverse ideas just makes you seem foolish and unable to retain any sense of real focus.
These notions leave me admittedly concerned about the future of popular music because most music lovers under the age of 25 can’t help but to be genreless music fans. If you were born after 1993 or so you have basically had access to the internet your entire music listening life. Furthermore, you had more access to music through either streaming or, more realistically, torrents than anyone else in human history. So of course these people born after 1993 are going to have weird and diverse taste, there was simply so much for them to go through and digest. Hell, I had a what.cd account from the age of 15 or so. For the uninitiated what.cd was one of the most complete musical torrent archives ever assembled. As a 15 year old with a passion for the weird and willingness to dig in deep to various musical subcultures, I got to taste everything. Yes my interests were primarily focused on the world of heavy metal, but there was inevitably other digging that happened.
What this means for the future of music of course is that we run the risk of being victim to increasingly worthlessly diverse pursuits so granular that no one wants to dig into them and with no relevant subcultures for people to actually dig into. Say what you will about the world of music but I think it’s fairly obvious popular music for the last 500 years, or perhaps longer has been defined by subcultures, be they regional or genre focused. This means that the bands who are able to delicately bring in other elements into their music without seeming schlocky and simultaneously sticking to a clearly defined image are going to go a hell of a lot farther. People who can’t figure out how to bring in influences outside their subculture are going to stagnate, but simultaneously fans increasingly want something solid to latch on too. Look at a band like Code Orange, they fused hardcore with a variety of other ideas, including having members who also play in an indie rock band and have turned that into mainstream success.
At the end of the day predicting the future of music is always a risky process. That being said I think a lot of people feel like there is going to be a deep and inevitable connection with how the musical world shakes itself out and the fact that next generation of creators have had unprecedented access to music. While it’s hard to say exactly what a lot of people are going to want to connect too, it seems to me that being able to obsess over everything and then bring it with a clear and singular vision is going to interest a hell of a lot more people than a random hodgepodge of sounds that leaves you in a vague mess and unable to contribute anything meaningful to the overarching dialog that the musical world has cultivated for centuries.