Music – then and now

02007-04-09 | Internet, Music, Radio, Recording | 15 comments

Will comments:
I may be in the minority on this, but I haven’t heard a decent album since 1995-96. There might be a handful of bands/acts out there that produce an album that I can listen to end to end, but that is a rare breed. The Recording Industry shifted focus from making great music to making money. I don’t know when this happened or if it has been happening all along, but I do know 90% of the music produced today is garbage.

If you look through my CD cases the albums are 95% 1960-1995 and 5% 1995 to present. Look through your music collection and see if you find a void as well. I do not know the answer to this conundrum, but we may be living in a musical void in time.

So do I think it is the Recording Industry, yes. Is it because of downloads, partially. Is it because there is only one good song on an album these days, YES.

The music industry has changed a lot since the mid-nineties, that is true. Studios are dying, because people record on computers in their bedroom. Record companies no longer groom an act over years. Hell, most of the MTV stars have never stood on the stage of a small club. Music is a business now, in ways that we would have never imagined 20 years ago. I recently read an interesting article (in the NYT?) about Ahmed Ertegun and Atlantic Records and how the money was always less important than the music in those days… Well, the major record companies became large corporations in the nineties, with lots of shareholders that were clueless about music. Many cooks spoil the music. Many cooks means nobody is responsible.

More importantly, the medium through which we used to find out about music has changed even more: radio.
I completely disagree with Will’s statement that he hasn’t heard a decent album since 1995-96. Whenever a person makes a general statement like that I hear:
– I am stuck in a different era. I don’t like the present. Music/Art/Culture is a direct result of its time.
– I am stuck on a certain sound because that sound resonates with my personality. Could be what the musicians were expressing then, the lyrics of the song, the music itself, or could be something as simple as liking the old analog sound.
– I can’t find new music I might like, because there is so much music being produced and the old scouts are no longer around – the DJ who played wonderful new stuff on the radio, the record-store employee who always knew about a new band that had a great album.

There is great music being made now, but it may be harder to find the gems among the thousands of releases every week. With that onslaught of music we need excellent curators, who can point us to the good stuff. Somebody willing to listen to hundreds or thousands of releases and able to organize them into piles. You might like this and you might likes that. So far all software curators, and there are many out there, suck. I don’t think I have ever bought one of those suggestions!

Yes, it is true, the major labels have concentrated on pop and money, but that in turn gave rise to many new indie labels who putting out excellent music. Yes, radio has gone the way of the dinosaur, but there are many interesting internet-radio stations! There are new ways of finding out about music via the internet. If you care to look. Music is generally most important to people when they are between 13 and 28 years old (just guessing) – that’s when we look most actively for music/art we can identify with. I bet that many 18 year olds could play us music from their computer or iPod that we have never ever heard.

People over 28 years old are generally so consumed by their life, their job, career and family, that they will stick to the music they discovered before. For many, listening to the Beatles (or the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin or Zappa) is like remembering grandma’s apple pie.
I suggest, Will, that you haven’t looked and are not interested. There is nothing wrong with that. I understand that position. But I cannot agree with a statement such as this one:

I haven’t heard a decent album since 1995-96.

I could give you a long list of great records from the last 11 years.

Older posts regarding the curator: this one from 1999, and this one from 2004.

PS: …after a nice lunch at Kasasoba and more thinking on the subject I have to thank Will for making the comment. Our music-culture is changing rapidly and we all need to reflect on how it was, how it is, and how we want it to be. In fact, the subject deserves discussion.


  1. Jacqueline

    Now that was honesty…….! Amazing!


  2. Jacqueline

    oophs watch the condradiction …We all found you!

    Pretty cool sound , truly I don’t impress easy. Just Ask!


  3. laurie

    this is interesting… i just recently made comment to a friend that music played such a big part in my adolesence and then seemed to take a backseat once I settled into adult life. Now, with 50 approaching and feeling like I am in the midst of a second adolesence of some sort, I find myself looking for music again. The radio doesn’t offer it and I don’t have a desire to replay the past. I rely on chance “hearings” and recommendations i guess. I don’t expect to find “anthems” like we had when I was a teen – this second coming of age is diffferent. I know there is a lot of music to discover out there…

    (Ottmar, I was hoping to find a way to pass this on and then your post showed up – did you see this?)

  4. Will

    I will admit my first statement is a fallacy because I later go on to state:

    “but I do know 90% of the music produced today is garbage.”

    “If you look through my CD cases the albums are 95% 1960-1995 and 5% 1995 to present.”

    Maybe I am stuck in a by gone era that wasn’t even my era (I wasn’t around in the 60s) or maybe the music brings back nostalgia from youth. I don’t feel this is the case though. I like the art movement that is present today, hell I live in it. When I listened to broadcast radio (pre-sirius days) I pulled my hair out. I didn’t hear soul, I didn’t hear music. I heard screams, computer generated pop sounds, and cliche lyrics all made in the name of money not music. So what did I do, I dropped Broadcast radio (minus my local NPR station) and went to Sirius. This did open my eyes to a bigger venue of music. Now I have all the channels in the world to choose from and hear great new music.

    I don’t know if I am stuck on a certain sound. My music taste transcends pretty much all borders. If it has some soul, some real meaning behind it I will listen to it. I have albums ranging from Bach to NAS in my CD collection, so I don’t think I am stuck on sound so much as soul. Maybe I am being a little cliche with “soul”.

    Your third point probably hits the nail on the head. “Good” new music is hard for me to find. Most of my music comes by word of mouth. I am an outgoing and social person who likes to interact with the world and society. My main pipeline for music has always been other peoples recommendations. In fact the reason I listen to you is because I was invited to a concert at the House of Blues in 1997. I had never heard of Flamenco or Ottmar Liebert before hand, but because I will try all flavors of music I excitedly went. The Opium CD played in my player for months afterwards and my friends rushed out and bought it as well. So am I limiting myself when my main source is friendly recommendations, probably, but that is the way I like to discover new music. I can read all day long in magazines, online and newspapers but the real enjoyment is that I can get out and talk to my friends whom I care about and come from all walks of life and share our musical tastes together.

    As I was driving home from lunch I knew I was going to get lambasted for this. Oh well its all in good discussion.

  5. Will

    I just wanted to add a little bit more. I agree with that statement, maybe I was a little too general in my statement about there not being any decent albums. There are decent albums out such as yourself, Jon Gagan, Stephen Duros, Widespread Panic, Keb Mo, Robert Randolph and the Family, OAR, Moe, Tim Reynolds and some lesser known artists. The list as you said can go on and on.

    But you are in fact right, the main point is the recording industry has declined over the past 11 years or so. I guess I am just a bit jaded because I know what is good and what is bad, what should be produced and what shouldn’t and what should be promoted and what shouldn’t. But to nullify my last statement Art is in the eye of the beholder. I like Monet some like Picasso and still others like Warhol. So is the stuff being produced (Mainstream Music i.e. Gangster Rap, Brittany Spears, Hard Rock) Art to somebody? I believe so. Who is the decider of what is true Art?

    I don’t think this is the issue, the issue is that Art (music) isn’t being disseminated to the masses correctly or fairly. The recording industry is in a last gasp effort to grab all the money they can because they see the writing on the wall. With the avant-garde of technology and music, the recording industry will no longer be needed. You should be able attest to this. The problem will be dissemination. Whoever can invent a way to disseminate music fairly in the coming years via. internet, satellite radio, books or magazine will become a “savior” for the music industry.

  6. Felipe Romero

    A note about the curator:
    I don’t know if you have checked Pandora Radio. It is a very interesting model of internet radio.
    You can create your own radio stations giving one seed, for instance a song. The station is created on basis of some criteria (mood, tempo, recording style, etc) and it plays music related to your seed.
    I think the have people hired exclusively to relate musical content. It is not 100% precise, but it helps to find new music. I’ve created a station with OL and it plays some OL songs, new flamenco songs, some new age.

  7. ottmar

    Felipe – Thanks for the tip. I tried Pandora Radio last year sometime and did not enjoy it.

  8. Will

    Someone noteworthy would be your fellow Santa Fe resident Tim Reynolds. He has never dipped his feet into the Recording Industry pool. He is a great guitarist and doesn’t have to answer to the Record Execs. I am glad he became widely known after playing with DMB, but I wish there was an easier way for him to “get out there” and many artist like him.

  9. Rob O.

    In many cases, it seems like those who say that they haven’t anything decent in a decade or two are confounded by the bulk of the mindless pop junk that assails you from every angle -and- find easy solace in defaulting back to older, more familiar music. That’s not necessarily bad, but it is a shame because thoughtful and well-crafted music is being made now, but it can take a little persistence to unearth it.

    For me, the hunt and discovery new (and just new-to-me) music is half the fun… I also love it when I have to opportunity to introduce others to some newly found nugget.

    Even within genres of music that I typically disregard outright (hip-hop, anyone?) I sometimes find myself discovering worthwhile artists in and among the junk… So maybe part of the challenge is trying to have an open mind – at least occasionally.

  10. marijose

    Interesting post! I have noticed that those of us well over 28 tend to either stumble on good music by accident or by asking one another, like we trade recipes or leads for companies to do home repairs. I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone talk about great music they heard on commercial FM radio. A few weeks ago the salesperson who helped me choose a new bicycle told me about this neat website: .

  11. Jacqueline

    Whoa Marijose

    Thanxs !

  12. O.

    1995 to Present Day is the strongest time for most strong musicians… any other period in history… you’re talking about an entire generation of music, listen to anyone solid from these times: Paul Simon, Tool, Tom Waits, Rokia Traore’, Ottmar Liebert, Blind Melon, Antibalas, Al DeMeola, John McLaughlin, Keller Williams, String Cheese Incident, Kid Beyond, Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, Sound Tribe Sector Nine, Granola Funk, Yonder Mountain, Bjork, Charles Lloyd, Zakir Hussain, Eric Harland, Egberto Gismonti, Shakti ….. the names go on and on ….. These Days We are living are the best days for recorded & live music that have existed, sit back, open your ears and mind, you will hear

  13. O.

    Oh sorry I forgot (how could I..??!!) Dave Mathews, Tim Reynolds, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Les Claypool, and all the thousands of others that are out there that are just now in the begining of their prime.


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