On the death of new music

Ted Gioia's Is Old Music Killing New Music? is wonderful. (And Ted Gioia is wonderful, and the newsletter is wonderful.) The best introduction to the piece is the introduction of the piece itself (it's just a click away!).

Its main explicandum (the "death" of new music) is a few facts: in 2021, we collectively listened to more old music and less new music than in 2020, not only in terms of share but in absolute terms.

Ted expertly analyzes the decline of new music. But I'm interested in his title question, which he doesn't really answer. Whatever is happening to new music, is it old music that's killing it?

I'm tempted by this line of reasoning:

  1. Music benefits a lot from being a focal experience (or at least from being really famous).
  2. We have fewer focal experiences than we used to. It's harder for art to get really famous.
  3. So you'd expect new music to get less popular.
  4. But old things' focality doesn't go away, and neither does the human desire to enjoy music that changes the world (or, at least, music that is A Big Thing).
  5. So new music gets a bit less popular, and old music steps in to fill the void.

Meanwhile, the difficulty of making a big cultural impact with music changes how it is supplied (here are some brief thoughts from Tyler Cowen on that subject).

There are, over time, fewer of us who lived through a certain kind of mass culture. And it can be gauche to say that what you really want in a bit of music is the feeling that many millions of other people have also been moved by it. But a lot of us do. One often hears about "fragmentation," algorithmic pigeonholing, and so on--generally, the division of mass culture into small shards. In analyzing the precise shapes of the shards, we can miss the simple fact that the former whole is gone.

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