When extrapolated, the idea of the end of music seems extreme, or perhaps even impossible. But we’re seeing it even now on much smaller scales.
In keeping with geographical metaphors, post-rock was a forest in the late 90s/early 2000s, and it wasn’t just any forest. It was a rain forest, a pine forest, a rural woodland. The music encapsulated the feel of all seasons – the beauty of winter, with its snowy treetops; the beauty of autumn, leaves swirling to the ground; the heat and desire of summer. And beyond that, bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor were able to capture real emotion as well – desperation and fear, love and hope – within thematic albums that told stories without words. These bands could seemingly put whatever they wanted into their music and make it work, or maybe it was us listeners that made it work, accentuating the music with our own emotions. Either way, post-rock became one of the first genres that was brought into the spotlight by the Internet generation, through blogs and indie review sites. It was the next big thing, the next wellspring of musical creativity… until a few years later when it dried up.
Post-rock is a disconcerting example of how we are bringing about the end of music by our fickleness as an audience in this modern Internet age. Our attention spans are wide when it comes to the amount of music we listen to, but short when it comes to individual albums. Instead of focusing all our attention on one single album, our brains are always moving on to the next album, the next band, before we can even register the music that is hitting our ears even now. As post-rock hit its peak, listeners scrambled to download every album tagged as “instrumental” that they could, overloading their brains to the point that every post-rock album started to sound the same, a problem that is nigh insurmountable for a relatively young genre. It didn’t help that the first of the post-rock bands (Godspeed, Mono, Do Make Say Think) created such an amazing sound that it seemed doubtful they could ever be topped.
And so they couldn’t, at least not in the eyes of Internet critics. A few years ago, phrases like “brings nothing new to the table” and “recycles the sound of other bands” started to pop up in every post-rock review. Thus, the new generation of post-rock bands tried to break the mold, but still it wasn’t good enough. Even now in 2010, it is not uncommon to see those same phrases in post-rock reviews. And if a post-rock band does try to do something different, they go overboard, incorporating so many other genres that they can’t even be classified as post-rock anymore, effectively doing their part in killing the genre. Post-rock may seem like a bad example because of the relatively limited parameters that were created for it, but that’s exactly why it’s the perfect example. The first bands within the genre created incredibly deep and complex musical statements, but the next generation very quickly came to rely on pretty sounds and predictably loud climaxes to give hungry listeners a quick fix. For our part, we ate it up, gobbling every trite instrumental song thrown our way. It became a symbiotic relationship: they fed us unoriginal music, jading us toward their genre; we ate it up anyway, killing the genre.
Rock music has been around for more than fifty years now. It is a staple of the Western world, an essential part of our culture. Now, what if rock had been created in 2005? Would its history have been like post-rock’s? The Internet would have been flooded with rock bands, all trying to get their name out there as quickly as possible, ripping each other off. We, as the listeners, would have tried to discover as many bands as we could in as little time as possible. And some of us would write reviews about the albums, starting a trend of negative opinions early on, probably declaring rock “stagnant” within a few years of its birth. It would have festered and, finally, died.
Music has been so readily available to us for so long that younger teenagers won’t ever be able to remember a time where it was common to buy a CD on the release date. Like the Strangler Fig that envelopes a thriving tree and kills it from the inside out, so the Internet is killing music. Consider this: no matter how much you love music, no matter how committed you are to “making it” as a musician, there is always the hope of monetary gain. People still start bands now because the recording industry is still alive. But as it loses millions of dollars in revenue, it will eventually die. You will clap and cheer at the death of a greedy beast until you realize that no one is going to pay for your music anymore. There is no endgame, no chance to sign your name on that elusive record deal. Playing for the love of the music will be all that’s left. It’s a romantic notion, but an impractical one that will not fuel a desire to make new music.
It is long overdue. We need the death of music. We need it so that we can adequately process the monumental body of work that bands have been leaving us. We need a break. We have proven that we are not strong enough to resist the next download, the next album leak. We whine when we are without the Internet, clamoring for new music and complaining that all we have to listen to is what we already have. The inevitable death of the recording industry will not lead to a people’s revolution in which playing for the love of playing becomes the new focus, as much as we’d like to think so. In the end, it is all about money, and when the money’s gone, so the music will go too.
And perhaps fifty, one-hundred, five-hundred years after the death of music, humanity will emerge refreshed and some young kid will be inspired to pick up a drumstick and bang on something. His friend will grab an acoustic guitar, dusty and antiquated. A girl will timidly place her hands on a violin, slowly moving the bow across the strings. Only then can music become once again what it started out as: ours.