The State of Rock and Roll in the Music Industry

I can't really remember a time without rock and roll. Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, I was part of the alternative era, long after rock and roll was born, and when some would claim, it began to die. That seems to be a general consensus with many of the people I talk to about music, or who's music related articles I read... that Rock and Roll is either dead or dying.

Maybe there was a time when I would have agreed with that statement. I've written for the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll about how I dislike some of the marketing practices of the current music industry, how I've felt alienated by modern rock, the changing music industry and a dozen other topics related to why I like the music I like and why much of that music is not what is in the mainstream. Through all those writings and my time owning the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll, I've actually come to oppose the idea of rock and roll as dying or dead.

Back a few years ago I started getting very engrossed with the local indie scene. That ended rather quickly with a conclusion that there was a reason many of those bands were still "indie"... mainly that their music was simply a rehash of what was already out there or had been done before. That was a bit of a harsh and naive view, but it was my conclusion at the time. I think it came out of the idea that good music required being "discovered" and that bands that were still independent were so not because they had yet to be discovered, but because they simply weren't good enough. Looking back at that viewpoint, I think it's a very limiting one. Maybe it was representative of the bands I was seeing at the time, but definitely not of the whole. It was a view that did fuel my thoughts about rock and roll being dead though.

Even when I started this site I thought that it would be primarily focused on classic rock and artists long past... and it has been at least slightly over half focused on that. .. and that supporting independent artists would be limited to the few who I had found over the years that actually impressed me...again because I was thinking rock was dead.

Now I'm doing something back then I probably never thought I'd do... I'm directly advocating that people to follow the indie movement and the believe that rock is still alive and always will be.

I'll concede that the heyday of rock and roll is probably passed. I think many rock and roll enthusiasts would agree that the classic rock period, is classic for a reason, mainly that those bands are a pinnacle for the genre. I'd agree with that statement, but I don't think that just because classic rock is a pinnacle means that it is/will be the only one and that everything has been downhill since. Instead, when I make a statement about the heyday of rock and roll being passed, I'm referring to it's time in the mainstream.

I think it is important to look at the mainstream. I see the mainstream almost like a lens that magnifies whatever genre it is focused on (I think I've mentioned this before?). Many different musical genres take a turn under the lens with each being magnified to some degree into a then current musical fad. Just because a genre is no longer under the magnification of mainstream support does not mean that that genre has died off or that great music is no longer being made by those musicians. The mainstream lens is independent of the high and low peaks of any specific genre. Take a look at jazz. Jazz musicians have been making amazing music for far longer than rock and roll has been around, but their day in the mainstream spotlight passed a long time ago. The genre has still undergone ups and downs, peaks and lows, but still remains to be part of the music scene (and is thriving) even now. Jazz never died and will never die out completely even if it doesn't return to the mainstream. I see rock and roll like that. It's day as the major spotlight in the mainstream might have passed, but it will continue to thrive forever. The music itself is still going through the same highs and lows it always has, just more outside the view of the mainstream. The difference is primarily that even in it's heyday, jazz stars were not mobbed on the street and playing to crowds of 100,000. That type of popularity didn't come around until Elvis, Beatlemania and the classic rock era. This distinction is important because for rock and roll at least, it seems to magnify rock music shifting beyond the mainstream lens and make the situation seem worse than it is because we're so used to rock star icons being around.

Back in the classic rock era, and especially in the 80s, rock stars were the rage... As were huge inflated egos, personae and off stage antics. Rock stars were separate from the people. Rock stars were not like us, but reckless carefree almost god-like individuals who were not fit for society (maybe not god-like). That is what I think has died, not rock and roll, but the rock star. I don't think it wasn't Kurt Cobain who killed it, nor do I think it's necessarily a bad thing.

Us rock and roll fans are conditioned to rock star personae and icons being around. With the indie movement though, that image can be struck down entirely, because through the Internet, literally anyone can create music and distribute it to anyone who wants to hear it. I could be part of your favorite band... or you could be part of mine... or my neighbor could be part of both of ours and could be recording in his basement with his band right now. That is a shift in how those who play rock and roll are viewed. Instead of rock stars, they're literally regular people like everyone else, (technically all rock stars were/are regular people it's only our perception of them that makes it different). I see this as a good thing because it allows a far wider range of music to get to the people, but also gives the artists more flexibility and makes it slightly easier for them to get recognition.

Part of me will miss the huge rock star personae as part of the genre. I've always been more about the music than anything else so I think I'll get over it, but I do think this loss of the rock star image, good or bad, magnifies the fact that rock and roll is moving away from the mainstream. All the rock stars have ridden into the proverbial sunset and no new ones are riding up to take their place. That doesn't mean necessarily mean that great new rock and roll isn't being made in the indie movement, or in the small club scene. It may look that way, I even used to think that was the case, but I've rediscovered the indie movement and I've got to say, I've heard some amazing bands. That's definitely proof in my mind that rock and roll is still alive and well.

It's also interesting to add to this discussion that soon I believe the indie movement and the state of the mainstream music scene will shatter the "mainstream lens" and popular indie artists will be far more the norm than the exception. This is a good thing as well in my mind because it is a better arrangement for the artists and whatever genre is the current fad doesn't get too much preferential treatment. A possible downside I think is that it means the massive rock star icon image is dead for good. Without the support of the mainstream, those types of personae can't exist on such a scale and so rock would have to come back as the next fad for those icons to return. If the mainstream disintegrates though, then all genres are equal and no icons of any genre rise to that sort of celebrity.

So, what does all this lead up to? Why did I write this lengthy rant about rock and roll and do all this analysis?

Part of it is to explain why I've returned to become such a supporter of independent rock... even after moving away from it initially a few years ago. Another part is to try and convince people that rock and roll is not really dead and/or dying. It may look bad what with all the major rock bands as part of the classic rock generation, only a brief few coming up to fill those shoes and many current mainstream rock bands being more of a joke, but rock and roll will never die. Just like jazz, blues, barbershop, baroque, country and every other genre that has had it's time highlighted in the mainstream spotlight and isn't necessarily there anymore. It will always exist through amazing artists and that there are amazing artists making great rock and roll right now.

AND when the mainstream eventually gives way, all genres will be equal and people can choose whatever music speaks to them.

I probably could have said all of this a bit more concisely, but I felt I should at least attempt to explain a little of my thought process behind this rant. Hopefully it has not turned out completely incoherent.

Of course this is only one perspective and do to the fact that it was rather "rant-like", I'm not going to claim that this is 100% accurate, but it is one way to look at it. For example, you could just as easily argue that the fact that rock and roll is out of the mainstream does mean it is dead in some respects and for a large portion of the population. For the time being we'll leave all those other perspectives out there for debate... I've done enough ranting for one day.


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