The essence of modern rock
The funny thing about rock music is that trying to define it is not much different from trying to freeze lightning.
As awesome as that concept may seem like, it’s also impossible. You have to understand that modern rock music cannot be fully explained or defined precisely because the rock music industry and the music industry, in general, have changed fundamentally thanks to the rise of the internet.
Prior to the internet, it was fairly easy to control the music industry because it was media-based. There were only so many vinyl records that need to be produced. Those vinyl records needed to be stored, they had to be warehoused, they could be tracked, so on and so forth. Their physical nature lent itself to an industry that could be quantified and ultimately controlled by a relatively few individuals.
That was the name of the game back then. Believe me, there were lots of worthy and highly talented modern rock acts that never saw the light of day or never achieved the kind of success they deserved because they did not quite fit the mold. Somehow, someway, they did not get the eye of the movers and shakers, so they did not go anywhere.
I raised this reality because this speaks to a tremendous amount of creative control the music industry had. There were only a few handful recording studios and record labels that pretty much ran the show. When you have that concentration of creative power in the hands of so few individuals, this translates to a tremendous amount of input on how music evolves.
Well, the essence of modern rock has changed dramatically because the old control mechanisms are no longer in place. It’s highly decentralized much like the internet. What if I told you that if there was a nuclear war, the internet would still be around? I know that sounds crazy, but that is exactly why the internet was invented in the first place.
In the 1960s, the US Defense Department was scared about the possibility of Russian nuclear bombs destroying the data infrastructure of the United States. They had to come up with a new technology that would reroute itself on an automatic basis to existing service found throughout the world. This is the bedrock technology that has made the internet a reality.
The same kind of architecture applies to modern music, but by architecture, I am, of course, talking about cultural influence and creative input. Gone are the days when all creative input and editorial control were centralized in the hands of a few people. They no longer had this concentrated artistic power and oversight.
Instead, it is distributed across many different scenes. It’s located across many different regions. And there is no surprise that it is really hard to achieve some sort of breakout status because of the decentralized nature of creative production, as well as creative authority in the United States and elsewhere.
This is the essence of modern rock. Great rock acts have to overcome this reality. In other words, you can’t just be a regional band. You may sound great in Michigan but if you sound like crap in California, you probably won’t go far. So this is the essence of modern rock – how do you create universality when music is basically fragmented and localized?