Recently, a friend’s Facebook comment struck a chord in me. He was lamenting the lack of credible standard-bearers in music today. I understand this feeling, but where does it come from?
There’s a glut of music out there at our fingertips. Many think this is a positive thing. I disagree.
Following the law of supply and demand, overabundance diminishes the value of any one piece of music. But overabundance also affects us psychologically, because it sends the message to not be critical or discerning.
As long as virtual space is unlimited, we will try to fill it. The more content there is, the harder it is to distinguish the good stuff from the drivel. And the more everything is offered all the time, the more effort it takes to keep up with it all. You must be more critical, which takes time, which leaves less time for any one piece to get under your skin. This creates pressure for music to instantly appeal to rather than challenge listeners. It was inevitable that the bar dropped—option fatigue leads to people accepting lower quality and mistaking critical thinking for negativity.
Critical analysis indicates you care. It should match the intensity with which we care about our internal worlds. What does it say about our existence if everything is all good all the time? To me, dogmatic positivity is dismissive, screams of complacency. It is the death of all things precious. There need to be opposing forces at work—to be challenged is to be elevated. This is what great ideas are born of.
I can’t love too many things at once. I can’t get excited about a new band each week. For me, loving a piece of music takes time. It’s an organic process of infiltrating my psyche; I need to feel the artist’s intention—which is almost more important to me than the musical outcome. I’m skeptical of the idea that anyone can “love” dozens of bands a year. The only way I can imagine this happening for me is if I wasn’t affected by music so much.
As the Internet challenges our ability to be critical, it simultaneously challenges our ability to be creative. This might be the scariest—and least understood—danger of overabundance.
At one time we had to have our own mental backdrops. We didn’t default to looking at a computer screen whenever we were bored or empty. We looked at our surroundings—faces, nature. We looked at skylines and horizons. We reflected. We created imagery and stories in our minds which made us seek out art that matched the context to our individual lives.
Now we all look to the same collective context—a computer screen! The homogenous Facebook page, with its uniform, artificial boundaries. How can it not lower the bar, numbing us a bit more each day and fooling us into thinking we’ve engaged the world? We’re subconsciously allowing this online world to be our backdrop, to act as our witness—this bland, grey/blue backdrop we interpret as our real lives, changing us neurologically whether we realize it or not. It scares me to think that, for some, memories and dreams might be in Facebook format. I always feel like I’ve lost something essential to my core being when I spend more then a few minutes trolling Facebook.
It should come as no surprise that the music seeping in is, in many cases, as uninspired as this new “scenery” we accept—as if it’s there to subconsciously match it, to mimic it on some level. Now music is as infinite as the Internet and is treated as such, as a soundtrack for the screen. It fills the same void—the endless space that the Internet provides and the endless space inside people looking to love things that they don’t really care about.
There’s some amazing music out there, but on average, I think we’re worse off than ever. Here’s what I told my buddy on Facebook (and yes, I recognize the irony):
“DON’T look for these things if you don’t need them in your life (and most don’t need them on this constant level). Don’t succumb to the notion that music needs to come to you on an hourly, weekly, or daily basis, fed to you in this frenzied way, that every stone needs to be upturned, and that you need to love it all and be inspired by it all just because it’s out there. It’s mostly crap being shoved down your throat. Don’t let this new paradigm make you feel crazy. IT’S crazy, NOT you!”
Jesse Sykes and her band the Sweet Hereafter released their fourth album, Marble Son, in August. Formerly Seattle-based, Sykes recently relocated to Iowa.