Has popular music really become as stale as you think, or have you simply lost your ability to assimilate it? Tim Goodyer looks at the effects of growing volumes of music on limited listening resources.
There's more music currently making its way onto CDs, LPs and cassettes than at any previous point in history. Fact. Statistically this should mean there's definitely something, somewhere out there to suit your exacting listening tastes. Maybe. What's not in dispute, however, is that you've got a bigger job finding it than ever before. The funny thing is, that once you leave the education system, chasing down new and exciting records becomes more of a demanding and time-consuming task than it ever was. And you probably never noticed - so just what the hell has happened to one of the loves of your life?
Try this: most people "discover" music while they're at school, at which point they become part of a resource of keen ears and minds experiencing this particular pleasure for the first time. But more than this, the time and energy invested in procuring and assessing music is pooled during the breaks between lessons; each individual benefits from the efforts of the others. It's a simple, logical and remarkably effective way of getting to know and enjoy music. You don't realise it at the time, but it will never be the same again.
Free of the constraints of school, college or university, our musical disciples embark upon the second stage of their musical evolution. Deprived of this human listening resource, the full magnitude of the task is revealed - the cash, time and energy must be found to buy, play and assimilate the constantly-expanding catalogue of available music.
Looked at this way, it's no surprise that many music fans lose the faith - or at least, the enthusiasm to keep it up to date. The next Dire Straits album will sell in vast quantities simply because there is a generation of rock fans who bought and enjoyed Dire Straits, but lacked the energy to search out anything different afterwards. The same can be said of Genesis, Rush, Status Quo... What could be better than a series of LPs which offer new material without further challenging the listener? What could be worse for the evolution of popular music?
If you've ever seriously stopped to wonder why all your music sounds the same to your parents and failed to come up with a satisfactory answer, try the one presented above. Now consider this: the moment you stop holding on to the rough ride popular music gives you, you're going to be in exactly the same situation.
If you find yourself wondering where the magic in music has gone - why none of the music you're hearing on the radio or TV manages to raise the hairs on the back of your neck or makes you pine for the nightclub dancefloor - it's probably already happened to you. The odds are that there's music out there that'll do it for you, you just aren't finding it. It's not that music has started to fail you, you're failing it.
It didn't all end with Genesis (Martin Howard Naylor) and it didn't all start with Mr Fingers (Andrew Bleep Hill). It all started with the first buzz music gave you - and it all ends when you stop giving music the time to do it.