Why “music isn’t as good as it used to be” is a fallacyOctober 10, 2010
Every once in a while, I hear someone argue that music isn’t as good as it used to be — that at some point in the past, usually the 1960s or 70s, music was better. If you’re one of these people, I submit three reasons why that’s unlikely to be the case.
Time is the mother of all selection biases.
Go look at charts for different years – we only remember the gold, and we forget the dross. Time is a fantastic filter for the good stuff.
You are not the same person you were (10, 20, whatever) years ago.
Your relationship to music has changed. I don’t know if this is apocryphal or not, but it’s said that the magic age is 21: that you imprint on what you listen to then (hence the existence of oldies stations).
People have been saying that the older music was better for as long as popular music has existed.
Elvis? What are kids listening to these days?
Beatles? What are kids listening to these days?
Punk? What are kids listening to these days?
Rap? What are kids listening to these days?
Lady Gaga? What are kids listening to these days?
Get the picture? Do you really think that you’re different and special, and somehow the music from when you were a teenager actually was better?
It’s not that a case can’t be made for the superiority of music from one decade or another. It’s just that it’s really hard to convincingly make the case based on your personal experience of music, because you are not a disinterested, dispassionate observer.
I propose a new rule: that you’re only allowed to make sweeping generalizations comparing music from different time periods if they are at least a generation older than you. “The 1880s! That was a terrible decade for music. No soul, man – not like the ’70s!”
I look around, and I think that we may very well be living through the Cambrian Explosion of music. Music has never been easier to create or to distribute. There’s no reason to believe that the amount of good music hasn’t increased too.