When it comes to music, do kids today have it better or worse than the generations before them?
I decided to do some research into the matter. By "research," I mean I asked my teenagers some questions, and then compared their answers to my opinions. Around here, we call that science. (What do you expect? I'm a blogger, not a reporter.)
Here are the results of my research: Kids today have it totally made in the shade.
But not in every way. The beyond-teenage generations (yeah, that's you already) still had it better in some ways.
Could You Elaborate On Your Study For Us, Professor?
Like any good pseudo-scientist, I'll break it down into categories for you and summarize my conclusions.
My scientific method? No prob. 1. Make up a category; 2. Debate with myself about whether today's teens have the advantage over the older generations; 3. Make up a conclusion; 4. Support my conclusion.
It's like the standard hypothesis-research-conclusion method, with just a tad more speculation.
And now, the categories . . .
Importance of Music Advantage: Then. Happily, I'd say this was a very slight advantage. Music is still important. But while music is a big part of my kids' lives, and their musical universe is bigger, the exponential increase in alternative entertainment options has allowed them to knock music down the priority ladder. In the latter part of the 20th century options were fewer, and the music carried more weight.
Delivery Options Advantage: Now. This is an easy one. More tech, more options, better options as time passes. The crappy configurations -- 8-track and cassette -- are mostly gone (though there is always some sort of supposed hipster resurgence somewhere.) Good-sounding yet inconvenient vinyl (that's right, I just said something bad about vinyl) has been revived (though not nearly as much as the media reports, which is a down-the-road blog.)
The configuration that best bridges sound quality and convenience, CDs (yes, I just said something good about CDs), are cheaper than ever, and digital-delivery methods are endless. The options are plentiful, and that's just if you want to own the music.
Sound Quality Advantage: Then. Not what you expected? I chose "then" not because technology hasn't made sound quality better, but because Apple shifted the mentality of the entire generation to favor convenience and storage. In other words, this category should be another in the teen's favor, but they really don't seem to care.
Admittedly, most people didn't care fifteen years ago, either, but the basic configurations were uncompressed, so overall they sounded better anyway.
Availability of Music
Advantage: Now. Not even close. Is there any place where my kids can't listen to music? The TV has 50 stations. The Blu-Ray player has seven music apps loaded. But they don't even use that stuff, because of the limitless options on their primary listening device, the phone in their pocket. When I was a pup, living in North Dakota, we had one non-religious, non-country radio station. We had two TV channels. You sorta got what you got, and it wasn't much. If you wanted to expand, you had to buy it.
Exploring Music Advantage: Now. Again, no comparison. Like all things within this discussion, and our lives, the internet rules supreme. Now, if you want to know more about music you like, the avenues are endless and the info is staggering. Even if you don't want to know, you'll be still be slyly barraged with all sorts of recommendations. In the past, you got what you got, and if you wanted to go explore music, you had to go to a library or buy a magazine. Then if you wanted to hear it, you had to buy it.
Social Impact Advantage: Then. Because of the expanded options discussed above, and the decrease in ubiquitous media outlets like MTV and radio, music simply doesn't have the social impact it once did. For many generations, a member of American society simply could not avoid certain songs, or certain artists, because of the limited options of discovery and delivery. In other words, in 1985, you couldn't avoid Michael Jackson if you tried, but these days I wouldn't know Taylor Swift if she kissed me.
Note: For those of us who do not dig pop music, this is actually an advantage.
Control of Music Advantage: Now. Unfortunately for musicians (and record store and label geeks), this one is a no-brainer too. In the old days, if you wanted to have any sort of control over what you were listening to, you'd have to own it. Today, kids can app, internet radio, YouTube, and stream themselves pretty much whatever they damn well please. And those are just the legitimate methods. Do they gain total control by owning it? Sure. But the bottom line is that it's out there for free.
Quality of Music Advantage: Then. Ooh, that'll get somebody worked up. Don't get me wrong: I believe firmly that there is good new music being created every moment. I just think the current generation is placed at a disadvantage, thanks to the timing of their arrival on music's evolutionary ladder.
After more than a hundred years of recorded music, it's a lot harder to break new ground, or be shocking, or to create something revolutionary or unique. In addition, because the old-timers didn't have computers to help cover their mistakes, I believe their overall level of musicianship was better.
For example: Let's say you know about a great new jazz guitarist. How can he or she be any better than the three cats in the video above? You can only get so fast, so funky, so proficient. (And it doesn't get any better than Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, and Barney Kessel.)
Quantity of Music Advantage: Now. The good news is that by arriving later on music's evolutionary ladder, the kids get it all. They can listen to all the phenomenal, groundbreaking, shocking, innovative, revolutionary stuff from the past, and all the great new stuff that is still arriving daily.
So Those Are the Official Results? That's right. They're official. Five advantages for the current generation of teens; four advantages for teenagers past (conveniently, there is an odd number of categories) .
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Of course, the older generations (in case you missed it the first time, that does mean you) still win in the end.
You see, those little shits have no real idea of the true awesomeness of today's entertainment environment, so they take it for granted and continue to whine about the never-changing trials and tribulations of their teenage wasteland . . . all the while failing to appreciate their wealth. Some things never change.
By contrast, us seasoned vets have already enjoyed our four advantages, and now we get to enjoy the current environment and its advantages as well. Thanks to our maturity (and I still use that word loosely), we know enough to know how great we have it.
So let the music play.