Music Business

Rock and Roll Is Dead, and Even Axl & Slash Can't Save It

The news that the reunited "classic" lineup of Guns N' Roses' will headline Coachella this year, as confirmed by singer Axl Rose Tuesday morning, may be the stuff of answered prayers to many music fans. But others, like myself, see instead a sign that rock and roll is doomed.

True, I love Guns N’ Roses and even praise them for this reunion; should they go on tour as some are expecting, I will even dutifully buy tickets to their show. But I also understand that this reunion speaks to a deep-seated need in the music world. We long for this caliber of band — the all-encompassing, billboard-swallowing idol — simply because there are no more new rock stars.

This is the failing of the digital age: we are no longer creating any new rock heroes. The days of the titans are gone. Music stores are bankrupt, MTV is dead, a world tour no longer means anything when you can watch it on YouTube for free. Fans have destroyed music by trading in Buddy Rich for a drum machine on an iPhone.

The thousands of musicians around the world might be still heard and appreciated if the industry were organized around a clear path to stardom, but that path is now scattered, unclear and impossible to follow. Worse, being a musician or working in the music industry has become a completely unsustainable career choice. Many musicians, such as CJ McMahonAEON and Carnifex in 2013, have been forced to quit. Opportunities for commercial success have dried up, while musicians are expected to play for free.

Nowadays, new bands can’t seem to get off the ground and get noticed. How many bands do you know have a GoFundMe or some other account created to do the job of what record labels used to do? While bands you love may certainly deserve your support, you’re not going to help any band break through, because there’s nothing to break through to anymore. By all means, create new music, but understand that's no guarantee of stardom.

Don’t shrug this off and call it “progress,” especially when musicians are starving. Every asshat who pulls out a cellphone and records entire songs — or worse, entire shows — and uploads them to the Internet robs musicians of not only a paycheck but their art. These people are not fans, but rather charlatans and thieves.

Many bands make trivial incomes, have no benefits and leave their families for months out of the year to play for people who have incomes and benefits while stealing their music in front of them as they perform. For some messed-up reason, people feel entitled to free music. You must pay for the entertainment you consume — it’s just fair.

You wouldn’t pull your phone out at the opera or community theater, nor push past a crowd at a cinema and refuse to pay. Understand that your entertainment dollars support artists; if you don’t, you certainly should. Maybe MTV showed too many episodes of Cribs, or you believed all that rap hype about the Benjamins. Now, many touring musicians are lucky to get a meal and a few hundred bucks.

All thanks to the digital media age.

Perhaps the worst example is the way Apple Music cloaks its phony algorithmic suggestions as insider tips from Rolling Stone DJs. Look at your music newsfeed: Bieber, Adele, Nicki Minaj, Kanye, Miley. Sick of them yet? This is the future of music — cookie-cutter musical conformity. You can’t claim to override their suggestions because the programmers are manipulating your own choices to introduce you to their new music, not yours.

Let me explain. Apple's suggestions are not from your buddy in a band, your cool uncle who is a walking rock and roll encyclopedia, or a friend who runs an indie-rock show at the local university radio station. Instead you've signed up for the most soulless, artless, corporate-earworm-driven music agenda imaginable.

Go on, listen to music “based on your choices” as the Titanic sinks, I won’t stop your revelry and I won’t bring my lifeboat back to save you either. But before you dismiss these zealous ramblings of a music luddite, understand this new truth: you will never hear creatively original breakthrough music in a digital format.

If that doesn’t scare you, then you probably are listening to Bieber wailing in your earbuds while you upload your twentieth selfie of the day to IG talking about your nonexistent fire mixtape. Oh! Look! Zumiez is having a sale! You should go. For the rest of us, the idea that new music is dying and true choice in music selection is dwindling is absolutely disheartening.

Don’t tell me it’s because metal sucks and pop music is so great especially when news of the GN'R reunion spread like napalm in a balmy Vietnamese jungle on a hot day. Because truthfully, there are no alternatives, no answers how to turn the tide of ripping off musicians. Until the industry changes its own black heart to remain loyal to the artists, it will continue to demand that musicians play without compensation.

Consider: It must be the greatest exercise in self-control for a modern musician to resist sharing his or her own music online. While they want to make their work widely known, they must also realize throwing their art into the black hole of cyberspace could possibly reap no benefit at all. There’s no paycheck, no solidified audience, and no gratitude in return — no echo in a vacuum.

Like time capsules, records and songs used to help define their eras. They made political statements, and abolished race, class, and gender lines by pushing for progressive action. Music was magical. Today, there will be no more grass-roots, political sit-ins with protest music. You can forget about Haight-Ashbury, Seattle grunge, SoCal punk, Rage Against the Machine-type bands, or like-minded movements.

Your last option to support new bands is live music. Attend festivals, buy tickets, move outside of your familiar venues and clubs, see someone you’ve never heard of just to experience what they have to offer. Interact in the scene that you’re so desperate to make happen.

And, when Guns N’ Roses finally tours nationwide and makes a stop in Houston, not only must you catch the openers, but find out who their influences are and listen to them as well. Put away your phone, live in the actual moment of your short life and breathe. Breathe the same air as Slash, sing along to the same lyrics with Axl, bang your head to Duff McKagan’s bass lines.

Because in 20 years, when music is completely dead, this will be a TBT memory you can’t upload on your new iPhone15s. The outdated file will be incompatible anyway. 
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Kristy Loye is a writer living in Houston and has been writing for the Houston Press since July 2015. A recent Rice University graduate, when not teaching writing craft or reciting poetry, she's upsetting alt-rights on Reddit.