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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Demise Of The Electric Guitar In Music

Electric Guitar Pickup image
There are times when a trend happens so fast that it’s just like being hit in the face with an ice cold towel, and then there are times when it’s so slow moving that you can feel something happening, but it takes a while before you realize that you’re totally immersed in something new. A little of both happened to me over the last week as it finally sunk in that mainstream pop music is now totally represented by the latest music trend. And guess what? The electric guitar, staple of modern music for more than 50 years, has no part in it.

In case you’re wondering, it’s electronic dance music (or EDM as we’ve grown to call it) that has totally blended with pop music to become the current background music of our lives. It’s now in every nook and cranny where the hippest music is played.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m in the music business up to my ears every day and I’m totally aware that EDM has become both a phenomenon and a giant money maker over the last three or four years in terms of live events. I’m also more than aware that over the last two years elements of EDM have permeated the Top 40 charts on the vast majority of hits. You have to be completely musically unconscious to not to have seen and heard that.

And I read the stats and watch the revenue numbers involving EDM, where you could see the big money of the major promoters and record labels making their moves to claim their territory over the last year. It’s usually a sign that a trend has peaked as the big brands move in to stake their claim and squeeze every last drop of financial juice out of the trend that they can, as seems to be happening at the moment. You read and absorb all this data, but sometimes it just doesn’t sink in. Needless to say I was unprepared for my recent mini-revelation. Read More On Forbes.

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Larry Jones said...

You know better than this, Bob. This is the kind of pseudo-shocking "prediction" piece designed to gin up controversy and get comments -- proof to Forbes' advertisers that people are reading. Pop music has always been about fads and trends, but there's also been an underground parallel universe of serious artists with something to say, and they will use whatever tools fall to hand to make their statements, regardless of what Kei$ha's producers are doing or not doing.

When you publish stuff like this, sure it cranks up the general interest readers, but you dilute the great work you have done talking real-world nuts and bolts with the folks who actually create music.

Jac said...

The electric guitar isn't dead and buried in popular music - One of the biggest songs of the year - Daft Punk's Get Lucky prominently features Nile Rodgers playing his famous Fender Strat. - I believe it's the same one he played on the chic and sister sledge records as well as Let's Dance by David Bowie and on Madonna's like a virgin album.

Having made the transition to EDM from guitar based music myself I wouldn't rule out using a guitar in a song if it called for one - it's just that the guitar sound is no longer the driving rhythmic base on which the songs are based.

gfr said...

"So all you kids trying to make the decision whether it’s better to learn how to make beats or join a garage band, choose wisely."

Sorry. If you kids are really worried about that, you'd better choose between being a lawier, work with finances, or wahetever.

I play guitar because it's a vital necessity for me, not because of the "market share"...

cthulhu said...

The city of San Diego has sponsored a week-long Blues Camp for the last several summers, aimed at kids 12-17. Local pro blues musicians come in and instruct during the week, and at the end of the week, the kids do a concert. It's been quite successful, typically with 15-25 kids at all ability levels involved each year, including some truly astounding young guitarists. Maybe the electric guitar (and rock in general as we knew it in the '60s and '70s) is in eclipse right now, but there's still a vital undercurrent of great guitar rock and blues out there, and there are plenty of young folks that "get it."

And in contrast to some of the commenters at Forbes, there has never been a better, less expensive time to learn guitar. If you have an iPhone or iPad and $50, you can buy GarageBand ($5) and a guitar interface (there are reasonable ones for $40 or so, and better ones for $100), and get access to top-notch tone via GB's simulated amps. Spend $15-25 more and you can get even more sounds from the likes of the Amplitube and Ampkit apps. YouTube is full of how-to-play videos, or spend $30-50 on a sophisticated guitar trainer app like Rock Prodigy, which incorporates accurate real-time feedback on your technique. And good tab transcriptions for all of your favorite songs are at your fingertips on the Internet.

I suspect the death of the guitar, like that of Mark Twain many years ago, has been greatly exaggerated...

Unknown said...

I'm so thankful for your article. I've had this similar sense recently. I love finding new music and spend a lot of time on music blogs. I've noticed especially over the last two years a dramatic shift in the alternative/indie rock scene.

I miss bands like The Shines, Death Cab for Cutie, etc. I miss heartfelt, sincere lyrics paired an electric guitar (plus bass and drums, of course). I miss the imperfections, the sound of fingers sliding across strings, the dynamics of an arm strumming, picking or wailing on a guitar.

I know the electric guitar isn't "dead," but it's definitely on the back-burner presently. And I can't wait until we get to hear the next kid, who is sick of hearing all the EDM, revolts by turning up his guitar.

Sean Heimbuch said...

Well, I think Taylor Swift and John Mayer would disagree with you, and Jack White and Dave Grohl don't show any signs of slowing down.
This reminds me of the late 70s, early 80s with disco and then new wave. Many thought rock and roll was dead, but both fizzled out fairly quick and were replaced by a resurgent rock movement.
The thing about fads are, well, they're fads. They are very narrow in scope and rely solely on the tastes of the time. EDM has a fairly specific formula and lacks the variety of sound and style that can be found in other genres such as rock, blues, jazz, etc.
Eventually fads get stale and the kids move on. Safe bet that guitars make a comeback. As the saying goes, what is old, is new again.

Sean Heimbuch said...

Another way to look at things, perhaps. Music tends to reflect its society, and right now we're having a pretty hardcore love affair with technology. We love to possess it, we love to use it, and we love to abuse it. Everything right now in music reflects that, not just in the tools that are used but how they are used. New sounds, new approach, and everything done is calculated and precise. No wonder pop music seems so sterile.
One other drawback is that all this technology is causing a huge disconnect with our humanity and how we relate to the world. Anyone see two kids texting each other from two feet away instead of actually talking to each other?
I'll make my own bold prediction. Eventually people will hunger to reclaim that connection and the humanity that was lost. When that happens, music will become more organic, perhaps primal, and less focused on perfection. There won't be much room in that musical fad for synthesizers and drum machines.
Yup. What's old is new again ;)

Rain San Martin said...

It began in the early 1990's (1993in particular) when it was no longer cool to play skillful lead guitar, nor where bridges being written, or complex lead keyboard parts for that matter. Eventually it has fazed out to highly compressed big pop hits. Yes trends come and go, but dedication to the craft of writing and performing music should never die.


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