Why does music change? What makes it mutate within time?
It is not because of one single reason. Music changes because of a complex structural framework where different agents converge in different measures: sociocultural contexts, market economy, aesthetics trends and technology, to name just a few. Among these many reasons, there is also the audio format, be it physical or digital.
What we listen to is determined by where and how we listen to it.
In that sense, Youtube, as the main music consumption channel today, will have a huge influence on music evolution. Actually, it already has.
EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS A LIE
(OR AN OPINION, AT LEAST)
Youtube is not as much about the past as it is about a filtered, spectacularised âas good olâ Situationists would put itâ image of the past. Not EVERYTHING is on Youtube nor the internet. Only those cultural items that were recorded onto audio and/or video remain for your online consumption. So youâre not getting the real thing but an âinterpretationâ of it. Just like mp3s âas they are designed to âsound like a faithful reproduction of the originalâ.
This is nothing new: weâve always learnt about history through books, ruins, paintings, pictures, movies, recordings. Although it may sound a little conspiranoid, the truth is that our whole knowledge is based on representations made by people, therefore based on someone elseâs subjective interpretation of reality.
DIRTY HARRY: “OPINIONS ARE LIKE ARSEHOLES: EVERYBODY HAS ONE”
Until now, these âinterpretationsâ had been made by experts: historians, critics, archaeologistsâŠ But today, YouTubeâs information network is built on the users collectiveâs judgment and taste. There is no specialization. Anyone can participate in the construction of a reality that is almost universalâa thousand million unique users a month. In this regard, even within the obvious media limitations âonly audio or video filesâ, we have before us what may well be seen as a real democratization of knowledge. In a strange and naive way, now people have the power to create History.
YouTubeâs algorithm is one of the best kept secrets in the known universe and it is updated no less than a hundred times every year. However, the platform administrators recognize that, apart from the influence certain marketing strategies may have, YouTubeâs organizational basis is the usersâ activity: their browsing history, the number of plays and the reproduction time of an item are key factors for the structure of recommendations. Therefore, it is the community who guides us through our (not so) hypertextual journey. Hence, it is the collective, not the single gurus, who helps us to build our own musical background.
INCREDIBLE MUTANT MUSIC MONSTERS
A real case: imagine that I read somewhere that Radiohead’s music is influenced by krautrock. Clueless, I tube “krautrock”. The third video (67,500 views) in the results list is “Helicopter” (1974) by Sand âa dark, long forgotten group rarely mentioned in the genreâs anthologies. Given my ignorance, I guess it is a significant reference in krautrock âitâs in the top 3, that must mean something, isnât it?
SAND’S “HELICOPTER”: A KRAUTROCK ANTHEMâŠ ACCORDING TO YOUTUBERS
I keep searching and suddenly something grabs my attention in the recommended vids column: “Chicha Libre – Amazon Sound”, an album by a Brooklyn-based band playing psychedelic cumbia Peruvian style, influenced by pop and surf music. Hereafter, following the suggestions by the usersâ community, I travel to Cuba in the 90s with the “Buena Vista Social Club”. And also to “Best of Bob Marley”, “AC DC Greatest Hits” and “2013-Official Aftermovie Tomorrowland.” Krautrock, cumbia, son cubano, reggae, hard rock and EDM. In about twenty minutes.
In the old, pre-internet days, my older brother or some friend would have lent me a Can, Neu! or Tangerine Dream record. And if I liked them, I would have carried on researching in books, magazines and record stores. Over the months, I might have discovered Kraftwerk. And who knows, maybe three or four years later, if I had the money and will enough, I would be producing techno or ambient.
Learning from YouTube and its community of users produces deviant musical hybrids in the eyes of the previous generations. Mixes of genres which may seem impossible and whose rationale is based on the free access to information âfree of charge and free of stylistic orthodoxiesâ and on the construction of aesthetic trends in contrast with traditional canons. No gods, no masters: the democratization of information leads to the democratization of taste. A fascinating chaos âor even better, a combination of utterly subjective idiosyncrasiesâ which in recent times has provided the most bizarre sounds on the contemporary music scene. Today, more than ever, anything goes.