Have our changing listening habits caused the decline of big music festivals?

According to a few articles I read this week, the era of the big rock music festival may be coming to an end. Some music industry types are bemoaning the fact that this generation isn’t producing bands like The Rolling Stones and U2 that can draw the big crowds these festivals need to survive.

This may be true enough, but I’m wondering about the comment concerning the bands. There are some great bands out there, and great songs, too. And there’s a lot of exciting music being made in all genres of popular music. So what’s up???

It seems to me the real issue is about how we, the listening public, consume music now. In the old days, which were not necessarily “better,” we bought albums. Singles too, but lots of albums. And when you put the needle down on an LP you were making a commitment to listen to whatever music was on that side of the record, for the next 18-23 minutes. This meant that you’d hear some songs you knew from the radio along with a few unfamiliar songs. You’d hear “Sgt. Pepper” and then “Fixing A Hole.”

The magical thing is that you’d often end up liking the “album” tracks just as much, or even more than, the “radio” tracks. This not only helped the band, but it enriched our musical lives as well. We grew to love many songs from our favorite bands, not just the 1 or 2 hits. And when we heard those bands in concert, we grooved for a few whole hours, through song after song after song. If you’re a rock fan, think of all the Rolling Stones’, Elton John, or Led Zeppelin songs you can recognize.

Today it’s much different, and I don’t necessarily mean “worse.” Ask your average teenager what musical groups they like and a common answer is “Oh, I don’t know. I just like songs.” Since they don’t have to listen to album tracks, they get to minutely control which videos and songs they check out.

The “upside” of this is that today’s youth have a wide variety of musical interests. They may search YouTube for “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons.  While they’re watching the video, they’ll notice a thumbnail of the Pentatonix’ wonderful a cappella version of the same song. So they might click on that video and see the vocalists perform with violinist Lindsey Stirling. Our teen then remembers the violin lessons she took in grade school, so she then clicks on the Stirling video. All this from wanting to listen to one hit song!

What’s happening is twofold: On the one hand, we have a lot more variety of music available to us at a touch of a button so we can choose exactly what we want to listen to. The downside is that we sometimes don’t acquire new tastes. We don’t give unfamiliar music a chance to grow on us unless we’re led there by a previous interest like in the example I gave above.

This may be very good for the musical public, but it certainly doesn’t lend itself to hearing everything our favorite bands record in the same way as albums did. In that respect it’s a tradeoff. One thing IS for certain: it will be very difficult for today’s bands to capture as many of our musical hearts as The Rolling Stones did “back in the day.” It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few decades. In the meantime, enjoy your favorite big music festival while you can!

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3 thoughts on “Have our changing listening habits caused the decline of big music festivals?”

  1. Librarians have noticed a similar phenomenon, now that the library catalogs are online. People will order a book and then, if they like it, go to a review site and find similar ones. They don’t stand at the stacks as much and just browse through the books. This is similar with ebooks. If you like one, similar ones will be recommended to you. It may take longer to acquire new tastes or to explore different genres.


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