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 —as good ol’ Situationists would put it— 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 you’re not getting the real thing but an ‘interpretation’ of it. Just like mp3s —as they are designed to “sound like a faithful reproduction of the original”.
This is nothing new: we’ve 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 else’s subjective interpretation of reality.
DIRTY HARRY: “OPINIONS ARE LIKE ARSEHOLES: EVERYBODY HAS ONE”
Until now, these ‘interpretations’ had been made by experts: historians, critics, archaeologists… But today, YouTube‘s information network is built on the users collective’s judgment and taste. There is no specialization. Anyone can participate in the construction of a reality that is almost universal—a thousand million unique users a month. In this regard, even within the obvious media limitations —only audio or video files—, 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.
YouTube’s 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, YouTube’s organizational basis is the users’ 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 —a dark, long forgotten group rarely mentioned in the genre’s anthologies. Given my ignorance, I guess it is a significant reference in krautrock —it’s in the top 3, that must mean something, isn’t it?
SAND’S “HELICOPTER”: A KRAUTROCK ANTHEM… 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 users’ 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 —free of charge and free of stylistic orthodoxies— 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 —or even better, a combination of utterly subjective idiosyncrasies— which in recent times has provided the most bizarre sounds on the contemporary music scene. Today, more than ever, anything goes.