The Impossibility of Legacy in the 21st-Century Music Industry


When history leaves no room for modernity; when nostalgia is a greater incentive to engage with ‘culture’ than contemporary innovation; when legacy pedestals went out of production in the 90s, what hope is left in the music industry?

The post-pandemic era of music is becoming increasingly alien to what we have known before. It is not technology adding tentacle-ESQUE appendages to the industry. For the past 50 years, the rapid rate of technological progress has been integral to the way music has embedded into our daily lives. Industry oligarchs relentlessly pushed for progression to increase profit margins with every artist gambled on. Now that digital streaming services have reached the pinnacle of music consumption convenience, there is little to anticipate. Sans Musk embedding Neuralink chips in our skulls, and we can stream music directly into our brains.

We can point the finger at the culture of streaming platforms until Rigor mortis sets in, ignoring the three fingers pointing back at ourselves with our strange transfixion on the past that dictates modern-day legacies do not last.

The unattainability of legacy especially rings true within the confines of indie, rock, and alternative music. The alluring sentimentality of nostalgia and reminiscence is the real reason why fame is fleeting; success is slender in supply and why music fans are now eulogising their only music icons on Facebook every five minutes.

Even if an independent artist hits number one in the official music charts in 2023, it means almost nothing in terms of standing in the industry. It is only a matter of time before they downrank under the perpetual dominance of Nirvana, Nickelback, and Pink Floyd.

To go full circle on how streaming has affected the music industry, the contemporary irrelevance of official music charts has even started to change how albums hit the market. Why bow to the pressure of raw sales when streaming is king? And in the words of Post Malone, why compromise the artistic and authentic integrity of a record to ensure an arbitrary number that is no longer of any consequence is reached?

The Fame-Talent Dichotomy

As someone who has spent the past six years in the music industry listening to new artists, I find it impossible to subscribe to the theory that the fixtures in the rock n roll hall of fame are portraits that contemporary artists cannot hold a candle to.

The painful awareness of the off-kilter correspondence between fame and talent is something the average music consumer will never see. If they did, they would be infinitely more open to the suggestion that living and breathing artists who aren’t inches from being six feet under are as capable of ground-breaking music as the artists made divine in their blind eyes.

May be an image of 3 people, people standing, people playing musical instruments and indoor

The addiction to the bittersweetness of sonic nostalgia is undoubtedly a stark sign of where our collective psyche stands at this strangely sour point in history. Yet, if we continuously ignore the irony between the statements that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” and the complete unwillingness to listen to what they ARE making, we are setting a generation of artists up to fail. Not that it is surprising people of a certain age are somewhat ambivalent about that. Given what they have done to the rest of society and the economy.

While there are sniffings of viral TikTok fame for some contemporary artists, one-hit-wonders can only get with their passive fans in their unsustainable careers. As a new generation comes of age, they are shown that history is required for legacy – unless you’re lucky enough to get the jump up from nepotism or selected as a media plant.

Music as a Mausoleum: A Tale of Two Cities

As a Manchester-based music journalist, I’m no stranger to music cultures led by ancient tastemakers and epitomised by records that have been collecting dust since the 80s. I’ve long since accepted that my words, no matter how sharp, will never be as cutting as the people twice my age who can say they were in all of the right places long before I was cerebral enough to string a sentence together. But this isn’t about me. It is about the absolute exception to George Santayana’s rule of; “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

Making my first trip to one of Liverpool’s most iconic music venues, The Cavern Club, showed me just how insidious the fetishization and fixation of legacy truly is. Tawdry statues of the Beatles scaled the walls with endless ephemera as a reminder that they were once here. Like graffiti on a dirty public toilet door, they were stamped in history. Tacky memorabillia enshrined behind glass tempted tanked-up tourists to grab a kitsch piece of history and ignore the glaring commodification of culture that reminds every artist that steps foot into that venue that their legacy will always be less-than.

The Beatles Image In A Wall In The Cavern Club, Liverpool, UK Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free Image. Image 81903358.

While there should always be room to rhapsodize artists that were integral to the inspiration of many, became the soundtrack to many lives and earned themselves a place in history, there should still be enough room for fresh talent to breathe.

Yet, there is little oxygen left for new and emerging artists to share. Creative sparks diminish as soon as they are lit in our suffocating atmosphere where cover bands get all the cash and artists with any modicum of distinction about them are chastised for sticking out from the mould.

Mindless connections with music and music culture are infinitely more dangerous than the perils of Spotify and Ek’s ilk. You can’t keep your head in the sentimental sand for decades, pop back up for daylight and bemoan the changing technological tides that have removed gatekeepers for many, and provided the platforms for even more.

Article by Amelia Vandergast

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