The Demise of Rock Music

Here’s why the wide-spanning genre isn’t in the American mainstream anymore.

Rock is one of the most complex and storied genres in all music, despite beginning less than a century ago. The genre contains countless subgenres with many variations, such as the present contrast between hard and soft rock. Many have associated the genre with lively drums, powerful guitars, and teenage revolutions. However, when facing 2022’s pop radios and streaming services at face value, new rock artists are barely visible. It’s near-impossible for an average adult or teen to name a newly developing rock band. Rock’s dead, at least, within the American mainstream.

Rock’s dead, at least, within the American mainstream.

Rock began in the 1950s with the rock ‘n’ roll movement: a combination of genres such as jazz and blues with new ideas mixed in. In the 70s, certain rock acts such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd explored their guitars to shoot rock entirely into the mainstream. More varied bands appeared in the 80s and 90s, such as the romantic U2 and the grunge-y Nirvana (the latter of which paved the way for a lot of the rock landscape nowadays). These bands had airplay on the most popular radio channels, so this adds to the question: what happened to make rock bands fall off the map?

Nirvana has enjoyed a resurgence over the past year since The Batman used “Something in the Way” as its trailer and soundtrack music.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act was the first significant change to radio regulation in America since the 1930s. The cap on the number of radio stations one group could host was altered from 40 to as many as possible. Now a select group of companies run hundreds of all the radios and manipulate what type of music they play; most of them play the same artificial pop songs on every radio. This influences the rock industry in multiple ways. For example, it is almost impossible to get airplay as a local rock band, and if companies don’t believe that rock is going to give them popularity (which it won’t), they won’t play it. But why won’t rock draw in listeners?

“I think it was the move from analog to digital; the move from album to CD; the move to snippets of manufactured songs created by demographic. [Artists] make what the corporate says will sell.”

-Mount Theology teacher Mr. Tim Breen

Mr. Tim Breen, rock music aficionado, in his natural habitat – Room 3

The first, most obvious reason is that there are genres that have overshadowed rock’s draw. Rap began during the 70s, but it has steadily gained attention. The genre utilizes flows and beats to create enjoyable songs that can resonate with listeners. Other examples of newer genres that are beginning to obscure rock include EDM and indie. All of the aforementioned categories utilize electronics over the guitar, and its evident that younger listeners would rather listen to these developing genres. There’s a better chance that an average mount man could name more rappers than rockstars.

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Kendrick Lamar, one of the world’s most popular rappers, preforming live in front of hundreds of fans (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The second reason is that the fundamental instruments of rock – the guitar and drums – have already been utilized to their fullest. However, genres that use electronics are constantly pioneering new instruments and tools to keep people listening. Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins shared this opinion. “They’re engaging in new technology. Guitar isn’t new technology—there are only so many ways you can warp it around,” Corgan said while comparing rock to electric genres. The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the best-selling bands of the 1990s, so it’s stark to see their frontman recognizing rock’s death.

“Anything with autotune in it, you can blow that up. Real musicians play with real instruments. That’s why I love live music, because you can find out who can or can’t play it.”

-Mount Theology teacher Mr. Tim Breen

The grunge band Aberdeen has recently begun with the goal to mimic the classic sound of the nineties. The young musicians have already released and thoroughly advertised multiple EPs containing intricate production and vocals, so why aren’t they popular yet? The answer is their sound was already heard decades ago from bands such as Nirvana and other alternative artists. Nothing new is present in these songs, but can the band help it? The higher-ups of the music industry know that young audiences will find the music old and unexciting, so they don’t push it out as much. Many new rock artists suffer from this dilemma every day.

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The 3 members of Nirvana, who could be considered rock’s last huge band (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In order to get an opinion from a far more mature music fan, I interviewed the Mount’s Mr. Tim Breen. Mr. Breen is a Theology teacher known to be a diehard fan of rock music. Mr. Breen expressed his strong opinion about modern music passionately: “There was just more art and aesthetic into creating an album than from beginning to end than there is with these idiotic songs of three minutes and twenty-eight seconds that are manufactured at a corporate level.” By the end of our conversation, he had driven home the point that the industry is now driven by technology, greed, algorithms, and autotune, all of which are enemies to the creativity within rock.

“There’s no comparison. [Rock] was everywhere. It was dominant. I never bought music because you didn’t need to; you always heard it on the radio or at concert.”

-Mount Theology teacher Mr. Tim Breen

No matter their attachment to it, people should acknowledge rock’s absence from mainstream music and the charts. It doesn’t stand a chance within the modern music landscape compared to newer genres that continue to grow in popularity. The artists who produce rock find it much harder to have their music heard than in the past, as the switch from analog to digital led to a chokehold being held on America’s music industry. Due to the developments within the past two decades, modern rock has suddenly morphed into a niche genre that is gaining less and less respect. I love rock music, but the genre will never reach the popularity it once did.

Jude Danner is a Freshman member of the Quill.