Why do our musical tastes tend to get frozen in our teens and early 20s?

One, it's generally when people are single, and thus find themselves exposed to more new experiences, versus having to be responsible adults and especially responsible parents. It's probably best to keep your Velvet Underground and/or Pantera albums away from the toddlers ...

Two, many people are exposed to college radio during that period, and college radio is one of the last bastions of "we'll do what we want, thank you" in the entire airwaves. (Since they don't have commercials, and thus picky sponsors looking over their shoulders, and thus ratings don't really matter, they can just go to town.) Afterwards, unless they stay in the college radio habit, they won't be as easily exposed to new music, especially as commercial radio becomes more and more musically conservative, especially as the number of different corporations owning the various music outlets continues to dwindle.

Further, the music "industry" is predicated on volume. Consider that most recordings don't make a profit unless they sell millions of copies. Thus the entire industry aims for "home runs" rather than alowing artists who will never have that kind of universal commercial appeal, to make recordings with smaller budgets for which smaller sales would still nevertheless be profitable. While there is still Rounder Records, the largest of the record labels with this philosophy, and there will always be small upstart labels with low overhead, they are the exception, not the rule. (Worse, it looks as though even Rounder is acting more and more like the "big guys".)

While it's entirely true that the economics of record distribution tilt the scales in that direction, that's seems to me more like short-term thinking rather than longer-term thinking. Of course, if you think your entire market is only the people who follow mass trends, perhaps they're right.

A number of people have posited that the Internet may change the rules by changing the entire economies of scale in distribution: i.e. if you don't have to manufacture hundreds of thousands of CDs in advance, so that every record store in the U.S. will have 10 copies, then you have to sell an order of magnitude less copies to be profitable. While this may be true (and come in the form of MP3s), right now the old order is quite well entrenched and doing everything it can to fight electronic distribution. There remain unanswered questions, as well, about how the artists actually get _paid_ for all this.

But even more fundamental is the problem of: how do you know what's good? As with any new technology (web sites, MP3), some of the early adopters may or may not be musically talented. Technically talented, yes, but there is no correlation (as I note to my own dismay :-) ) Plus, since anyone can publish, everyone becomes a publisher, and the problem immediately becomes finding someone with something compelling to say amongst a rather impressive volume of dross.

At some point there will be some established system of gatekeepers, or editors, or recommenders, or something, on the net, not based on the magazine paradigm that such things tend to be based on now. I will no doubt fit right in filling one of those roles when that infrastructure exists. In the meantime, here I am creating a website based on my own tastes, which may or may not correlate to yours, or anyone else's for that matter. Unless you are a long-term friend or co-worker, you won't know me from Adam's Off Ox.

So just who am I and why should you care about my opinions? Read on.

Back to my main music page.

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Last updated Wed Jul 25 21:37:05 GMT 2001 .