More doesn’t always mean better

A shelf fully stacked in Cuba. Quantity, yes, but variety and quality . . . ?

Choice. It’s what everyone wants. Spotify offers access to millions of songs, Amazon music quotes 50 million songs online. You can have what you want when you want it. Good? Not necessarily.

I’m not anticipating a return to the days when the only music you could hear came from a handful of radio stations, the music was what the producers liked or a record company paid them to play. Yet there’s a case to be made for taking back control.

When there was a limit to what was available, every new release was eagerly anticipated. Excitement grew at the impending release of a new song by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Police, Madonna. Conversation in the office would often begin with, ‘Have you heard the new single by . . .’  The anticipation and reaction of a new release was way beyond casually ‘dropping’ a track, as happens now. And chart positions were analysed, watching avidly to see if a favourite would climb or fall, not the dull, predictable (and often unnoticed) charts we have today.

It’s undeniable that the music industry was controlled – and for the benefit of the big and rich record companies. True, new artists needed the companies to spot them and give them a chance – meaning many never had the opportunity to see the light of day. For every Beatles that were turned down but eventually made it, there are probably countless who didn’t get a first chance, let alone a second. Yet when deals were signed and records made and released, it provided an excitement and anticipation that is unimaginable today. And now there is so much, it’s arguable that the opportunities for major breakthrough are just as limited.

What’s more, by being able to choose what we listen to, the risk is we’ll go for what we know we like. New music – and different styles – are forsaken for something we already know. Who listens to a radio station or streams music that they don’t initially like?

It all adds up to music going stale. There’s still plenty of good stuff, and innovation is still possible, but too much choice leads people (and TV programmes that feature music) to fall back on what is safe. And for someone who grew up being excited by music, that’s a shame for generations to come.

Richard’s novel, Homeward Bound, is out now.

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