Whether expressed or not, a latent goal of most musicians is to create music that endures, and hopefully has life beyond its creator. But just how does one measure music's timelessness? Here Patrick McGuire explore the complexities in defining music's longevity.
Guest post by Patrick McGuire from the TuneCore Blog
If you make music for a living or even just as a hobby, you might not know it, but a goal tucked deep in your mind is to create work that gets remembered. No one creates art in the hopes that it will be forgotten as soon as it’s experienced or never experienced at all.
But measuring music’s capacity to live on long past when it’s shared with the world isn’t easy.
MUSIC LIVES ON, IS QUICKLY FORGOTTEN, OR IS NEVER HEARD AT ALL
Most music being made and shared today is never heard because there’s more music out there than listeners can possibly listen to.
One of the most impactful transformations the music industry has undergone in recent years is the newfound ability for literally anyone with a computer and microphone to create and share music. Inexpensive DIY recording technology and digital distribution are giving more and more people a chance to share their music with the world, but it’s also creating a saturation problem.
For the chance for music to become timeless and relevant, it first has to find an audience. That’s a big challenge for artists in 2019.
Plenty of music being made today does go on to connect with audiences, of course. More music is being heard today than ever before, but not necessarily remembered. There’s no getting around the fact that creating impactful, long-lasting music is incredibly hard to do. What I mean by “long-lasting” is music that stands the test of time to continue to influence, inspire, and entertain year after year, decade after decade.
Music that’s popular and well-liked one year is all but forgotten about the next when it only manages to embrace temporary trends and themes. In some cases, we see this happen with entire genres of music.
For example, think back to what music was popular 15 years ago in 2004. A great deal of what was seen as cutting edge, stylish, or relevant back then now sounds dated and comically mismatched compared to today’s standards. But while it’s easy to harshly judge the creative merits of music years after it’s been made and absorbed by audiences, trying to nail down whether music is likely to be remembered before it’s released is difficult, if not impossible altogether.
WRITING MUSIC THAT LASTS
No one can predict the future, but there are things songwriters should think about if they’re trying to create music that leaves a lasting impact.
For music to last, it needs to be heard.
Save for some lucky musicians, simply releasing music online, sitting back and waiting for it to connect with audiences won’t work. Your music might be incredible and innovative enough to leave a lasting legacy, but that won’t matter if no one hears it. Myspace, the archaic social media platform, is a good example of an insane amount of music disappearing forever. It’s safe to say all sorts of music was deleted from the platform due to Myspace’s negligence––great, awful, and everything in between. Artists who uploaded their work to the platform without storing it elsewhere or promoting it thoroughly now never have the chance of seeing their recorded music live on.
Promotion is probably more important in the music industry than it’s ever been. Whether it’s hiring a fancy PR firm to hype your new release or going it alone with DIY radio and press campaigns, putting energy and time into getting the word out about your music gives you the best shot at having it live on in relevance and impact.
Timeless music doesn’t sound try to sound like anything else.
You might experience a great deal of short-term success writing music from another artist’s playbook, but it’s not likely to last. Time and time again, the music that rises to the top and leaves a legacy is unique, brave, honest, and innovative. It can be hard to discern what it is about your musical creativity that’s truly yours from what you’ve picked up from your influences, but it’s worth thinking about in a serious way.
Timeless music doesn’t necessarily reinvent itself over and over again, but shines through enough to get remembered because it’s fresh and original.
Hard work and experimentation leads to impactful music.
Most great music is the product of hard work, sacrifice, and a willingness to try and fail over and over again. One of the best ways to try to create music that leaves a legacy is by carving out the time and resources you need to work in a way that’s free of limitations and expectation.
So much about creativity and listener preferences are out of our control as artists, but we can control how hard and how often we work. The best shot any of us have at making music that lasts is by showing up to the recording studio, stage, or rehearsal space over and over again.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician.