A Great Question: Have All The Good Songs Been Written?

You’ve probably said it to yourself a million times: “Today’s music sucks. Back in the day, songs were MUCH better. What went wrong?

Usually this is just a nostalgia infection. Every generation has a biological right to believe that the music of their youth is the greatest music ever made. There’s that sweet spot from the time we enter high school until sometime in our early-to-middle 20s when we use music to define who we are and use it to project our identity to the world.

Once real life begins to intrude–jobs, marriage, kids, mortgages and the rest of it–our focus moves away from music. It’s not that we love it any less; it’s just that we have less time to devote to immersing ourselves in it. There’s less time for music shopping, going to gigs, reading the music mags and blogs, researching new releases, constructing playlists–the whole shebang.

And as time goes by and stresses build up, it’s tougher to stay current. And because your identity consists of more than just the music you like, maintaining your tribal affiliations take a back seat to everything else. And when we need to be picked up, we tend to seek comfort in the music of our youth–the stuff that made us feel so good back then.

If you find yourself doing this, let me stress that it’s completely normal.

But maybe–just maybe–the Nostalgia Conjecture I just laid out–may not be 100% correct.  What if music really isn’t as good as it used to be. What if all the great songs have already been written?

There was a recent article at NPR that got me thinking. It began with this question from a listener:

Gwen writes via email: “With so many songs already written around the world, and throughout time, how the hell can anyone write a NEW song? Yet I hear a new song and I love it and it sounds new — but is it new? How could it be? There must be a mathematical or statistical number of possibilities of note/melody combinations for songs to be made, right? I think about this a lot.

The answer they gave is very interesting.  Read on.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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