The End of Guitar Rock? Say It Ain’t So.

Here’s another article from America stating that guitar rock is on its way out and has been for more than a decade. Read and discuss.

It’s proven fashionable in recent years to declare the death of the guitar in commercial music. I wish I could debunk this sad tale, but the numbers back it up. Even worse, the data tells us that the guitar experienced a long, slow death.

At the end of the ’80s, rock accounted for more than 40 percent of U.S. music sales, and guitarists still strutted the stage like kings. Yet by the year 2000, rock had fallen below 25 percent of the market, and rap artists were proving, week after week, that hit songs didn’t need any guitar. The subsequent rise of electronic dance music (EDM)—which is now a $7 billion business—further marginalized that once-dominant instrument.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was the rise of guitar-free pop music. Not long ago, pop artists had relied on guitar almost as much as rockers. But pop stars of the new millennium are tuning into EDM and hip-hop stylings, and avoiding the passé sounds of the past, especially guitar.

So what a surprise to hear so many outstanding guitar albums in recent months! This is turning into an exceptional year for guitar music—the best so far this decade, in my opinion. But it isn’t played by strutting rockers with big egos and bigger amps. In fact, most of these stellar releases come from the outskirts of the music industry, from labels and musicians you don’t read about in Rolling Stone or see on TV. But make no mistake, they are producing fresh new music of the highest caliber.

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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.

3 thoughts on “The End of Guitar Rock? Say It Ain’t So.

  • August 8, 2016 at 10:29 am

    I am not a musician, but I would assume the guitar is not the easiest instrument to master. Perhaps this most recent rise in non guitar pop and rock has something to due with the explosion of computer software that allows more individuals to have access to the tools to make music. It is no longer a necessity to have a full floor of your house filled with electronic gear and 3 or 4 band mates to help you to create the music, at least not in the early stages. The major labels have always pushed the top 20 pop style of music. Nothing wrong with that. It is mostly geared to the younger audience and they have traditionally been the group that have purchased the most records and cd’s. I find a lot of these pop songs of today to be so repetitive, interchangeable and lyrically disposable. Don’t get me wrong, even at my advancing age, I still enjoy a pop song with a good beat, natural singing and has something decent to say. But, can the labels really still say it’s what sells! Where have the sales been heading? Yes, streaming is enjoying great strides. Perhaps, the rental of this style of music is more palatable than owning it. Streaming protects the consumer from the redundancy of music. Providing a never ending soundtrack, refreshed at a fractional cost to ownership. Honestly, how many of these top 20 pop songs will still be on your playlists next year? In with the new songs out with the old. Streaming, allows you to avoid physically piling up the “trash” Is there the same fan devotion to top 20 pop songs from years gone by as say to some classic guitar rock songs? Debate! May the guitar live long and prosper!!!

  • August 8, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    People have been claiming “guitar rock is dead” since the early 70’s. Pink Floyd’s “Live at Pompeii” director’s cut, with the interviews, even addresses that particular issue. Dave Gilmour talked about it directly at 37:57.

    The fact of the matter is that you can make music with just the guitar (or any other acoustic instrument, for that matter). If you want to make music at a party with your Launchpad, you need:

    The Launchpad.
    A computer.
    An amplifier/PA.
    A power supply of some sort.

    It’s not exactly pack it up and go.

    I’d say that mainstream music is primarily electronic (obviously). But all you have to do is look just outside mainstream (Just!) and you see all sorts of incredibly popular bands and musicians who make guitar rock (Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, Rodrigo y Gabriela, or any of a hundred or so groups from the past ten years, to say nothing whatsoever of phenomenons like Jack White, Dave Grohl, and Josh Homme).

    I wouldn’t say that guitar rock is on the decline. It’s less popular than it has been since it first hit the scene, but I predict that it will come back very strongly. Why? Musical trends. Music cribs off itself constantly (or all art, really). Metal isn’t less popular than it was; it’s more popular than it has ever been, and if you look at alternative, it’s still chock full of guitars.

    Why has electronic music become so popular? Easy answer: lack of musical education and the de-emphasis of artistic education in general, thanks to the decline of the middle class (hard to send your kids to piano lessons when you’re sending them to school with KD for lunch because that’s all you can afford).

    Will it regain it’s popularity? I think it’s pretty likely. Musical styles come around again and influence later generations. Will it be the same? Probably not.

    • August 25, 2016 at 11:46 am

      >I wouldn’t say that guitar rock is on the decline. It’s less popular than it has been since it >first hit the scene, but I predict that it will come back very strongly. Why? Musical trends. >Music cribs off itself constantly (or all art, really). Metal isn’t less popular than it was; it’s >more popular than it has ever been, and if you look at alternative, it’s still chock full of >guitars.

      Further to this point, I think it’s less that guitar rock is in decline so much as other styles of music are becoming more popular, and hence, other instruments (like the cello). Rap and hip-hop are very much in ascent right now. There’s a very good reason for this: to rap, all you need is a decent vocabulary, a sense of rhythm and rhyme, and someone to provide a beat. Much like any musical style, it takes practice to do it well, but the cost of entry is a lot lower than even just having a guitar (although you can find guitars ridiculously cheap these days, but I digress). With the world economics as they are right now, this kind of makes sense. Consider the styles of music which arose during the Great Depression, and you’ll see a lot of musical parallels. However, if you venture outside of North America, guitar rock is much more popular than it is here.

      Also – and I know this may be a slightly taboo topic, but here goes – you have to consider the current drug culture. EDM is popular because the vast majority of drugs that go with it are hallucinogens and amphetamines; the two form a synergy which is unmatched by all but the most frenetic of rock and metal (which are usually really offputting unless you’re a hardcore fan of either genre), and the drugs that traditionally go with rock and metal (booze, heroin, and cocaine), have fallen off in popularity in comparison to their more synthetic counterparts (adderol, MDMA/MDA, ketamine, methylamphetamine, etc.).

      Furthermore, you must also consider the zeigeist. There are a huge number of problems in the world right now, from wealth inequality to religious terrorists to the two bastions of power in the western world being on the verge of ruining themselves, economically, socio-politically, and technologically. There are a lot of people who just want to forget about their problems for a while; the drugs and EDM scene provide exactly that, even if it’s brief. On the flip side of that, everything these days is SUPER MEGA EXTREME!!!! The music and drug culture reflect that.

      Just because the music industry clings to a particular style of music, or because radio stations with 500 song playlists are limited to endless repeats (again, pick almost any mainstream radio station and they do this) for 20 years, doesn’t mean that the rest of the world isn’t up to something totally different. The music industry is just doing what it does, which is glomming onto what they think will sell and milking it for as long as possible, and not innovating or actually keeping abreast of trends (remember the whole MP3/Napster fracas? The industry got caught with their pants down because they refused to see the writing on the wall, then blamed their misstep on their customers and “saved face” by suing the very people who were buying their products.).

      These particular trends (among others, but these are probably the most significant) are (likely) responsible for the upswing of popularity of those styles of music.

      In any event, all you have to do is go to any general music festival, and the dominant instrument is the guitar. If a grass-roots basis isn’t an indicator, I don’t know what is.


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