What happened to country music is a question that some fans have been asking for a while. This is especially true for older country music fans.
The simple truth is that the genre changed and all you have to do is listen to the country hits of 1982 and compare them to today, or even to five years ago. It sounds quite different, as the predominant themes and overall tone have changed, but that’s not the only difference. The production, instrumentation and overall vibe and sound of country songs is different. One could argue that country music from 30 or more years ago is close to extinct and that what you get now is a mix of pop and rock with a lap string guitar added and a southern accent. Here is what happened to country music.
The world changed, artists changed
Some say change is the only constant and it’s hard to argue with that unerring fact of life. In a world of smartphones, the Internet and Amazon, it may be hard to relate to some of the recurring themes of old-age country music. Artists like Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash were right for their time. And artists like Morgan Wallen, Carie Underwood, and Keith Urban are right for this time.
And before you get all stressed about that statement and scream “who said so” in front of your touch screen, know this: the audience said so. Which audience? The one that constantly streams and attends the concerts of the country artists of today. And by the way, streaming is the way music is consumed nowadays. CD sales (as well as LP and other formats) are close to extinct. Sure, you can still buy a typewriter if you search for it, but I’m guessing you probably use something with a screen to type. I rest my case.
Producing music has changed
Remember the days of gigantic studios, filled with expensive physical gear and session players? Well, those still exist but have also experienced a severe decline. It is now more common to work in a nice home studio that replaces physical gear with plug-ins. Sure, you can still book time into a massive studio, but their role in the business is not what it used to be. Thirty years ago you had to go to one of these studios to get top-notch quality.
Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds and you can now get the same quality at your home studio. If you know what you are doing, that is. Now, please understand that your home studio will likely not be as well equipped and put together as a top-notch producer’s home studio. And more importantly than the gear, is how to use it. It takes years of intense practice to become good at producing, regardless of what Instagram might lead you to believe.
Other genres have also changed
It is a bit baffling why the talk centers around why country music has changed and ignores other genres. For instance, jazz sounds nothing like it did in 1960, rock has changed quite a bit and so has blues. You could make the argument that country has changed more drastically than other styles, but it certainly isn’t the only genre to have changed.
Music is consumed differently today and entertainment options have become highly fragmented and unlimited. Even the way artists become known has changed a great deal. Johnny Cash became known with incessant touring and by breaking into AM radio. Carrie Underwood became known as a reality show contestant that had a beautiful voice.
It is common for older generations to reject change. Perhaps our parents wish that rock would go back to what the Beatles sounded like. But it is important to know that when the Beatles became a world phenomenon, many in the older generation decried their music and their shaggy looks. They preferred the music of Frank Sinatra and other crooners and dismissed the Beatles as a band for teenagers with bad taste in music.
Nothing ever stays the same. It may take years, but change is coming. You can either embrace it or keep on using your typewriter.