Progressive Music and its Place in the Modern Music Industry
To begin with, it is most unfortunate that we should even have to use the term ‘prog’ or ‘progressive’ to define this particular genre of music. Ever since music became an established art form, people have been continually pushing the envelope of what’s accepted by those who listen to, and appreciate music; and have aimed for the impossible. Music is, after all, sound – and the manipulation of it. It is only in the last century that humanity has begun to see the rise and domination of record labels when it comes to the production and distribution of this manipulated sound. People’s social wellbeing during the World Wars was inevitably a significant contributing factor to record label’s want to alter artist’s music in order to please a war-stricken society. A bad move? Not at all! But the subsequent repercussions have left a dark stain on the face of the music industry today – both for better and for worse. It is since then – the era of manufactured, pleasing music that the artistic community has seen a decline in what the population accepts to be ‘music’. Instead of music being the direct manipulation of sound, to please the artist and to strive for new levels of musical understanding; it is now dominated totally by this new culture of 4 minute pop songs with catchy choruses.
Now, before I can truly start to say where progressive music stands in today’s society, I have to stress the importance of the fact that there is nothing truly wrong with 4 minute pop songs – or catchy choruses, for that matter. It should also be stressed that there are many, many artists who genuinely strive to create this sort of music as their art. Porcupine Tree, for example, are certainly very influenced by the song-based sound and acoustic singer-songwriter conventions. Conversely, it is the record labels that strive to control artistic abilities to satisfy a demographic that are the hindrance of music today. We can collectively look back at the pre-war view of music, and we see the now-dubbed ‘classical’ musicians such as Mozart who in their heyday composed pieces of epic proportions. And I have to take this time to stress the word epic here – to put it simply; if they were alive and composing today, they would be progressive legends! Here we see the problem – we, in today’s society, have to label ‘risky’ music as progressive, simply because of the dominating invasion of label-controlled pop songs.
As a young and aspiring progressive musician, I have to say it’s incredibly refreshing to see musicians like Steven Wilson gaining popularity and acceptance in today’s music scene. There certainly was a time in the 80’s and 90’s where it all looked very bleak for ‘progressive’ music – Pink Floyd had split and Nirvana dominated airwaves the world over (no offense to Nirvana, of course.) Aside from the rise in interest in established progressive musicians, there has also been a significant rise in the number of independent musicians who produce and distribute music on their own terms. Record labels, although monstrously powerful, are seeing a decline in physical sales thanks to a) the extreme convenience of downloading music and b) the fact that the internet is a goldmine for ‘internet pirates’ who don’t want to pay anyway. I think we can all confess having fallen into that trap a few times – but, perhaps, a necessary convenience with unfortunate impacts on the artist’s wellbeing, but a step forward in the way that people perceive music. For one thing, pirate websites have told us that there is a huge growth of apathy on planet Earth, and people would ‘much rather have convenience over quality of experience’ –Steven Wilson. This can lead to only one sensible conclusion; that much of label’s power over creative control and distribution will have to be shifted back towards the artists; otherwise labels will not be able to stand after artists have left, seeing the benefits of direct artist to fan distribution.
Progressive music is the concept that artists should create music that both challenges themselves and the listeners; as opposed to the idea that it is long, Gilmour-esque solos and trippy synths. It could be, yes, but as the fundamentals of progressive music are concerned – that ship has sailed. Now let’s try and do something altogether different. But the very foundations of the topic at hand rely on the question – when will the general public accept progressive music as what music should be?
In terms of the future of the genre, it’s difficult to really put a finger on where it will stand commercially. On one hand, we are seeing a rise in the support of modern progressive giants like Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, Opeth and Anathema and we are also seeing the rise in artist to fan distribution, in the case of Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead and every single independent progressive musician, for whom I hope I can speak on behalf of in this case. On the other hand, we have a growth in people’s love for free, bad quality and convenient music. To conclude, I think society will be divided over progressive music for many years – if not decades – to come. I firmly believe and hold onto the idea that the artist to fan revolution will see a rise in the number of progressive musicians who create music, and who are willing to freely distribute it to avid fans – not to mention musicians of other genres who will do the same. After all, the term progressive doesn’t have to actually depict a blueprinted sound; instead it represents the overall concept that music pushes the boundaries. This one criteria for musicians and music lovers worldwide will be met, I believe, after this revolution has manifested itself in the cogs of the music industry. So what does the future hold? More awesome music from artists all over the world, a respecting fan base and a culture that embraces more genres of music than ever before. Artists like Steven Wilson greatly inspire this sort of activity, and have already got the ball rolling. It’s only a matter of time…
(Written by Alex Mascart, sole member of progressive rock act In Sequence)
- Steven Wilson and Guthrie Govan talk about their touring gear
- Early Porcupine Tree recordings ‘Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape’ now available to pre-order exclusively from Headphone Dust
- SW and band to perform in store at Amoeba Records in San Francisco
- Steven Wilson announces more European tour dates
- Steven Wilson and band perform ‘The Watchmaker’ Live in Germany
- Steven Wilson to headline Loreley Festival in Germany in July
- Steven Wilson posts update thanking fans for European tour
- Lengthy new interview with Steven Wilson recorded in Stuttgart
- Nosound announce new studio album ‘Afterthoughts’ featuring ex-Porcupine Tree drummer Chris Maitland
- ‘The Free Henry Fool Download EP’ featuring two Steven Wilson mixes