The Lumberjack

Internet killed the rock star

Illustration by Abigail LeForge.

Rock music has had an identity crisis since the turn of the century, and the internet has much to do with it. A good place to start is Napster, a revolutionary online music-sharing site that had its day between 1999 and 2002. This was a time when downloading songs online was frowned upon in the music industry, which is fascinating now since downloading MP3s and streaming music is the norm these days. That era was also the high point of CD sales, which has lost its popularity not only to digital music, but the resurgence of vinyl records.

The late ’90s brimmed with awful grunge rock spinoffs and rap metal, which spun in heavy rotation on the air. Throughout the ’90s, mainstream music was more subject to quantity in sales than distributing quality music, as controlled by a conglomerate of major record companies like Sony and EMI.

To a large extent, the public embraced the ability to share music online for free, following the successful launch of Napster. However, the music industry, as well as major label artists like Metallica and Dr. Dre, weren’t having it. Courts ruling against Napster in copyright infringement lawsuits facilitated the swift decline of the peer-to-peer file sharing service. But with every ending comes a new beginning.

Shortly after Napster ceased operations in 2002, corporations like Apple embraced downloading music and capitalized on it at full tilt. What’s also important to note is that audio recording equipment became affordable and obscure sounds of the past became more accessible, thanks to the rise of internet in the 2000s. Combine these elements with the convenient ability to upload music online and anyone can be an artist. In other words, the audience became the producer.

Before diving further into the digital music revolution, let’s discuss the origins of rock ’n’ rolI.

Prior to rock pioneers like Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley in the ’50s, there was blues, country and folk music. Overlooked musicians such as Charley Patton, Robert Johnson and Big Mama Thornton planted the seeds to rock ’n’ roll that ultimately produced the classic ’50s rock sound we all know now.

The ’60s ushered in the hippie era, including evolutionary sounds of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Grateful Dead. The ’70s largely consisted of glam (T. Rex, David Bowie), punk (Sex Pistols, Patti Smith) and space rock (Pink Floyd, Hawkwind). The ’80s popularized hair metal (Mötley Crüe, Van Halen) and new wave (Talking Heads, Depeche Mode).

The ’80s also launched an era of music videos to accompany hit singles, which replaced radio as a means to support artists. The invention of CDs during this time changed the game in terms of how people listened to music as well. Finally, the ’90s incorporated grunge (Nirvana, Pearl Jam) and rap metal (Limp Bizkit, Korn). Following Y2K, rock ’n’ roll embarked on a renaissance period that extends to this day.

These days, a vast majority of rock bands are reminiscent of the sounds of the past, no matter how much they attempt to fuse other genres into their music. Whether or not this is a drag is in the ears of the beholder, but it’s worth pointing out that there are some outstanding rock songs being shared now.

Gone are the days of rock icons like Led Zeppelin or Queen. Gifted musicians are drowned out by the mass quantity of music posted on the internet, leaving so many of the good ones to plateau. Just as the “Video Killed the Radio Star” in the ’80s and ’90s, the internet killed the rock star by offering too many choices.

Lastly, younger millennials have embraced the sounds and styles of the ’90s. Since the 2000s were a time of revival, what’s the next formative generation of rock fans going to embrace?