This is actually a phenomenon that I would link closely with the 20th century and the emergence of an entire industry around this "art" form.

Even though I am no professional in the field, I can confidently state it used to be the case where most music would fall into two categories (described by their modern equivalents): folk and classical. The former was the basis for the sorts of ditties that your average peasant with a lute would create. The latter were things such as symphonies and the such, as well as monastic chants and basically anything that the upper classes would create. The way that I differentiate the two is by their method of preservation / distribution. The former was primarily passed by word of mouth (not necessarily in a literal context, but the basic idea is that it was passed on from person to person), while the latter was usually passed on through some written form. Therefore, the latter category survives much better than the former. What does this have to do with music being overrated?

Well, in the 20th century (or whereabouts), people started recording their music, which could be played on a phonograph or equivalent device. This immediately differed from music of the prior ages in a few major ways :

  • It was easier to distribute
  • You didn't have to lug a musician and/or orchestra around to play it

Towards the latter half of the century, we saw your average village troubadour becoming a multimillionaire simply because they can strum a guitar and sing a song like their ancestors, the only difference being that millions of people hear them and buy their records. It's important to point out that around this point in time the role of composer and performer had melded together (except in cases like The Monkees or the Spice Girls. Those people just disgust me, even though the former did get around to writing their own stuff eventually). This, combined with the fact that music had become more democratized, might explain how it became a socially accepted art form. All of the sudden, for some odd reason, songs could have 'meaning' above their general mood or their religious or mythical theme (in the case of opera or hymns). This was probably prevalent in the ages of yore, but in this century, with its mass media and megacorporations, it has become a social dogma, or what you otherwise might call a socially accepted law.

This is all supposed to lead up to something deeply meaningful, right? Well, what I basically want to get to is that music has become yet another form of defining social structure. In the most puerile of cases, we have created stereotypes based on what genre of music people listen to. You have your punk rockers, goths, rivetheads, ravers, hippies, stoners, et cetera ad nauseam. While this sort of idiocy tends to gravitate, in my experience, around the likes of ignorant, uneducated teenagers like myself, we have still created as society in which a certain mindset will usually have its complimentary soundtrack. We have created so many genres and sub-genres, so many bloated and fascist record companies, and elevated it to such an art form that we might consider Stairway to Heaven to be equivalent to, say, The Ceiling of the Sistene Chapel.

Since any socially accepted music is usually covered in a shield of 'artistic meaning' that will probably spawn several over-glorifying documentaries on VH1 surrounding said music. If we look at what music is, it's basically a sequence of sounds that are somehow appealing to the human mind. Often, singing is included, usually under the guise that it's upposed to add some sort of artistic appeal to what would otherwise simply be the string of rhythmic noises that it is. However, I believe that the actual lyrics themselves are ultimately useless, but the very sound of the human voice, being an instrument itself, subconsciously adds appeal to a song (err, I mean, work of art). This is most prevalent in world music, such as Gregorian Chant. I doubt the massive CD sales of Chant and its sequels are due to a massive amount of people who know Medieval Latin. I'm thinking it's due to a massive amount of people enjoying the sounds of human voices making appealing noises in a language they can't understand. Same thing goes with opera.

My basic complaint about the modern musical scene is that it does not notice this; that music really is just a bunch of noises that sound purty. Currently, they seem to have caught themselves up in this whole 'lyrics' business with its ideology or its whining about how much life sucks and all of this established music theory(personally, I think that electronic music is generally digressing from this norm for reasons described quite succinctly in its node). I believe that originality will blossom once people learn to play, well, Zen music. Music that is played wu-hsin and wu-nien. Music that is played freely and naturally. Or at least stuff that isn't mind-numbing tripe played by a bunch of over-hyped troubadours.

Disclaimer : No, I don't necessarily have anything against any of the above grossly generalized groups or music forms, so don't yell at me for that comment about Stairway to Heaven. Furthermore, most of this probably doesn't make sense, but I think the last two paragraphs contain my primary focus

Update 01:40-ish :
It seems I didn't catch myself unwittingly making two definitions out of the word 'music'. There is what I would call the essential defition and the popular definition. The former is looking at music for face value; the purty noises I keep talking about. The latter is looking at music in the context of the social elements and abstractions surrounding it. From this standpoint, music has a genre, it has stereotypes surrounding it, an it generally has some sort of element that people can relate to.

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