too much typing—since 2003


Ah but I was so much younger then - I'm older than that now

Sean over at Said the Gramophone has posted an intriguing list culled from a survey conducted by a professor at McGill University. The professor surveyed the 200 students in his lecture on their favorite bands. Unsurprisingly (to me, at least, who teaches college students and therefore sees their taste, as reflected in ballcaps, t-shirts, and bumper stickers, on a daily basis), the top act is Dave Matthews Band. Slightly surprising (again given my unscientific cap-and-shirt poll) is the relatively low standing of Phish. Some surprises: Ben Harper? And Louis Armstrong placing in the top 30? Or The Band? (Although that might be a Canadian Content entry - certainly The Tragically Hip are.)

What's most pathetic to me about the list is how incredibly backward-looking it is. More than half the acts have recording careers older than most of these students, and about a quarter of the acts cumulatively reap an impressive death toll of at least 15 (sorry: I'm incapable of remembering exactly how many members of the Grateful Dead are that). At one level it's great that college students are interested in some kind of history (real history, they know next to nothing about), but yeesh: I'm twenty years older than them and I think the list skews Matlock-ward.

I think the list also suggests a serious indictment of the music industry. College students are, or ought to be, a key demographic for music sales: they have time, and fewer financial obligations, and their identities are still in flux, all of which spell "desirable demographic" to most product-pushers. But not the music industry: no, they're too busy pursuing ever-younger demographics, leaving this prime audience all but untapped. How many acts being given big major-label promo work in styles similar to the ones preferred by these students, or display clear influences of those acts? Not that many - otherwise, I'm not sure why so many college students are apparently more fulfilled digging through their parents' record collections (or their grandparents' forchrissakes) than buying new music (even if it's new old-music music).

The list also suggests that rock-critic consensus is at an all-time low in terms of actual influence on key music-buying demographics. With the exceptions of Outkast and Radiohead, none of these acts get much in the way of contemporary critical grape-peeling.

I'd be curious, though, to see how sales of AARP-rock stack up against the various Billboard non-catalog charts. I suspect that a lot of these acts are massively downloaded, rather than purchased, especially given how readily available those acts' songs are. But then, why would you want to pay for records that are thirty to forty years old? I'm wondering if there has ever been a time when college students' tastes have veered so drastically retro as this poll suggests.

Of course, the poll is hardly a scientifically reliable sample, and without knowing the circumstances under which it was conducted, I couldn't say what kinds of biases might have been built in. (For instance, the extent to which the students might have felt compelled to reflect the professor's own tastes, or whether the course topic pre-selected students inclined to like older music: "Rock Music of the Sixties," say.) But a lot of the poll's results accord with my more general impressions gleaned from my students - so I suspect it's fairly accurate.

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