The Demise Of The Electric Guitar In Music...

by Bobby Owsinski, (Original Article - Forbes Magazine)

Today's main-stream music has become nothing more than a modern version of disco, with lots of synthesizers, effects and female vocalists... real guitars (along with other 'real' instruments; i.e., drums, bass, acoustic piano), have vanished!

There are times when a trend happens so fast that it’s just like being hit in the face with an ice cold towel, and then there are times when it’s so slow moving that you can feel something happening, but it takes a while before you realize that you’re totally immersed in something new. A little of both happened to me over the last week as it finally sunk in that mainstream pop music is now totally represented by the latest music trend. And guess what? The electric guitar, staple of modern music for more than 50 years, has little part in it.

 In case you’re wondering, it’s electronic dance music (or EDM as we’ve grown to call it) that has totally blended with pop music to become the current background music of our lives. It’s now in every nook and cranny where the latest music is required to be seen as hip.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in the music business up to my ears every day and I’m totally aware that EDM has become both a phenomenon and a giant money maker over the last three or four years in terms of live events. I’m also more than aware that over the last two years elements of EDM have permeated the Top 40 charts on the vast majority of hits. You have to be completely musically unconscious to not to have seen and heard that.

And I read the stats and watch the revenue numbers involving EDM, where you could see the big money of the major promoters and record labels making their moves to claim their piece of it over the last year. It’s usually a sign that a trend is about to peak as the big brands move in to stake their claim and squeeze every last drop of financial juice out of it that they can, as seems to be happening at the moment. You read and absorb all this data, but sometimes it just doesn’t sink in as it should. Needless to say I was unprepared for my recent mini-revelation.

You see, I spent the last week on a cruise ship visiting various resort towns in Florida and the Caribbean. No big deal there, except for the background soundtrack that I was hearing literally everywhere I went. It was entirely EDM-based.

Every shop (and I mean every single one of them, even those that favored the old hippie crowd) played a modern version of disco with lots of synthesizers, effects and female vocalists, a formula that seems just as ubiquitous as the guitar-based sound of the British Invasion, metal, punk or grunge was in its time – only this one doesn’t have a guitar in it (or has one that’s cleverly disguised as a synthesizer or printed low in the mix).

What’s more, none of the bands on the cruise ship carried a guitar player, which was also the case with the musical acts on land at the various ports of call as well. The music I can understand, but downsizing the guitar player?

Now just for the record I spent much of my adult life as a professional guitar player, then as a recording engineer and producer, and have a lot of experience working in all genres of music. I’m not passing judgement here, and you won’t be hearing any “music has lost its way” speeches from me. I believe that change is healthy and all trends cycle like the pendulum of a old Grandfather’s clock – slowly all the way to one side, then slowly all the way to the other, then back again. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is.

Granted, what I’ve presented is just a small dose of empirical evidence, which I freely admit, but I have to say that when you visit some shops residing next to Mayan ruins in the jungle of Mexico and they’re playing EDM-laced pop music in the background, you know that things in music have changed big time.

I had the same revelation once in the 80’s while on tour in Europe. In every shop and mall in Paris, Munich, London and Geneva, you heard Van Halen, The Clash and The Romantics. That was truly the music of the world at the time. I’d venture to say that EDM/Pop is the music of the world now – and that type of music has little to no electric guitar in it.

So all you kids trying to make the decision whether it’s better to learn how to make beats or join a garage band, choose wisely. The music of today might not be the music of tomorrow. Think hard before you give up on that plank of wood with metal wires. The electric guitar may be dead in music today as evidenced by guitarists everywhere scrambling to find new lines of work, but it may just as likely rise from the musical ashes of tomorrow. Trends are like that.