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Musical Space: Old Music

I’m worried. According to Nielsen data for 2015, album sales of older music have now outpaced those of new releases. I checked it out; albums made in the 1970s by Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and others made last year’s Billboard top 200 album chart. So, why are millennials buying their grandparents’ music?

I won’t accept this as proof that older music is better. Good music is always being made. And the data aren’t just because of nostalgia; most of these buyers weren’t alive in the ‘70s.

This might be some strange effect of the internet. New music on digital media might just be too ephemeral. It’s easy to stream new music without making the emotional and financial investment of buying and storing an album. Looks like people will collect music that can already be safely called “classic.”

But if more of what people buy is old, record companies will invest less in new acts. Back catalogs account for an increasing share of profits; we’re in something of a vicious cycle.

Only a revolution can remedy this, a seismic cultural shift accompanied by a change in musical style as with rock in the ‘60s or hip hop in the ‘90s. When people bought albums in those eras, they were investing in something that defined their place in the world. It’s time for the next Beatles.

Or maybe, young people just think their parents’ music is “cool,” which is my biggest fear of all.

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.