Why Did Rock Music Decline and Can It Make a Comeback?

There was a time when rock was the dominant form of popular music. The decline of rock began as early as the mid 1960s. By the 1970s, disco had taken over. However, rock still remained a force until the late 1990s. By the 2000s, pop rock was for the most part the only form of the rock that was charting high on the Billboard Hot 100. Pop rock even struggled between about 2009 to 2011 when dance and electro music largely took over pop radio.

Pop radio radically changed again in 2013 and pop rock made a comeback. Electro-rock band Imagine Dragons and pop punk band Fallout Boy enjoyed success on both alternative and pop radio. Indie, folk, and country inspired music achieved pop success as did R&B and funk. Hell, even Chris Stapleton is currently enjoying success on both country AND rock stations with his latest “Midnight Train to Memphis” (which I love, by the way), along with Zack Brown Band partnering up with Chris Cornell (RIP) for “Heavy is the Head”.

With pop radio embracing more diverse forms of music including pop rock and electro-rock, is there a chance for the guitar driven rock similar to what was popular in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s to make a comeback as well?

Simplistic Arguments for the Decline of Rock

These are samples of responses from our Facebook page that asked the question of why rock music is in decline.

“Music for youth is now about the packaging and the presentation-not the music.”

“Today’s ‘stars’ are nothing more than video created characters that rely too much on flashing lights, back up dancers, video editing to make them look like they’re actually singing and much much more.”

“its all about making lots of money now”

Except image has always been important in music. Rock legends like The Beatles and Elvis Presley were very well packaged. Bands from decades ago like The Osmonds and The Monkees were as much video characters as musicians. The music industry has always been about making money and finding the next big star. Some people like to blame MTV and the rise of the music video. But rock survived well into the late nineties, more than a decade after MTV’s arrival.

Demographic Problems for Rock Music

One of rock’s problems seems to be demographic. Modern rock music is mainly being purchased by young males. Girls and women 40 and under mainly purchase pop music. Despite the success of some later female rockers like 10,000 Maniacs and Alanis Morissette, modern rock still seems to have a problem attracting female buyers. In 2006, the website smartgirl.com surveyed girls around the world on their music taste. While the survey didn’t provide percentages, rock only appeared in the other category and that was just a tiny slice of the overall pie chart. Now, it’s possible that some rock fans chose alternative (which covers several genres) but this was still less than half the size of the pop category. The potential buyers for rock music are in decline.

Rock Has Become Too Serious?

I listen to everything, literally, but mostly modern rock because that’s what I sing and that’s what I represent on the radio. These songs are often very serious and somber. Rock music wasn’t always so serious. Some of it was fun. But these days if a rock song is fun, it’s labeled as a pop song. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Pantera, Trivium, and Soilwork, but it feels like the general population only view bands such as the ones I’ve listed as rock bands, and everything else isn’t.

Queen’s We Will Rock You, Joan Jett’s I Love Rock n’ Roll, and The Beatles Yellow Submarine and Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds (which was about a picture preschooler Julian Lennon drew), were upbeat and fun songs. So, was Third Stone from the Sun by Jimi Hendrix even though the alien involved decided to destroy the Earth. The Pixies have a song about sea monkeys called Palace of the Brine. Both Van Halen, and David Bowie with Mick Jagger covered Martha and the Vandellas Dancing in the Streets.

If a song doesn’t have a serious meaning, it has no right to exist. Rock fans decry the death of “real music.” This is a turn off to many people who want music to serve different purposes. Sometimes, it should be fun. Sometimes, it should be serious. Sometimes it should be about things we can relate to whether that’s falling in love or a painful breakup. Sometimes it can deal with social issues.

Another issue could be the constant changing of the guard when it comes to how rock is labeled now. Upon doing a search on Google for the different styles of rock music currently, I was awarded a wikipedia page listing close HUNDREDS of different styles of rock…and a large portion of them end in “core”. I get Hardcore, that one is a given, but what the hell is bro-core, electronicore, grindcore, melodic hardcore, melodic metalcore, etc?? What ever happened to classic rock, rock, hard rock, and metal?? There’s even a style called MATHCORE! WTF?? Do we add and subtract to heavy beats now?? Feel free to click that link above for the complete A-Z list, if you feel so bold.

Can Rock Comeback?

With radio diversifying, the moment is ripe for guitar driven rock to come back. Just like Avicii popularized folktronica (folk/country/bluegrass mixed with electronic music) on pop radio and Imagine Dragons popularized electro-rock, someone may come along who makes guitar driven rock that can appeal to pop audiences, as well as women and minorities. Personally, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings one single bit to see the 80’s hair metal sound make a big comeback, but that’s just me…or is it?


Shane Whitecloud is On Air every day from 3pm to 7pm on Rock 104.5 – FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER!