Music of the future

The Songs of the Future — What Will They Sound Like?

I had a professor once who, while commenting on what the music of the future would sound like, said, “Well, if we knew that, we’d be writing it now.”

That’s very likely not true. What’s more likely is something like that scene from “Back to the Future”, when Marty plays “Johnny B. Goode”, which morphs into a distorted guitar solo belonging about to 15 or more years in the future. The audience stares with very unimpressed looks on their faces.

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If we were blessed with the ability to hear what the music of a few years from now would sound like, we’d probably be similarly unimpressed. What we hear mostly in music is its style. And hearing music from, let’s say, 20 years in the future — 2042 — means we’d have no perspective on why it sounds that way.

When a group or performer is so noteworthy that they influence all the acts around them, they almost single-handedly change the direction of music. The Beatles did it in the 60s, the Bee Gees did it in the 70s, and Michael Jackson arguably did it in the 80s.

But when we talk about the music of those musical acts, we’re talking more about the style of the music than anything else. And style is a present-day notion, and then it ages. In some pop genres, music that’s a year or two old is already showing its age.

Songwriting a Few Thousand Years From Now

But it’s an interesting thought experiment to think about what music of the distant future will sound like. What about music a thousand years from now? Or two thousand years — in 4022?

Technology has a lot to do with the changes in the basic sound of music, and once the technology happens (like electric instruments and distorted guitar in the 50s and 60s, for example, or digital computers in the 80s), it can influence almost all the music that comes after it.

But one thing that never changes is the basic human voice.

Two thousand years ago, our concept of what harmony should be was considerably different from what we consider acceptable today. Chords as we know them today didn’t really exist back then.

But melody wasn’t much different. If you listen to old Gregorian chant from, let’s say, the mid 500s (roughly 1500 years ago), it wouldn’t be hard to take those melodies and dress them up with today’s equipment and production values. You can make a 1500-year-old melody sound modern, and it’s not hard to do.

The reason that the actual constructs of melody haven’t really changed over the centuries is because the human voice hasn’t changed.

The voice still has the same basic tendencies and characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, because human DNA hasn’t changed in that space of time. I suspect that if we could hear the songs that will happen 2000 years from now, we’d be struck by how strange it will all sound. How weird the instruments will be, how different the production values will be, and how confusing the harmonic structures might be.

But the voice? We’ll still recognize it, and I think when you look at the basic melodic structures, we’ll still hear the same things that we heard back in A.D. 500, and the same things we hear today: melodies that are mainly stepwise in their construction with occasional melodic leaps.

If we popped ahead 2000 years, we may not recognize a single instrument anymore. But in the year 4022, the same need to allow the human voice to convey emotional meaning through music will still exist.

It’s just that it will be done in a rather different way.

Do you have any thoughts on the future of music? Please feel free to share them below.

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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