Thursday, May 9, 2013

It's Different This Time!

You see this claim made a lot in all sorts of areas of life. It is particularly ubiquitous in finance. I can remember as a relatively inexperienced investor back in the late 1990s hearing it all the time. The Internet is transforming everything; the old rules don't apply. It certainly seemed to be the case at the time. B2B (which stood for "business to business") Internet commerce companies like Commerce One certainly didn't seem to be bound by the rules! I owned the company in 1999 and 2000 and I recall that the stock went up $150 in ONE DAY around Christmas. Sheeeesh! However, it turned out that Internet business follows much the same financial principles as other businesses, even though the circumstances are different. Read the Wikipedia article to see the fate of Commerce One.

Mind you, the Internet did transform things. Companies like Amazon and EBay have transformed retail in many areas. The music business will never be the same. But the people that have done well are simply people who understand how the basic principles apply in the new circumstances.

The shibboleth "it's different this time" also has an interesting aesthetic dimension in popular music--well, music in general, I suppose. It was the underlying motto of the avant-garde, for example. The extent to which it was actually true is still unknown. Each era does in fact come up with genuinely new sounds. Bach's counterpoint is really and fundamentally different from Palestrina's counterpoint. But it is still counterpoint and some basic principles still apply. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring is fundamentally different from a ballet by Lully or Tchaikovsky and we may still be too close to it to see the underlying principles, but they may exist.

In pop music the claim that each new artist is really, really new (even though they sound depressingly similar to the last ten) is merely a rawer and more clumsy attempt to conceal the existence of fundamental principles of aesthetics. I made an attempt at outlining some of these way back in this post. Here is a follow-up post with a couple of examples.

Any time you read or hear or see anything in the mass media it is always a good idea to ask "cui bono?" "To whose benefit?" It is of enormous benefit to young flim-flam artists that you regard their music as an entirely new and fresh phenomenon instead of the tired, old crap that they are actually purveying. Nifty costumes, lights, special effects, studio wizardry and dance routines are often there to distract you from the music.

This post is kind of a footnote to my earlier one today about Green Day and Psy. Let's end with some music. Bob Dylan, "Things Have Changed":

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