The Death of Obscurity

I’m often accused of being a music snob; someone who listens to music on the basis that it is ‘obscure’, and would not dream of listening to anything mainstream.  Now whilst I’ve begun to find these accusations tiresome and boring, It got me thinking- I don’t think of most of the music I listen to as obscure.  Amongst my group of friends the jazz groups Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland are well known and in this sense are not obscure to me.  However, I am a stranger to many of the artists in the top 40 – when I checked the UK chart I could count the number of songs I recognised on one hand.

So how can one set of music be obscure for one person, yet not for another? My suggestion is that it’s a question of the channels which are used to access music.  For example a track in the top 10 is much less likely to be played on Radio 6 Music than it is on Radio One, and so one audience will be more familiar with songs played on one station than the other. Radio One has a much larger audience (about ten times larger) which could lead us to believe one channel is more obscure than the other, however, both stations are equally accessible. So to say one is more ‘obscure’ than the other is a little misleading. The same could be said for music magazines; a publication focused on ‘obscure’ music like The Wire can be found alongside NME, MOJO, Rolling Stone and other ‘mainstream’ publications even in a high street newsagent such as WHSmiths, even in a small town like my own.

Of course, these traditional channels are becoming increasingly less important in determining what music people listen to; whether we like it or not print is a dying format and radio listening figures have been in decline amongst the youth for some time.  The all seeing eye of the Internet now provides the ultimate access to any form of media, with music being no exception. I am able to find (legally or otherwise) virtually any album by any artist from any point in recorded history with just a few clicks. This is without mention of the expansive libraries of music found on services such as Spotify, Grooveshark and etc. With this in mind I find it hard to say that one artist can be more obscure than another – virtually (excuse the pun) all are equally accessible via the internet- even artists without an official web presence are likely to have been blogged about or had their music uploaded.

Furthermore, the internet has meant that the number of channels and opportunities for music to be discovered has increased exponentially, and presumably will continue to do so- I am contributing to it right now.  On one hand this means that all music is equally accessible. On the other, as these channels become more fractured and numerous, each catering for a specific audience, it becomes easy to get lost within a niche and become estranged from others, as I have with chart music; artists can be both obscure and simultaneously accessible, the Schrödinger’s Cat of musical obscurity if you will.

One thought on “The Death of Obscurity

  1. Some people (like John Peel) seem to only enjoy music if no-one else does at the first time of listening, he certainly sought out the obscure and often unformed, and in so doing, his fame transformed the obscure into the well-known – but a lot of it was still basic stuff that arguably would never be otherwise justified in seeing the light of day.

    Having said that, there’s also a lot to admire in someone not following a well-trodden mainstream path just for the sake of it. That’s surely morely desirable than a world of re-treads and formulae set in concrete.

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