More Evidence That the Music Industry Has a ‘Quality Problem’…

The music industry has a lot of problems, but is the quality of the music itself one of them?  To examine this question, Digital Music News looked at Rolling Stone’s ranking of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (updated for 2012).  We then plotted each album by the year of release.


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45 Responses

  1. music buyer

    in dance / electronic music genres, we get a flood of ~15,000 new tracks per week, so the issue is def. not the quantity LOL

    • soniquarium muzika

      Not S(*&. I think every basement producer has been able to get their tracks on Beatport and Itunes via Tune Core and companies like that who give no care about quality. What I have found is “compilations” and Promo Pools are the place to get the Best EDM as they have quality control.

  2. Jeff R.

    By definition, a GOAT will have stood the test of time. I would say that takes 20 years more or less so this isn’t surprising. Interesting nonetheless – only time will tell the full story.

    • Jackodrums

      This isn’t a question of good or bad music. It’s more of a question if what do people want to buy and what kind of music do musicians want to make to fill that demand. In that light, no it’s not subjective. See back in the day before people stole music en masse, fans “voted” on quality with their dollars – letting artists and the industry know what they did or did not like. Now, that message isn’t clear because an illegal (anonymously obtained, untraceable) copy sends the same null “vote” on the macro level as a purposefully not-bought copy. Multiply this by thousands or millions and the problem of “what kind of music should we make/buy” becomes so much harder to answer. So there may be a wide gap between what people want vs. what’s being produced – leading to a perceived lack of quality.

  3. Bandit

    First, Rolling Stone Magazine is old.

    Second, what is a magazine?

    Third, what is an album?

    Fourth, pop music has always been a huge mound of crap that takes effort to discover anything worth listening to more than once. These days the mound is just much bigger.

    • Kord Taylor

      I agree on all fronts. If we are to try this right, why don’t we do sales of a song?

  4. Me

    Are you kidding? Rolling Stone is the last magazine I would trust to judge “quality albums.”

  5. GGG

    Eh, I mean, the 60s and 70s had such an unbelievable amount of incredible and incredibly influential albums that would be a sin to leave off any list, publications like RS and a lot of music nerds (myself included) will naturally weigh heavily on their side. Influence and ingenuity usually takes precedent over someone who makes a brilliant record but owes all their sound to older artists when measuring 60s/70s records against 90s/00s.

    Overall, though, I think quality of the Top 40/best known music has gone down because majors are so risk averse, but there is plenty of fantastic stuff right off the mainstream if you look for it. Some of which crosses over to varying extents.

    • TuneHunter

      The problem is that typical Radio station is revolving just 100 tunes over and over – all under heavy influence of lost labels.
      Radio stations have no incentives to to tease you with brilliant and undiscovered yet tunes! – unless you convert them to MUSIC STORES. Discovery Moment Monetization solution to all industry problems.

  6. ThinkItThrough

    Or maybe Rolling Stone has a reporting problem?

    Based on half-baked logic like this, it sounds like DMN might just have a critical-thinking problem.

  7. Me

    The opinions of editors of a mediocre magazine do not constitute evidence.

  8. Jeff Robinson

    Oh, don’t get me started on this.

    Check out the reviews written by the revisionistas at and you’ll see the same problem. Worse, is the ‘clique-based’ Pitchfork…

    The graphic shows that Rolling Stone is too old to rock and roll, yet too young to die.

  9. Jeff Robinson

    Oh, don’t get me started on this. Rolling Stone is too old to rock and roll yet too young to die.

    Good riddance.

    A bigger gripe might be with AllMusic for their revisionist slant on everything. Imagine if Rolling Stone regularly revised it’s album reviews as rampantly as allmusic does? Don’t mention Pitchfork. A clique-based critique system is almost an oxymoron.

  10. visitor

    ok – but to be fair – Rolling Stone is a “boomer” rag… what does the list look like from Pitchfork…

  11. Seriously.

    Looks to me like Rolling Stone has more of a nostalgia problem then a quality one.

  12. jw

    I’m not sure this list reflects the objective quality of records as much as it reflects their social impact. Quite frankly, records don’t have the cultural impact they once had. 9/10 folks still haven’t heard an Arcade Fire song, or at least they wouldn’t recognize it if they did.

    This chart is interesting in that it seems to reflect music’s waning impact on culture since the ’70s.

  13. R.P.

    womp womp. delete this piece of shit advertorial please, thanks.

  14. Mandeville

    This “analysis” is one dimensional, like so many published studies, and doesn’t touch on the plethora of other potential factors. I am also guessing as to what this means, like you did, but I’d be willing to bet this is driven by the value of music to one’s self-branding and not quality of music. Said another way, who you liked and identified with musically in the 70’s was what told people who you were, what you stood for, etc. I’m a Bruce fan meant, east coast, educated, etc. I’m a clash fan meant; “x”, “Y” and “z” and so on. Now, generations define themselves with technology, college studies, gaming, etc. Hell, even the headphones you use define you as much as what’s being played in the headphones.

  15. Radio and Records Vet

    I’m a boomer. – I have a first issue copy of RS. I haven’t read it since …. oh shit, I forgot the last time I looked at one.

    I’m in radio now since 1975. There’s more quality music today than at any time in history. Anyone who thinks otherwise really isn’t paying attention. I’ll take today over the 70s anytime.

    What made the 70s so great was that every single thing that came out seemed to break new ground lyrically, melodically, harmonically, and technologically. IT was an insane era of innovation.

    It’s not that great new music isn’t being made today — it’s that there’s a thousand times more music to listen to, and the audience is far more fractured.

  16. Eric

    More evidence that the music industry execs who influence these type of “greatest albums of all time” articles are aging and don’t have their ear to the ground. Really, the 70s was the big decade for music? Not the 50s or 60s as much?

  17. Jeff Robinson

    Wait, didn’t the music industry die when the famous critic Lester Bangs died?

  18. Rod

    I don’t think the story here is that there is no good music today, or that good music was only made in the 60’s and the 70’s. And yes, RS is a bunch of old farts who are still connected to their era. However, 1990 was almost 25 years ago. Do you really think that if there were that many great albums released from the 90’s forward that more of them would not have worked their way into an updated list? You can’t deny the power of a genre being created and that explosion of rock and roll happened in the 60’s and 70’s. Most everything that has happened since then is a derivitave of that era in some form and derivivates are not as memorable as the creation of a new art form.

  19. hippydog

    I have no problem with that graph, when i think of what I consider some of the greatest ALBUMS, most of the ones I think of are from that era..
    Why some of the better ones came out during that period is probably due to multiple reasons (many bands had already toured and ‘created the album’ before recording it, the need of the 80’s to be ‘compressed and electronic sounding’ hadn’t happened yet.. etc etc etc)


    What I personally find interesting is the decline of the 45 single seems to follow along with that graph..
    That connection doesnt make sense right?..
    Heres my theory..

    When RCA came out with the 45 in the 50’s in didn’t gain major market share until a bit later (people were still using 78’s for single releases). but by the mid 50’s to early 60’s the 12″ LP and the 7″ 45 dominated the market..

    This is important because a label might release multiple singles from an artist before the album.. IE: their was more of a ‘single mentality’ then.. yes most artists would come out with an album, but if it wasnt that great (as whole) it was the singles that made the money..
    Artists were under less pressure to churn out ‘albums’ and it was in everyones benefit to come up with a better ‘Album’ as if they didnt it was likely they would end up on a compilation, or would only sell singles..

    Conclusion: the popularity of the ’45 single’ led to better albums,
    when cassettes became more popular, and then soon after CD’s, the ‘single’ started dying, and then led to less ‘great’ albums..

    or at least thats my theory 😉

    • hippydog

      P.S: I meant to say “as a whole” not (as whole) above LOL

      I will also make a prediction…
      if my theory is correct , then we should see a comeback of the “Great Album”
      (due to singles being a major share again, and the fact artists rely on touring more)

      • jw

        The graph corresponds with the FCC’s ruling on non-duplication in 1964, which prohibited stations from broadcasting the same feed on AM & FM. So AM remained as it was, & FM became a freeform format when the ruling went into effect in 1967 because it was cheaper. Over time, as FM began to make more money, the format became less freeform, & consequently it’s influence on culture began to wane.

      • wallow-T

        hippydog: “if my theory is correct , then we should see a comeback of the “Great Album””

        In the era when “The Great Album” ruled, the music album was the most advanced multimedia presentation that most of us could own (a copy of) and control. TV and radio delivered programming on a fixed schedule, and there wasn’t that much TV. But the Album — you could go in your room, put the album on, read along with the lyrics (or make out 🙂 ) The album was something you completely controlled, and through buying it and listening to it, you expressed a part of your identity. Socially and technologically, the Album was on the cutting edge. Also, there were a limited number of Albums, so mathematics dictated that the good ones became shared experiences.

        “the most advanced multimedia presentation that we could control” was eclipsed by rental home video by the early 1990s, by the more advanced DVD by 2000, by home internet and the World Wide Web starting around 1995, by videogames, and by “traditional” TV growing from 3-5 channels to 80-300 channels for cable subscribers.

        Anecdotally, what we see now among many under-30s is a complete rejection of the whole concept of owning an album, even if it’s a set of digital files.

  20. Paul Resnikoff

    There’s a question in all of this that is not properly being addressed. Was the 60s and 70s a Renaissance in modern music? In the same way that Vienna produced a musical Renaissance in the 18th century? History may ultimately judge this to be the case.

    Too bad none of use will be around to see that judgement (though never discount the power of science).

    • jw

      When FM became freeform, you could be cool without being commercial & get airplay. That’s possible again, & music is probably better than it has been in a long time, but you can’t get exposure on a mass scale like you could during the freeform FM days, so stuff goes unheard. The ’60s & ’70s were about great, non-commercial music being allowed exposure, begetting more great music (and as a side effect, begetting social change). It all had to do with AM radio ad revenue subsidizing the format.

      So I don’t know if I would necessarily say that the ’60s & ’70s were the same as the Renaissance, but it was certainly a period where radio was the most human, & it’s commercialism & objectification & all of that nonsense that keeps music from being like that during any period.

      At least, that’s how I see it.

    • GGG

      I sort of addressed this in my first post, though to expand I think it depends how you look at it. If you’re looking at time in a very generalized way, the entire second half of the 1900s will be a Renaissance of sorts for rock and roll alone. If you got into detail with that then, I think yes, the 60s and 70s will be the pinpointed decades.

      Sort of like what I was saying before, someone like Tallest Man on Earth, for example, is capable in theory of writing the best folk album ever. But he owes so much to people like Dylan, that you could never really rate him over Dylan unless it was literally the best folk album ever. So that’s why any rock-centric list will be heavily swayed towards the 60s and 70s. They are right in the middle of building off the early rock/blues/etc influences and making all this incredible music that people still pull directly from 40-60 years later.

    • wallow-T

      Was the 60s and 70s a “classical” period in popular music? I think we’re still too close to tell for sure, though the continued interest in the music from that era suggest perhaps. Somebody wrote a book proposing a classic era 1965-1985, I might push the cutoff date to 1990.

      The 60s and 70s (and a bit into the 80s) was marked by the “youthquake”, the sexual revolution, the civil rights and antiwar movements, etc. That demographic bulge produced a huge burst of energy. Also,
      what the 60s-70s popular music had, due to the technology and the economy, was an opportunity for a LIMITED number of songs and artists to weave their way into the lives of an AFFLUENT public, becoming a shared experience, and also generating large piles of cash. Economics, technology and art all intersect.

      This was also an era where, at most record companies, the senior guy was a “music man,” not a bean counter. A “music man” had the power and authority to take some of the profits from hit schlock and invest it in artists seen as worthwhile: my favorite example is Clive Davis and Patti Smith. As the business got more corporate, there were fewer and fewer chances to develop artists for art’s sake.

      Is music as good today? I still find lots of good-for-me music, but no one I know in person knows about any of it unless they discovered it through me. There’s no shared experience any more, except with my wife.

  21. interesting

    The album as the dominant mode of consumption peaked in the 1970s, so this makes sense. Artists started packing CDs full of more and more filler in the 1980s, with that practice growing into the 1990s. Napster effectively unbundled the album in the late-1990s, leading, via iTunes, to a more singles-centric market. Electronic music has been the most innovative music going since circa 1980, and it is probably the most consistently single-centric genre. In conclusion, this list just tells you a story about the decline of the capital-A Album and not much about the quality of music.

  22. Polaske

    Why is quality a problem? If you are having problems finding the good stuff through all the poor quality stuff, then discovery is the problem. Discovery is a problem companies have been trying to solve for years, but most have failed because I don’t think discovery is a large enough problem for most consumers.

  23. Dan

    Yikes. This is a just a horrible piece of dribble journalism. This graph doesn’t represent the quality of music. It represents how outdated Rolling Stone is. It’s no coincidence that the years with the most loved albums are the years that rolling stone was in its peak of critical respect. Rolling stone has now taken on the role of the AP of the music industry, it’s not a respected music review website.

    • jw

      Yeah, but in this day of age where everyone’s got an opinion, what’s a respected review site? I’m not sure theres any concensus.

  24. bjkiwi

    Whilst any ‘Greatest Album’ list will be purely subjective, I do think there’s an element of truth in Paul’s posit “was the 60s and 70s a Renaissance in modern music?”.
    It started in post-war America when black and white music came together and Rock ‘n’ Roll was born .. it came out of the oven with Elvis and The Beatles and peaked in the 70s (arguably early 80s) before MTV and Wall Street got their grubby little hands on it and the music became secondary to the visual and the share price.

  25. Londonmusicmapp

    Probably says more about Rolling Stone and their readers than the quality of music

  26. River Waters

    Much of these “greatest albums” isn’t music. It’s organized noise with a lot of hollering. It’s just that the mass of listeners has really, really bad taste.

  27. DUDE

    Rolling Stone’s opinion is hardly gospel truth… would be interesting to see what a broader cross-section of critics had to say on the topic

    Also its hard to gauge what albums from the 2000s (or even the 90s at this stage) are gonna be GOATs without some historical perspective, plus I’d say it was easier to break new ground and make a game changer in the 60s & 70s when the album was still a newer concept, the music industry was less consolidated and risk-averse & rock music was growing and developing more as a genre, so theres definitely more at play here than ‘Music is worse now than it was in the 70s’

    Interesting topic for sure, but not at all done justice by this half assed article

  28. Blahblahblah

    While I believe that the overall quality of music released in sixties and seventies is better than any decade since, I don’t think one Rolling Stone list is an accurate way to determine. Unless some truly new, exciting forms of music happen, things will just keep getting more derivative, watered down, tired, disposable.

  29. TuneHunter

    I agree with you.
    Most of the power to the quality of the song.
    With internet and changing discovery options #2 and #3 should lose a lot of gravity.
    If we attach physical cash to discovery moment of music small guy will get exposure to thousands of new promoters. Sky would be the limit and no need for burned out labels!