We Asked a Top A&R Executive If Rock Is Really Dead

Is Rock Dead? Musexpo's Sat Bisla Opines.
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Is Rock Dead? Musexpo's Sat Bisla Opines.
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photo: luxstorm (CC0)

Is Rock n’ Roll Finally R.I.P.?

U2 still sells out arenas.  Desert Trip is one of the biggest festivals in the world.  Even Journey still fills arenas without Steve Perry.

But those are celebrations of the past, not the present.

And in the present, the stats aren’t very encouraging for Rock n’ Roll.  Spotify’s rankings are now dominated by Hip Hop, Pop, Latino, and EDM.  And the biggest musical trend of the past decade belongs to EDM, the disco for the younger generation.

“Rock has hit a dead end. Just like jazz before it,” Bob Lefsetz recently observed.  “Oh, rock will never die, but it won’t bloom again either.”

So is Rock n’ Roll dead, dying, or something in-between?

According to Sat Bisla, one of the industry’s top A&R arbiters, this is less about Rock dying and more about other genres exploding.  And this is a story that goes way beyond one style preference over another.

Bisla helms A&R Worldwide, which hosts the A&R-focused industry conference, MUSEXPO (check out our coverage of the event later this year). For the uninitiated, MUSEXPO is where a lot of budding artists get discovered or further developed within the industry.  The event can spark deals ranging from on-the-spot major and independent label and publisher signings to distribution deals.

Other partnerships span multimedia support, sync and brand licensing agreements, live representation as well as producer and creative collaborations.  All of which makes it a perfect conference partner for DMN, by the way.

Accordingly, Sat is seeing a lot of different genres and styles growing, all at the same time.

And unprecedented global access to music is fueling that.  “Right now we’re in an age that feels a little like the eighties and early nineties, when you had a smorgasbord of different genres,” Bisla relayed.  “You had Hip Hop, Rock, Pop, Alternative, Electronic, and so on.

“We’re seeing a lot of different sounds and influences emanating from across the globe.”

A lot of sounds, just with a lot less Rock.  “A thing I’ve found really fascinating is that in the world of streaming, you’re not really seeing as many Rock bands breaking out of those platforms,” Bisla noted.

“And that, in my opinion, has a specific reason, because Rock songs in general tend to be very much movement driven, whereas Pop and other genres tend to be very trend driven.”

Hip-Hop Has Replaced Rock As Music’s Most Consumed Genre

As for the future, Bisla doesn’t see a particular genre taking over.  ‘Despacito’ doesn’t mean Latino music is going to dominate, just like a breakout Rock song won’t mean the format’s back.  “When it comes to what’s going to happen on a global level, again, I don’t think there’s one specific genre that will be a long term dominating force,” Bisla said.

“However, if we have a rock band that speaks to the masses in a true and authentic way — be it social issues, political sentiments or other public concerns, we’ll see a potential rock movement return.  We need a Sex Pistols, The Clash, Nirvana, etc. moment!”

Once upon a time, the question was whether EDM was supplanting Rock.  That question, however, is now pretty dated.  “Certainly, you may have noticed a few years ago that there was an electronic bubble,” Bisla said.  “It was something that lasted for a while but was not long term as in generational and transformational.  It was more trend-driven than movement-driven.  In the coming years,  we’re going to continue to see different genres succeeding whether it’s from local, regional, national or international markets.”

Oh, and hits.  Yes, hits matter more than ever in this era.  Genres?  Less so.

“Ultimately, it still boils down to the most compelling songs that resonate in the strongest and most meaningful manner with the audience,” Bisla noted.  “And you can’t go wrong with a great performance to bring those songs to life. It’s about providing a great experience.

“So, whether you’re Adele, Beyoncé, Twenty One Pilots, Kendrick Lamar or Coldplay — they all, obviously, have different sounds, or have been inspired by different genres of music.  But they ultimately provide their fans with a positive creative and emotional experience.

“So I think now we’re going to continue to see diversity.”

So, you’re saying that Rock has a chance?

Actually, yes.  Depending on how the cultural (and maybe political) winds blow.  “With Rock, we need that moment in time where a band comes along that can really speak to this generation like Nirvana did to Generation X; where they create a global movement,” Bisla said.

“I feel until that happens, we are probably not going to see a global rock band come from the pubs to the club to the masses.”



31 Responses

  1. Blobbo

    Old Argument. Imagine Dragons are a rock band, more or less. They just don’t use a huge amount of electric guitars. Rock isn’t dead, mostly because EDM is devoid of true, personal message and meaning (how many time can we really be told to love everyone all night long) and hip hop is, well, mostly moronic, and limited by sampllng.

    Rock will return, but the powers that be don’t want another John Lennon, Kurt Cobain or Bob Marley out there. They do NOT want adult messages of resistance hitting the airwaves, but if the next crew of young people finds that messenger, it will be unstoppable, at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

    • he who leads the blind

      the youth has their messengers via hip-hop. you simply fail to recognize that because you brush it off as ‘moronic’.

      i’m not saying i’m a fan of it, that’s just simply the way it is. you’ll need a crossover album from someone like Kendrick if you want rock to see a resurgence any time soon.

    • Mivkkhan

      I’m 50. Believe me, I’d kill for another band to join the ranks of Zeppelin or Nirvana.

      • Lou

        Listen to Courtney Barnett. She is the new Nirvana.

    • Carolina liberty


      • Kimberly

        Okay a few things I love Rock and Roll BUT:

        GNR’s lead guitar slash is half Black!
        Mr. Carlos Santana is Latino!
        Mr Jimmi Hendrix the greatest guitarist of all time was BLACK!

        and the pioneers of the genre Little Richard and Chuck Berry were BLACK!

        Rock belongs to anyone no matter what ethnicity creed sexual preference or Religion

        I am part Japanese…

        So I guess we are persecuting Black Latino Gay Asians too?

        Rock is not Race Rock is unity!

        Your argument is why people are so turned off…

        Unite or die!

  2. Will Buckley

    Is rock dead or have listeners over 40 lost interest because many fail to adopt streaming as their space to interact with new music?

    Did the music industry fail to serve a viable audience that would still be a vital market today, leaving billions on the table?

    • Alicia

      Listeners over 40? Fuck off generalizing, faggot. It’s actually listeners over 30 that have generally lost interest and love to whine about how things are not as good as ”the good old days”.

      • Kim

        Way to use a derogatory slang term for gay men there hun!

        Mature in a forum like this…

        Bands like Nirvana Soundgarden GNR etc have sold more in this industry than any current band…. its a FACT

        Snowflakes aren’t as important as they seem to think they are..

        and for the real Record the Beatles still hold the line with most hits of all time and total albums sold! 178 million units!

        The Beatles followed by Elvis moved more vinyl than Michael Jackson…

        So There is Rocks enduring power, rap and I do like it, is no where close!

        The biggest sellers are still now old school Biggie Eminem and Tupac two dead and one sunsetting his career

        So as for the old days these days aren’t all that good cup cake! 😉

    • Chris

      I’m almost 50. I stream and actively look for new rock music. There are a lot of great rock bands out there especially in Europe IMO. I’m buying more rock music now than in 10 yrs. Just gotta poke around.

  3. Singer

    Here’s the simple thing. When every rock band came up they always had the support of youth. That’s how it usually works. That is, you hit it big around 21-24 and your fan base is from 13 to 30 perhaps but mostly from 13 – 25. Your fans are younger than you or your age. The issue is that today not a lot of people under 23 actually listen to rock in America. If a 21 year old rock band plays out, the crowd is usually 40+. For example, I have a band and most of us are in our 20s. Whenever we play out, the only people that show up are 40-50 something guys and at the end of the show some 45 year old guy will come up to us and go, “Dude, you guys rock!” The way it should be is, there should be many young people in the crowd and they should be excited about what is going on but the 23 and younger crowd are not into rock. They don’t understand it. The first reaction we get is, it is too loud and people start to leave because they can’t talk when the band is playing. Rock was big in the 80s and 90s because MTV pushed the hell out of it. There is no medium like MTV today that is pushing rock music. After MTV started pushing rap in the 90s, rock slowly started to decline. See the simple thing is that it is all about marketing. But today literally nothing can bring rock back because it is just something that is passe. It’s like trying to bring back the Ford Model T as the next new trend setter. It ain’t gonna happen.

    • Anonymous

      Rap killed rock not metal. metal was under rocks foot after nirvana. now it time for metal turn again. metal is the new rock just like how rock was the new blues. rap have nowhere in the family of blues – rock- metal . rap came from disco and you know what rock did to disco killed it

  4. Paracile

    Rock isn’t necessarily dead but it’s no longer relevant to young people, and that is really what matters. Now it occupies a niche like jazz does — for aficionados only.

    If you want to split hairs, hip hop started replacing rock as the music of youthful rebellion back in the 90s, so it’s not surprising that rock is now seen as something mainly for potbellied grey-beards who can’t imagine young people not liking what they like.

    It had long run but it’s over. Let it go.

    • Anonymous

      Best comment here thus far. I grew up on AOR, just like a lot of people. Still like it, but I branched out as I got older.
      Sadly, too many Rock fans have/had this notion that it’s supposed t

      • Dbrois

        To stay that way forever. Nope. No art form is “owed” anything. Hopefully, no more baseball parks will get burned down. ?

  5. Paracile

    What’s wrong with that? Nirvana’s fans base was and is overwhelmingly GenX.

    • Figger Naggot

      Before people start assuming I’m a white…..I’m not.

  6. Anonymous

    What we need is for people like you “figger naggot” to have their evil hearts transformed by the love of God.

  7. napoleonhercules

    If you really want to see the future, go downtown in any major city. Go to the ten biggest clubs. Packed with thousands of people listening to house and rap. Then you will find one small bar with a hundred people ‘rocking out’. Multiply that by all the cities, worldwide. You have your answer. Numbers dont lie