Progressive Rock Music was one of the most popular musical genres of the 1970’s Classic Rock era. In the 1970’s there were many different genres of rock music that were celebrated and loved by rock and roll fans. Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Southern Rock, Soft Rock, and of course Progressive Rock were all names we attached as some sort of label to categorize bands. In some cases, bands crossed genres and some were harder to classify than others. Bands like Jethro Tull, Rush, Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago and even Led Zeppelin at times defied classification. The Beatles covered so many styles of music in their early years and then created their own sound almost instantly. In truth, The Beatles were really in a category of their own. They could not be defined to any one particular genre.
While many bands crossed the multiple genres of rock music, there were plenty of bands that were easy to identify as Progressive Rock. Is anyone going to argue that bands like Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and King Crimson were not progressive. You may not be a fan of one of those bands, but there is no denying their contributions to the Progressive Rock genre. Those were the monster bands of Progressive Rock, but there were so many other progressive rock groups that had huge followings. Bands such as Gentle Giant, Caravan, Camel, Can, Soft Machine, Van der Graaf Generator, Renaissance, and hundreds more enjoyed great success in the Progressive Rock genres. All those bands released and sold albums on a consistent basis and toured constantly.
While Progressive Music continued to flourish in the 90’s and 2000’s the audience whom loved that music began to grey. Hardcore fans continued to buy CDs, but average rock fans that brought Dark Side of the Moon, Brain Salad Surgery and Fragile, began to spend more time paying for soccer registrations, college tuitions and mortgage payments than album and CD purchases. The arrival of the MP3 music format and the rise of hip hop and rap stole away millions of future progressive rock fans. You can’t blame the kids, they didn’t know any better, it’s what they were being fed by the people and power behind new technology and slick overproduced music with very little substance.
Of course, there were young people who saw through the emptiness of rap and hip hop and yearned for something more. Those are the kids who discovered bands like Porcupine Tree and supported the group. Hardcore rock fans never stop listening to music and some of them discovered bands like Porcupine Tree by way of word of mouth. However, word of mouth starts to become less of an impact when adult rock fans start to become surrounded by other parents who maybe never even heard of Emerson Lake & Palmer. When you are in high school or college, your friends are always turning you on to new bands. When you’re a soccer dad or mom, your friends are turning you on to diaper sales at Walmart.
In the 2000’s, record companies just did not bother supporting bands like Porcupine Tree on television and billboards like they did in the old days with groups like Led Zeppelin, The Moody Blues, and so on. Today, we are blasted with pictures and commercials of groups like Fifth Harmony because everyone wants to look at beautiful women regardless of what they sound like.
We used to learn about new bands from ads in rock magazines but now even magazines have faded from pop culture. Sure, Rolling Stone is still being published but it’s a third of the size it used to be. Remember the great rock magazines like Creem, Crawdaddy, and Circus. Those magazines were great avenues for promoting new rock music. I would read a review or a story, or sometimes glance at a great full-page advertisement promoting the release of a new album or band. Those pages would cause me to walk to the mall and buy the album. But kids don’t buy magazines. Kids don’t buy newspapers, they don’t buy music, they simply just look at their phones and listen to YouTube.
YouTube is a fantastic place to discover music, but when I find a new band that I like, I usually order the CD on Amazon. I would rather go to a record store and buy it, but there are hardly any record stores around to buy it from. We have Fye in the mall but they only stock popular music. The used record stores are hit and miss with new progressive rock releases. So I buy the CD on Amazon and I listen to it in my car and on my home stereo. Kids don’t do that, they just listen to it on YouTube. So bands don’t sell CDs anymore and record companies are not making any more money. Since record companies are not making any money, they wont spend any money promoting new bands. So bands like Porcupine Tree never reach the mass audience they could have reached if they were being supported by the old 1970’s record company promotional machine.
Many people blame the death of the CD on the advent of the internet and streaming. Of course those technological advances played a major role in the decline of CD sales. But Record Companies fueled the decline of music sales many years before the arrival of the internet. In the days before CDs, rock fans could go to a record store and buy a vinyl album on sale for around four dollars. When CDs arrived on the scene, they were priced close to twenty dollars. Retail List prices were usually between 15.99 and 18.99. They sounded great but they were way over priced. Regardless of price, the sound was so amazing to music fans, people brought them. We were blown away by the sound and more importantly the concept =that they sounded just as good on the 200th play as they did the first. The sound quality on cassettes deteriorated with every play until they became un-playable. Records scratched and popped. 8 Tracks? Forget about it.
The invention of the CD was one of the most successful advancements in entertainment technology in the history of pop culture. Nonetheless, they were expensive and even worse, they stayed expensive. Yes, of course there were sales. Many stores sold new CDs on sale for 11.99 and 12.99. Stores like The Wiz, Crazy Eddies, Sam Goodys, Tower Records, Record World and all the other mall and shopping center stores did have their sales. But try to buy a catalog CD and your were stuck paying usually above 15 dollars. For the most part Progressive Music CDs were seen as catalog product. You did not walk into a music store and see the new Van der Graaf Generator, CD on sale. Most of the time, the chain stores with the exception of Tower Records did not even stock bands like Van der Graaf Generator.
Used record stores like Mr. Cheapos in Commack New York started selling used CDs for cheap prices, but many places around the county did not have access to used CD stores. Furthermore, the stock of used CD stores usually do not include the progressive bands that most fans are searching for.
Eventually the CD buying public began to age and those entertainment dollars like we said before, were utilized on hardcore living expenses. Adults could no longer afford high-priced CDs. The record companies never understood that. Even worse, by keeping CD prices way to high they made it impossible for younger people to afford to buy music. And so it began. There would be an entire generation growing up that would never experience buying CDs. The decline of sales continued when the internet came along. MP3s and illegal file sharing gave birth to a new generation who would never experience buying music, they just stole it.
Eventually the illegal file sharing sites like Napster and Limewire were shut down. Apple came along with their handy dandy iPods and people began buying music again, but for the most part as single song purchases. With Apple involved, fans now had to deal with both the record companies and Apple wanting to gouge consumers by overcharging for music. Fans were not getting a manufactured product, it was just a file that could be lost in the blink of a computer death.
In the end, Google brilliantly stepped in and purchased YouTube while allowing people to upload music in the same way fans did Limewire and Napster. Fans now download music for free just like they did with Napster and Limewire. And off course there is all the other file sharing networks that just cant be stopped. But the word free means that bands who spent a fortune in recording studios while creating their albums are also no longer making money. So can you blame a band that no longer wants to release new music because no one wants to pay for it?
There are always exceptions, and many young people do purchase music, but it stopped becoming a mass cultural experience. In recent years some young fans have discovered the joy of owning vinyl. There was starting to become a nice resurgence in vinyl sales. For the first time, young people were purchasing music that they could hold in their hands. Nonetheless, instead of recognizing the fact that younger people in the 2010’s were discovering the joy of vinyl, and seeing the possibility of putting a dent in downloading and rejuvenating the record industry, the record companies have made the price of new vinyl completely not affordable for most fans. Instead of vinyl penetrating the mass cultural market, it has remained a souvenir based medium. If you want to buy the new Metallica album “Hardwired,” on vinyl, it will cost you at least thirty to forty dollars. That’s ridiculous and that’s a shame.
So bands like Porcupine Tree never become the rock Gods they may have become if they were releasing albums in 1975 or 1985. It makes them no less of a band, it just makes them less known. The Record companies never understood that the high prices they continued to charge for CDs would eventually steer the public into looking somewhere else. When there was a surprising new interest in buying vinyl, the record companies got greedy. Instead of embracing it, they have poorly managed it because vinyl sales are now starting to slip. In the end, if you charge too much, people wont buy.