Seemingly without notice until recently, the music industry has been experiencing a seismic and possibly irreversible change throughout the last decade. Last year, the Washington Post published an article about the recent decline in international electric guitar sales. The numbers are pretty shocking. In just the past decade, electric guitar sales have dropped by a third, from 1.5 million to a new average of just over 1 million. As you can imagine, this trend has been hell on small music stores, but even large music retailers have been experiencing pain due to waning guitar sales.
If you own a music store, this is all pretty bleak news, but what does the electric guitar’s decline mean for the rest of the music industry?
The most obvious takeaway is that young songwriters are increasingly opting out of creating and performing music through traditional means. Electronic music used to be confined to a couple of genres and moods, but in 2018, the lines defining electronic and organic music are blurred and nearly indistinguishable in some cases. For decades, the electric guitar has been a staple within virtually every genre of music, but with such a rapid decline in popularity, electronic-driven instrumentation might soon takeover that role, and possibly that of other instruments.
An aging customer base and lack of new iconic guitarists have been blamed for the guitar’s recent decline, but a possible larger culprit behind it all is the fact that guitar-driven music isn’t nearly as relevant as it was previously. In 2018, simple reverb-drenched electric guitar lines are defining the instrument more than anything else. And while this sound perfectly suits genres like indie rock, it’s not inspiring a new generation of kids to go out and buy electric guitars in the same way it once did.
there’s almost a popular sense that musicians have taken guitar music as far as it can go while electronic composition provides limitless options.
Trends come and go in music, but popular artists’ increasing preference for electronic instrumentation is a significant one. And though it’s completely false, there’s almost a popular sense that musicians have taken guitar music as far as it can go while electronic composition provides limitless options.
This all might seem bad for retailers and songwriters who prefer creating music on the electric guitar, but it’s not all bad news. For as much technology has impacted music in recent years, it’s still not great at replicating the humanity and immediacy of an instrument like the electric guitar. Songwriting software programs can do some pretty incredible things, but their synthesized guitar instruments aren’t able to hold a candle to the real thing.
What’s popular and relevant in music can change seemingly overnight, but music fans will always long for some sort of honest human connection in the songs they listen to. And as long as songwriters are able to use the electric guitar to connect with listeners, the instrument will be a major part of the way artists create and perform music.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.