October 13, 2021

Since Rick Beato’s 2015 debut on YouTube , he has carved out a niche for himself on the platform,padded his floors with sound-absorbing rugs, and filled his space with guitars and heavy tube-driven amps.Edifying an audience of 2.6 million (and growing) subscribers, Beato blends his knowledge of music with his passion for the art form, dissecting and discussing popular songs from a host of different eras.

I had the opportunity to speak with Beato in an exclusive interview for the Washington Examiner about how technology has shaped popular music over the last half-century. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Harry Khachatrian: Rick, as a YouTuber and musician, how do you think the growth of streaming platforms and the decline of radio have affected the kind of music that’s become popular over the last decade?

Rick Beato: There is an incredible convenience about Apple Music or Spotify. Prior to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, radio stations had a lot more autonomy with what they wanted to play. When the big corporations started buying up all the radio stations, you started to get homogenized playlists. And now it’s the people that work at Spotify doing just that. But unlike radio, you’re free to browse and listen to anything on Spotify, so in some ways it’s leveled the playing field.

Khachatrian: You make videos breaking down the top 10 Spotify charts. In your experience diving into these modern hits, do you think there’s any credence to claims that contemporary, modern music just isn’t as good as the classics?

Beato: Well, most of the popular music, as far as musical sophistication and harmony go, is not as sophisticated. They don’t have chord progressions as complex as Steely Dan or The Beatles. Most of them are predominantly four chords. Not to say that there weren’t four-chord songs back in the day, but by the late ’60s, you started to have really sophisticated arrangements, modulations, and long solos in different keys — and across all different genres of music. Take “Jump” by Van Halen, their most successful single: It’s got a key change in the bridge, a guitar solo, and a keyboard solo. This is a sophisticated arrangement you just don’t find in popular music today. Not to say that it isn’t out there, but it just isn’t at the top of the charts.

Khachatrian: Musicians back in the day were limited to the sounds they could get out of their physical instruments. And once they exhausted the obvious chords, they had to think of something different, confined to only what your guitar can do. But in the modern, technological era, having countless different tools and ways to create music at their disposal, is it possible that musicians are so overwhelmed by the possibilities that they never fully explore one thing to its limitations?

Beato: Sometimes I open these keyboards that will have a million parameters and thousands of presets, and you can spend all day just looking for a single sound for one part. When I was starting, you just had your guitar and a couple pedals. So, I thought, “Well, maybe I can find some new chord shapes, or I’ll put some open strings in there,” and then you’re discovering a whole new vocabulary of things to write songs with. So that’s when you start to get more sophisticated individual guitar parts, because you have to create it with a physical instrument, like you’re saying.

Khachatrian: We love to joke around about the kind of world we’re going to leave behind for Keith Richards, but with classic rock artists like Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan all in their 80s or pushing 80, what do you think the looming end of the classic rock touring era means for music?

Beato: That’s a great question. And a depressing question, to me. These were my heroes growing up. It’s tough to see them getting older. It’s tough to see that music in the rearview mirror by 30-40 years. I remember when “Hey Jude” came on the radio in 1967, and I heard “Hey Jude” for the first time. And now it’s 50 years in the past, and all the people that have come and gone since then. They say it takes a couple generations for people to forget even who their relatives were. I’ll be curious to see what remains from these artists. But unlike Bach or Beethoven, of whom we have no definitive recordings, we have Sgt. Pepper’sPet Sounds,and Dark Side of the Moon. We have these artists’ definitive visions. How will that change music historically? I don’t know, but I’m curious to see. I don’t like to try and predict the future.

Khachatrian: I’ve wondered if in the future the “cover band” concept could become an established genre. Think about classical music today. Most aspiring classical pianists aren’t composing new music. They’re touring, playing Rachmaninoff or Chopin. In 50 years, might we see artists bringing The Beatles to life in a similar fashion?

Beato: We probably will, we’ll have Beatles interpreters!That’s really interesting to think about. And a great topic for a future video.

Originally Published at The Washington Examiner