The Beat Lives On: Longevity in the music industry

A person is wearing a dress with hot pink ruffles. They are holding a guitar and are drumming along.
 Music is a powerful tool to heal and its permanence is dependent on the listener. (Photo courtesy of FunGi Collective Music Division via Flickr.)

How to even begin.  

Having written about music over the past year, and since this will be my final piece, I feel it necessary to talk about endings — quite the paradox to this column’s title. 

“The Beat Lives On” was a spinoff name inspired by Sonny and Cher’s 1967 song “The Beat Goes On.” If there could be a theme song for this column, that would be it. The song timelines some of the events and trends that faded in and out of popular culture during its release. 

I’ve always thought of the “beat” as something that represents not only music but also a metaphor for life. Just like a melody lingers after the song has ended, through the hurdles we climb and chapters we enter and exit throughout our lifetime, we carry on. 

I’m a firm believer in the idea that when everything around us seems to be changing, we turn to music to heal. Each of us has our own specific interests, tastes and musical niches — but what causes an artist to last the test of time and circulate through the masses for decades?

Is the staying power of musicians fleeting?

The media is a vast and ever-evolving space — one where information is more accessible than ever. It has undoubtedly changed the way we interact with music. 

While we all may be listening to different niches, certain songs reach a point where they’ve been shared so frequently across media platforms that they gain momentum in popular culture and quickly become widely known. 

With this change in pace, it can be difficult to distinguish an artist’s longevity today. Given that we have the liberty of exploring hundreds of genres and subgenres at any time, you can be a connoisseur of one style of music and be completely unaware of what’s going on in the next. 

Music is undeniably everywhere; some musicians fade out and some remain in the contemporary loop of popularity for what seems like forever. 

Though a song hitting No. 1 on the charts for multiple weeks at a time can be an indicator of the artists that may endure, there’s also been iconic, lasting hits that never hit close to the top 10.

Therefore, there is no single formula to lasting success and it can be a challenge to identify the specific elements that determine whether a song will last through time. 

According to Billboard, the most popular musicians tend to circulate the music scene for nearly 24 years. Obviously, there are outliers in the mix, such as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Prince and The Beatles, who’ve endured much longer. However, today, it’s hard to pinpoint when and what exactly turns a musician into a multi-platinum selling, generation-crossing, international superstar. 

One determinant of music’s lasting impact is whether an artist can consistently release quality records that are both well-received and praised by fans and critics alike.  

Another factor to consider would be the timing of a song’s release and what’s going on in the world at that time. Suppose a song is focused on the public’s stance toward current world affairs or social  movements and gets circulated through the media. In that case, it has the capability of being a defining song of the time. 

Finally, and likely, most apparently, music that hasn’t been done before, that’s innovative, new and revolutionary in some way, tends to attract the eyes of many. 

Ultimately, the longevity of an artist depends on who you’re asking. Some may think that an artist popular now will fade out in a few years, while others can promise they’ll be listening to the same artist 60 years from now. 

In the end, only time will tell what soars to the top and what fades out. 

Through every beat of life that comes and goes, don’t forget to sit back and enjoy the music. 

Emily Sagen is a senior writing about music’s lasting impact. She is also an arts & entertainment editor at the Daily Trojan. Her column, “The Beat Lives On,” ran every other Friday.