Music has declined. It's not just the album sales or even the product, but it is the effect a musician's album release or video (if even made) may have on the culture. Even if an artist released an amazing album, it would be hard to have the effect or staying power that Thriller or Born in the U.S.A had in the '83-'85 period. The culture had fragmented.
There is one piece of the industry that has thrived: touring. Revenues are at record levels and growing. No slowdown for this part of the business. Cultural fragmentation helps here because have you ever stopped to listen to a radio ad for who is coming to town? Joan Baez? Gordon Lightfoot? Toad The Wet Sprocket? Click the links to see ticket prices. You will find tickets for $60, $75 and over $100. Someone is paying for the opportunity to hear these old timer or obscure acts.
Cultural fragmentation and mass SCALE helps in this regard. Niche demographics with their favorite artist can have their needs met because we have over 310 million Americans funding public theaters or providing the demand to justify private theaters. The immense size of our nation means that some old timers can do fifty dates and pocket more money than they made in their peak era of the '60s or '70s. Joan Baez touring for stacks of money is a good laugh if you remember her line from Woodstock about her old man starting a hungerstrike in prison from the protest he was a part of, man. There is no mystery as to the supply of these touring has been acts.
Where is this demand? Nostalgia is a driving force. If you loved the artist in 1974, you will get that last chance to see them live. You missed the chance in 1974 to see the act live, but the music industry can fix that. It is for you, as Gordon Lightfoot's voice is completely gone, not for the actual musical experience. It is a reference point at later social events. "Oh yes, we saw Joan, oh I loved her in '71, and we finally got the chance."
The vintage and retro themes in our culture are secret yearnings for an easier, whiter time. Even for the black community, it is for a time when their families and communities were more intact and advancing, when Hispanics and Asians were not encroaching, and black men wore suits with fedoras not pants on the ground. It is nostalgia and comfort. This could continue with music, but this might also be a feature of the Boomer cocoon effect where they think everything will work out and that America has not truly declined.
Who am I kidding? One day Livenation will throw enough money in front of The Smiths, they will do a reunion tour and Gen Xers will dutifully line up to see them.