In concentrating on younger listeners, for instance, the major labels are ignoring the recording industry association's consumer profiles, which show that listeners over 35 were actually the fastest-growing segment of the market in the 90's.
Openmindedness, rather than any single sound, was its great contribution: a lesson in diversity. Pop factions with a will to conquer, like teen pop and hip-hop, feed off the the attention, but subcultures that prize authenticity, like alt rock and rave, begin to act like children with abusive parents.
The old system exaggerated the importance of middle-of-the-road rock and pop.
As teen pop took over -- a market whose scale was first suggested by the success of the grunge kids Silverchair and the pop rockers Hanson -- the industry retrenched, backing away from more challenging artists. Suddenly, middle-of-the-road music listeners were nudged towards exploring what was once considered the domain of indie-music fans, who initially viewed these newcomers as interlopers.
Metallica, once an underground metal band, outsold Pearl Jam by simply embracing the venerable role of arena rocker. Even the oldies market held surprises.
The latter went a step further: they simply stopped the machine by refusing to make music videos. But they had some competition. The Violent Femmes' eponymous debut album, an ode to sexual frustration, was commercially outre when it appeared inbut sold 1.
Some, like the Atlanta duo Outkast responsible for three of rap's spaciest hit albumsthe Wu-Tang Clan and Busta Rhymes, developed an artier gangsta aesthetic rather than an opposed vision. There were always separate markets for country music and black pop.