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You Don't Know What Your Kids Are Listening To

Stocks in this article: P AAPL GOOG FB

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Imagine a new sequel to Back to the Future: parking the Mr. Fusion-powered DeLorean outside a diner in the sparsely populated Midwest. New Levittown-style houses, poodle skirts, soda jerks, greasy hair, your Dad as a fresh-faced teenager.

Now, imagine that in this universe, everything is the same as it was then, except there are no jukeboxes and radio never yielded to the pressure to play rock 'n' roll. Adults have no idea how to buy or access the 45 RPM singles of "popular" music. Radios play only what they were playing when the adults were kids: Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby.

Kids get their music by trading with each other, buying singles at private shows where anybody over 25 can't get in and at secret locations that adults don't know about. The commercial music industry caters to both mutually exclusive demographics: stocking the kids' outlets with fresh new rock 'n roll and rhythm and blues 45s while saturating the airwaves with crooners, jazz-era greats and healthy doses of Liberace pablum and light classical music.

Each generation is isolated in its groove; the elders, mired in the past, are unable to reach the younger generation.

If that little generation-gap world strikes you as it does me -- a snow-globe scene from Hell -- then you may be frightened to hear that we are living quite close to a 21st Century version of that right now.

Teenagers and young adults are getting new music from social media -- each other, that is, in secret, far from the prying eyes and crusty taste buds of the adults. All they need is a hint and they can find new music faster than you could drop a dime on iTunes and way, way faster than you could find your old Whitney Houston CDs. They find it track by track, artist by artist, on Spotify, Google's (GOOG) YouTube and other sites online.

Adults have access to the same sites, but lack the social milieu to point them in the right direction. In other words, they have no idea what's going on there. No clue about the explosion of new styles happening right under their own roofs.

What are adults listening to? Retrograde choices suggested by Pandora (P), Spotify, Beats Music, Apple's (AAPL) iTunes Radio, Rdio -- these services are all identical in that they give us a perfect rear-view mirror for all the music we ever held dear, overwhelming us with so many of those choices and ignoring -- more or less completely -- the new music that is coming straight at us like a Mack truck.

You listened to Led Zeppelin recently. Want to try Pink Floyd? Want to try Cream? Spotify asks me. I do love all three of those bands and have since I was 14. I'm excited to see their names pop up onto my screen as if they hadn't ceased to be relevant before the turn of the millennium. But I have to say, as the father of two teenagers, I find all this nursing of my sore, aging ego more than a little disturbing. When I'm spending all my time gazing at my own past, what am I missing about my kids' lives? Or my own life now?

Oh, you say, but I'm in touch! I know Lady Gaga, Pharrell Williams, Kanye West -- I know what my kids are listening to. No, you don't. That stuff is broadcast radio and it is the smallest tip of the iceberg. The rest is closed off to us.

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