Steven Van Zandt has a pessimistic outlook when he ponders the future of classic rock.

During an appearance on Club Random with Bill Maher, the E Street Band guitarist examined the way music consumption has changed.

“Right now, because the record industry is dead, there’s no more record sales other than Taylor Swift and Beyonce,” Van Zandt declared. Instead, he explained, films and television shows have become the best way for recording artists to make money. However, even that has become problematic because musicians have upped their licensing fees in order to survive.

“You got a bunch of whatever, 25 year-olds with a song list with a number next to it,” Van Zandt noted. “So if you want to make a movie or TV show, you ask for the song, they look at the number and they charge you that number, which is always high because there's no other income.”

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Because classic rock offers material that’s recognizable to a wide swath of listeners, it's often the most-licensed genre of music. However, Van Zandt believes the filmmakers will pull away from classic rock in the face of soaring licensing costs, thus removing an important avenue for songs to be exposed to new listeners.

“This is a real problem. And I think 10 years from now, 20 years from now, it's going to be a problem because all this music is going to die if it's not promoted and heard,” Van Zandt insisted. “It's going to be like, Motown who? Rolling Stones who?”

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Van Zandt suggested law changes around licensing music as a compromise to keep filmmakers and musicians happy. He then noted how different the modern landscape is compared to when the E Street Band and Bruce Springsteen got started.

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“When we started, music in movies was free. It was free,” he explained. “Martin Scorsese. He didn't even ask for permission to put [the Ronettes’] ‘Be My Baby’ in Mean Streets because it was free. And people thought of it as promoting the records. Nobody’s promoting the records anymore.”

Van Zandt pointed to the popular series Stranger Things as an example of how TV and film can bring new attention to classic tracks. The guitarist insisted such licensing is vital for classic rock's continuing survival.

“When our generation goes, who’s going to know about this stuff?”

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Gallery Credit: Michael Gallucci

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