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Welcome to the Future from New Music Box

Online journal, New Music Box just published a collections of essays on the future of music. Here are some excerpts:

Recording. Performance. Distribution. Copyright. Publishing. When the most basic terms of your field are in flux, it can be hard to see to next month, let alone into the next year, or to prepare for the next decade. Would you have expected music to be where it is today if you had been asked in 1999?

Amanda MacBlane writes, “In 1999, I was 19 and Napster had just launched. Computers, old midi devices, turntables and lots of samples were the building blocks of many of our dorm room compositions. I came early to the blogosphere and the social networks, and I jonesed for a giant iPod. I was a true believer in technology: new sounds, new ways of making music, new ways of hearing it, new ways of talking about it and new ways of getting it. I would proselytize anyone who would listen.

But as the technology became ubiquitous, my enthusiasm waned. Perhaps it was overkill or, as a proud non-conformist, it was painful to see my “originality” boiled down to some market research figures. Maybe it’s simply because I am getting fixed in my ways.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love the discovery aspect of the Internet. I love that technology has inspired so many people to make music and share it, even if I am not a huge fan of the mash-up. Most of all, I love the possibility of having access to every piece of music ever recorded or movie made from my apartment without having to have shelves specially built.

But I also think Twitter is stupid, that the Long Tail is bunk, and that Pandora has no idea about my musical taste (once it actually told me it had no more suggestions for me). As I spend more time in conference rooms, I am always disheartened by the buzz phrases: Brave New World, access vs. units, monetization and the worst one of all—content. Art is taboo in these places.

Yet having spent time with people on all sides of the situation, I have gained insight into where musical life is headed and had a chance to meditate on my own musical values. Here are just a few of the thoughts that have been floating around in my head:

1/ Music will always make money, but not always for the same people. Whether it’s the record companies or the Internet giants, we just need to make sure that the composer and the musician don’t get cut out of the deal. Of course touring and merchandise will help, but other companies whose business models are founded on music—selling it, streaming it, sharing it, storing it, copying it—need to share their profits with those that create it.

2/ We desperately need flexible, worldwide licenses for music. The Internet has no borders, so why do our licenses? Because as soon as anything becomes worldwide, it becomes as wonky as the UN. Rights holder organizations have been working to achieve this, but a 2004 decision by the European Commission’s Competition Directorate halted a first initiative for worldwide, blanket licenses for the entire world’s musical repertoire. Another anti-competition decision (2008) against European societies spurred by powerful broadcasters looking for cheaper royalties has forbid societies from working together. It’s hard to create a worldwide license for the world repertoire on a national basis. Until the EU is on board, this won’t be possible.

3/ Let’s not leave promotion or guidance to algorithms. Having access to every piece of music ever recorded is great but also very overwhelming. For musicians, how do you get noticed? As a listener without hours of free time, how do you find your next favorite piece? I don’t think a computer algorithm can ever replace the human promoter or guide. We need to facilitate journalism, web radio, podcasts and well-constructed multimedia blogs as well as any new ways of talking about music. This goes back to the licensing issue in part—some of these outlets won’t make much money at all and there need to be licenses available that do not make it impossible for them to operate.

4/ Technology can never replace the physical and social act of making music.
Even in my technology-loving heyday, my professor of Electronic Music, David Borden, insisted that our final piece include a live performance element. Listening to music is great and composing for the computer can certainly be exciting, but the music that means the most to me is that which I have physically performed and shared with others. No computer or killer app can match performing Bach’s B-minor Mass in Caracas with some of my best friends or playing 4-handed piano duets with my mom.

5/ Music education in our schools cannot be abandoned. We can’t democratize production and distribution while limiting access to musical training. Not only will music education help lots of talented kids move past the mash-up, it also helps people appreciate the value of music and the work it takes to do it well. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: People will always make music and that is very comforting to me.

Read more from New Music Box. Welcome to the Future.

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Comments

3 replies
  1. Alan Ralph says:

    I’ve used Pandora (before they had to close down all access to non-US users), and occasionally make use of the Recommendation Station in the Last.fm app, and have found (and purchased) music as a result of hearing stuff on both of those – but the bulk of my music discoveries in the last several years have come from web radio like Soma FM or broadcasts like Solid Steel, where I’m able to either directly link to more info on the track or artist(s) or go Google it. And in the last few years, the number of outlets that will let me have instant gratification via MP3 purchases has grown in leaps and bounds, which is great! Having said that, it irks me when I come across an album on eMusic, for instance, that is not available in the UK – similarly for Amazon’s and Aubible’s US vs UK sites. Grr! What is even more infuriating is that there is no real way to (legally) let my friends listen to more than 30 seconds of most of my favourite tracks – Last.fm does a good job, but now that they are restricting streaming to a few areas of the world, and requiring others to pay in order to get to hear the tunes. 🙁

  2. Tammy Brackett says:

    The human element of promotions, that genuine voice on the phone,the sincere email, the timely promo information, can not be overlooked. Thanks for recognizing this invaluable promotional tool. There is no way to mechanize enthusiasm and real energy for musical project.
    People really do matter.

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