An Incredibly Dynamic Dialectic Between The Musician and The Listener
It’s almost hard to remember how it was when I was growing up. Then, the KBC English services music programe sundowner was what introduced Whitney Houston onto my world. Then in order to listen to music, you had to be listening to the right radio station at the right time; those who were lucky enough to have bigger brother and sisters who had the money to buy records enjoyed their company. Music was scarce I can say that without doubt.
However it’s really ironic that the music business was technically a lot healthier when it was a lot harder to access music. The record business did great when it involved people travelling great distances to go to record stores and spend lots of money on pieces of plastic. Now that music is ubiquitous and available everywhere, the record business is suffering. It’s a strange paradox that is still plunging my countrymen to deeper mud.
It may sound clichéd, but technology has democratised music. The music business of the 80’s was a strange third-world country where a handful of musicians controlled all the success and wealth. Before, there were literally a handful of musicians who were selling millions of records, and everyone else was left out in the cold. Now, the music business has become a lot more like Scandinavia where there isn’t as much wealth- but it’s spread more evenly among the people. It’s a long-tail effect. There’s a lot of musicians now who can make records inexpensively, who can distribute their work inexpensively and who- if they’re clever enough- can figure out how to have some semblance of a career.
There are so many successful music companies now, am sure you can mention a few that you can well remember, most surprisingly of them were started in the last 10 years. The paradigms of the climate in which music companies can survive or fail have changed dramatically in the past 15 years. The older companies are desperately trying to be Ostriches, hiding their heads in the sand and hoping things will get better one day. Newer companies are thriving because their business model is based on the climate as it currently is- whereas the old companies are all suffering because their businesses are based on economic and technological climates that became absolute a long time ago.
For the longest time, the criteria by which the success of music was calculated had everything to do with revenue. There were very specific physical metrics used to determine the success of a musician, how many records were sold? how many tickets sold?… now it’s much more nebulous. I personally find that now we have an incredibly dynamic dialectic between the musician and the listener. The musician is informing the listener, and the listener is informing the musician. It’s much less viably profit-driven. Musicians who are still out there desperately trying to just make money are not doing that well- whereas musicians who are embracing this new strange paradigm are personally, artistically and professionally succeeding more.
In the new climate, when people are disingenuous, the audience becomes aware of it very quickly. In the olden days, artists and labels could be a lot more disingenuous and it would take the listener a long time to figure it out. In today’s world of musical, the development, in one way or another goes hand in hand with technology. All musical instruments are advancements in technology. For a few hundred years they were mechanical advancements, and then they became electronic advancements. I keep having the suspicion that society made a mistake when we learned to record music. We took away the eye watching the performance….
Music has always had a sort of redundancy built into it. Music only happens in the moment, it’s not like a painting that you can stand in front of. It only exists in its relationship with time. Today’s musicians aim not to create something that lasts, but rather something for the moment. These are evidently clear when you see currents affairs motivated songs. Ultimately, if we look at the consumption of music, there has been an incredible boom. In terms of people making music- It’s more of a jumble now and very hard to figure out what you like…
In my closing remarks on these I look at the internet and technology that has been extraordinary for opening up music, but my guess is that we don’t sit there and spend all our day exploring new music. We spend our time enjoying what we already have, and a small fraction of our time exploring. Our ability to consume has become phenomenal, music is now an all you can eat buffet, but we still have our favourite meals. Where technology will take us next is the personalisation of music, and our ability to control and take-power over the industry itself. Right now, I am able to decide what genre of artist, what category of music, what mood I want to create. I can do all of those things; and it’s a conscious decision made in a very short time, whether it’s through wearable technology, or a better way of reading.
If I have a wearable device on for example, and my heart rate is up and I am moving at a faster pace than I would normally move, I will probably have the opportunity to flip on a music feed that knows I’m working out, and I won’t be fed romantic songs, but whatever else that has high energy and high tempo. Each time I modify that, it learns from me. That’s one thing; the personalisation of music consumption is on its way, and will become extraordinarily more powerful. Right now, the retailer enhances brand by playing music but doesn’t know me – but in the future, I may walk into a store and get music personalised to me, and to spend more money.
This makes music more democratic, and makes sure the hits are the hits because they create the most listens! The technology is there for this to happen, but we have a generation of rights holders who continually try to hold on and control versus understanding that a small slice of a huge pie is much greater than trying to hold a small pie all by themselves.