Content in the Digital Age: Music

Oh music. The first industry in my eyes that had to deal with the massive digital shift, which occurred with a compressed file size that was manageable and share-able on the internet in the late 90’s among people with dial-up 5.6kb internet connections. Music has been discussed to death with the file-sharing issues the industry has had to deal with as well as how most musicians during the “glory days” weren’t really making money and they were being taken advantage of by big wig record executives and just given rather large “record company bank loads”. I will try to stick to music and the impact technology has had on it, but it is a beast to say the least, one that I am very familiar with so I apologize in advance if I get a little off topic.

With the beginning of the second decade in the 21st century it appears that everyone is able to create “high quality music” (from a production/sound aspect) in the comfort of their own homes or even on a bus with their iPad. The tools for creation are readily available and the financial barrier that used to exist is almost non-existent. This ability to create well produced music was something that was only afforded to rich people just some 20 years ago. Hearing stories about Metallica spending $1 Million dollars to make the black album in the 90’s is just unfathomable today. We’ve entered an age where people with only basic knowledge of music can join the fun and be creators of songs that sound good. Garage Band, ProTools, Cubase, Ableton, there are lots of options out there and people have taken advantage of them.

Today we have more recorded music being created by more people than ever before. It has become more accessible as well as more diverse. You want some Retro/Hip Hop/Metal/Dubstep? Or maybe some Ska/Metal/Pop/Screamo? It can all be found because you can be damn sure someone has created it and posted it to the Internet. We have such a wide array of music readily available at all moments of the day, music for any time, for any place, for any mood. It is pretty amazing and almost spectacular when compared to how things have been for the last 50 years. But this begs the question, what gives music value any more. Alan Cross recently stated, “The easier it becomes to access music, the less value it will have,” and I think to a certain extent he’s right. At least objectively.

Whether you enjoy a song or a certain style of music is a subjective experience. Obviously this is defined by your preconceived notions about what you like or dislike. It’s questionable to say you have any control over some of these preferences, seeing as that gets into being about how you were raised and your larger belief system as a whole. Art, value, talent, I don’t think these carry the same weight they used to when it comes to music. Whether it’s the story of the world’s best and most well-known violinist playing in a subway to 2000 people who don’t pay any attention, or the a guy on YouTube who did everything on his computer and then put a cat in his video that got 20 million views, it seems like it all comes down to context and personal preference.

To quote a book I once read, “The cheese has moved.” What once was the norm is no longer relevant in a digital age where the gap between consumers and creators has shifted and the supply is far beyond the demand. Like in the previous segments I wrote, this one is no different. I can have a lifetime’s worth of music, and access to even more in my pocket, at all times of the day. Why would I listen to the radio when I can listen to something that I found on my own that’s more unique and more in line with my tastes? A better question is why I would turn on the radio at all anymore? But, I digress. What I’m really trying to say is that music consumption has changed. It’s become individualized to a person’s tastes. You can make your own playlists, listen to your own music, or just create it. You are the musician, you are the DJ.

Someone could spend their entire life learning everything there is to know about music and become an expert on their instrument whom is unparalleled, yet the value that someone places on that person’s expertise is not defined by their skill level. It’s valued by the people, based on whether that person can create music that has relevance to their life here and now. Autotune the News anyone? So as a musician for me, this leads directly to: how do you write music to be relevant to someone’s life? And I think this is how we end up with the continued success of Nickelback, where their music is purposefully created to appeal to the lowest common denominator, very similar to things like Spike’s Video Game Award’s in the gaming community. Any music addict, or someone that thinks they listen to a high caliber of music, will most likely tell you that Nickelback is not “quality” music.

People like music because it makes them feel. It’s physical, it’s emotional, it’s mental, and people will always like listening to music because of those things. It’s a connection to the lyrical content or to the instrumentation, the beat, or sometimes its background music for writing articles about it. Whatever the reason is people aren’t going to stop listening to music, actually I think more people listen to more music now than ever before. It’s just that the recording industry is still going through the digital growing pains of how to make a life out of being a musician and artist. Of course this is really only covering recorded music, getting into live performances is another story all together (that I will save for another post).

Content in the Digital Age is an ongoing series of articles on consuming content in today’s world and the impact technology has had on people and industry.

Please leave comments below and share your thoughts on any of the subject matter discussed.

Would love to hear from you!

– Shane Lamotte

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