The future of “music technology” and the “music industry”

A few weeks ago I moderated a panel on DRM at a “music technology” conference. I wrote it up on the Creative Commons blog. Short version is a consensus from non-activists that music DRM is on its way out.

But what I want to complain about here is the use of “music industry” understood to mean the recording distribution industry and “music technology” understood to refer to use of the net by the same industry. Similarly, “future of music” understood to refer to the development or protection of recording distribution industry business models in the face of digital networks. Each of these gets under my skin.

My contention is that the future of music is determined by changes in music making technology and culture. The recording distribution industry has just about nothing to do with it. It seems that every new genre from ancient history to present has sprung from the latest in music making technology and cultural antecedents, and developed its essential forms before the recording distribution industry got a clue (or recently, started to sue).

I may be overstating my case, especially with regards to rock, but fuck rock stars.

If you’re interested in the actual future of music and want to look for it in an industry more narrow than “information technology”, it’s the musical instruments industry that you want.

12 Responses

  1. calendargirl says:

    Ah yes, the “future of music”, that old chesnut. You are quite right to identify the pomposity of the recording distribution industry identifying itself as the arbiter of change as it frantically attempts to safegaurd its business practice in the world of digital networks. It is usually the richest industry players who can afford to wear a janus-face, one smiling at the open (free) ‘future’/culture, the other jealously gaurding its coffers. A great example of this is a rumoured venture by a major label to launch a ‘remix’ site for its back catalogue – “jeez guys, we have to figure out a way of making our stuff work a little harder in the digital world, ya know!!” This seems like bald revisionism to me.

    But in terms of the recording distribution business model, I can’t see an alternative to securing rights to music that has been created through new digital networks and then arranging for online distribution, licensing (a la magnatune) etc. When people complain of old business models in the new digital network are they complaining about this specific process I’ve outlined, or just the bad practice of the recording distribution industry in all the glory of its vested interest?

  2. calendargirl,

    The recording distribution industry certainly needs to innovate, and there will be lots of unsuccessful and successful, smart and stupid attempts (and some of the stupid ones will succeed, and vice versa!) Magnatune has been a great pioneer in this area and I hope it gets a lot bigger and some others follow its lead while still others push the boundaries more or differently…

    But I wasn’t complaining about recording distribution business models, or even protection of old models, at least in this post. I’m saying that the recording distribution business, successful or not, is pretty much irrelevant to the actual future of music.

  3. calendargirl says:

    Hi Mike

    Of course, I see your distrinction and applaud it. I would like to hear you speculate on the future of music business practice, or the recording-distribution industry practice. My feeling is for a riot of innovation, but a lot of musicians have been fed a line of fear and worry about the ‘current climate’ – “its so hard to get a record deal nowadays… noboday is getting signed” etc etc. ‘You DON’T want a record deal right now!’ I always thunder at them, ‘JUST INNOVATE!’.

    But of course, innovation for the sake of it can be a major distraction from making music.

    Thanks for your post on this!

  4. Lucas says:

    I think the lesson here is about how bad the tech industry is at getting a message out, which is not a problem that the recording industry has.

  5. gurdonark says:

    Hi there:

    I agree with you that the technology of music creation has a more tectonic shift effect than merely the effect on the corporate distribution structure for music. This is not a new phenemenon–it’s perhaps directly analogous to the difference between the “early classical” ‘orchestra’ and the 19th and 20th century models of the orchestra.

    The change in technology for music creation inevitably results in a different genre of music actually created. Whether one means Les Paul or Moog or some kid circuit-bending a new gizmo even as we speak, the
    medium affects the musical “message”.

    I suspect that a lot of “great leaps” in experimental music, such a microtonalist western music, will be seen as baby steps now that software enables one to easily create new tonalities (and atonalities). The process will not be some simplistic overnight change, but a continuing expansion and osmosis as to what is “music”.

    In my view, the marketing of music is a related but different issue. It’s “related” in that it’s clear to me that much truly “indie” music (in the sense of innovative and well outside the beaten path) will become hobbyist and non-profit-making by intention (witness netlabels) rather than the traditional model of merely financially unsuccessful. I view this as a return to the musical creation campfire and Sunday night parlor of amateur musicians (in this case, connected via the web).

    The jury is still out on how commercial distribution will work. I personally would be comfortable with a magnatune model industry, or with a google-ad-based type industry. This will be a time of competing models until a few really work. We’ll just enjoy watching to see what we see.

    But in the meantime, the issue of how to change music is not “how can I write software to emulate what has gone before”, but instead “how can I create software which goes into new places entirely admirably”. That’s the future, and it’s inevitable, and I’m excited about it.

    best, robert

  6. Gurdonark, must wisdom in your comment. I shall follow up in a new post later.

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