The other day I picked up a ticket to go see one of my favorite rock bands, Torche, play in Brooklyn. It started me thinking about how I first discovered them. It was back when I had an Emusic account. Then it occurred to me that you could play the “online service” association game with any artist from the internet era on. Whether it be as old as Myspace or as recent as a Twitter post, as honest as an Itunes suggestion or as nefarious as the board or torrent site an artist was posted to. Even if you heard it “on the radio”, that moment would now be traced back to (barf) Spotify or Pandora or Last FM or Youtube.
People, even young people, still have those moments. Those first times where they heard something that they’ll always remember, that’s the joy of music. It’s not the same as being told, in person, about something though. It’s not even the same as that late night video show or radio show. Or hearing a record spun at a club before the acts get on stage. That was my era. I can remember certain times from almost the entire 90’s and into the 00’s where I can remember moments like that for them.
Nowadays that whole process takes place on the internet. I guess my point is this leads to the worship of companies, corporations and services over the art itself. It also ties into the cultural shift of what people want around them to be entertained.
This brings me to today, I guess today was E3, as I bang my proverbial cane, I have no fucking idea. But as I read my Twitter timeline my afternoon was filled with announcements from Apple. Then as I traveled home it was filled with announcements from Sony and some from Nintendo regarding their gaming systems. People were filled with joy and excitement. Sitting blissfully in front of computers, streaming press conferences and demos live online. If I let myself wander enough, I could imagine a world where people are this excited about music.
I can remember waiting on long lines outside record stores, both large and small for particular releases and just as long lines for live shows as well. These days, neither is quite the same, but the intensity for video games and other electronic products from Apple and Google burn hot.
I’ve made the point in the past that illegal file sharing and content distribution bolstered Silicon Valley. We all hated the old boss, the major label fat cats, but we should all hate the new boss equally. As content creators we’ve sort of handed over the keys to our car to a different driver and we’ve handed over the course of American Culture with it.
Everything is now connected to technology on some level. Hearing a song is a matter of what device you use, what computer you own and what service you employ. The branding is strong. If you talk to most kids today, their dream is to “work for Google”. That’s not a goal, like being a lawyer was to me when I was a kid, that’s the DREAM. The dream should be to wield an electric guitar like Jimi Hendrix, but often nowadays the dream is to be at the forefront of a start up that makes it easier to access Jimi Hendrix’ archives.
But let’s take this from another angle as well, the competition put toward the arts, in particular music, from technology. I could go on a rant about video games. The fact that modern adventure games usually require someone to sit in their house for 40 hours straight to complete. The fact that most “gamers” are playing some form of an army training exercise repeatedly, over and over again in some sick blood thirsty loop. I’m sure there have been some “artful” or even “thought provoking” releases in the video game world since I hung up my joystick sometime in the mid-00’s, but they clearly aren’t selling the most units or logging the most hours.
Add to that mix the “information era” and social media. We are all constantly bombarded by images, updates, current events, drama, politics, sports and all the rest. The access we have to all of those things is unprecedented in human history. Unfortunately, this very same phenomena has lowered the value on music. Not just financially, but culturally, I’m not sure a time has existed in the post WW2 era of the United States where music has been so wildly irrelevant as a whole. The frustrating thing about it is theoretically with all this access, it should be just the opposite.
All of those things taken together add up to why folks are way more excited about some new piece of something from Apple or Google or about the latest game system. It’s a confluence of events. The downfall of the music industry, the rise of “information access”, the competition from interactive as a source of entertainment and the hero worship for corporations large and small make this all possible. I raised this in 140 character form on Twitter and someone replied “It can still happen” (for music). I totally disagree. This is a toothpaste out of the tube situation. This is a cultural shift that is so far gone that most people will think this piece is 5-10 years too late to have been written.
I think as a fan of music, in the traditional sense, where a new release was a life altering event, it’s basically over. At one time there were lovers of radio. Radio dramas were at one point high art and certainly sources of high entertainment. Television ended that, that’s a destructive technology. At one time almost all television was produced in New York City in the form of the Teleplay. Teleplays were television shows aired live, mostly starring Broadway players and writers, they were a high form of one and done style artistry. When film technology advanced in the amount that could be stored, shot and improved upon, the teleplay was dead. Again, destructive technology. So here we sit, as true fans of music essentially being destroyed, but in a different way that leaves us in permanent stasis.
Of course people still love music, but for 90%, it’s in a far more passive way. It’s a lame spotify or pandora player playing away the same hits while the listener barely notices or more importantly cares. It’s the age of free DLs either countlessly dropped by everyone that considers themselves an artist or by way of piracy. Piracy on the level that numbs the listener into feeling nothing for anything. What they do feel passion for is only what is forced upon them by major labels, all indie music entering an echo chamber of streams, searches and downloads.
The hardest pill to swallow from all of this isn’t the destructive technology that is at hold here, it’s the glory bestowed upon the creators of such. No one celebrated The Edison Trust, no one celebrated Ma Bell, but yet here we are in 2013. The technologies that destroyed the rock star now ARE the rock star. Whether it be a coder at Google, a Video Game Designer at EA or a sales clerk at the Apple Store.
Art is special, but art is becoming far less a part of our lives, and to the degree that it is there, the internet is marginalizing it all, and not just music. I’m just glad I was around when the heroes wielded guitars, microphones, drums and turntables instead of degrees from communication and technology institutions.
The success of a site like Twitter is the ability for people like myself to go on there to find other music fans to actually share word of mouth experiences with. In real life these days all people actually speak with words about is their new phone in between blank stares at a Facebook timeline at work. Music fans are fewer and more spread out and that’s fine. But don’t get it twisted, this isn’t where music has always lived within our culture and isn’t where it deserves to be.
Like it or not, more people have had their lives changed by a song then have ever been changed by a video game, web service or mobile device. This isn’t something to be taken lightly, the power of music to change the world or at least change some attitudes is shrinking and that’s a sad thing. It’s still there, but it isn’t what it was and that’s a problem, even if you still think music somehow has a larger influence over culture then I do in these times.