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Friday, March 11, 2011

The Rise of Audience-less Music

    Among other oft noted impacts, the advent of digital technology has given rise to an enormous and growing class of popular music:   Music without an audience.  In the past, the anticipation of an audience was often times the sole reason for music being created.  To give but one example, Mozart's job was to write background music for various religious services and aristocratic social events.  Like, Mozart would get a letter saying, "The Duke wants you to write some music for his ball next month: Do it."
     Moving forward to the early period of the 20th century in the United States, music was very much a social activity- whether played in the parlor on a player piano, a "Juke Joint" in the rural south or a Fourth of July Parade in the mid-west, the modernization of society in no way tampered with the fundamentally social nature of Music.
   Change was introduced into the equation by advances in technology.   Recorded and Broadcast Music created the possibility of non-social Music, i.e. music with an audience of one- a person and a machine (record player or radio.)  However, the creation of music playing machines did not fundamentally destroy the artist/audience relationship, it merely reduced the average size at the same time it increased the overall size of the audience.
   No, Record Players and Radio didn't create Audience-less Music, it created bigger, more attenuated audiences. The fact was is that not every Joe could create a Record, let alone get it heard, and the same thing went for Music that was played on the radio.
   However, more recent technological changes have given rise of a historic first, music that is created that is completely without audience.  This is now possible because recording costs have dropped to the cost of a single portable computer, and distribution costs have dropped to the cost of a high speed internet connection. All those who can afford those two things can create music, but that does not guarantee that the resulting music will have any audience, whatsoever.
   In fact, the defining characteristic of this era in popular music is exactly that phenomenon: Music without Audience.  It has resulted from the combination of technological progress and the complex of ideas understood as "Romanticism" as it relates to the process of artistic creation (i.e. the lonely, misunderstood, tormented poet,  the beat generation outcast, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, etc.)
  The utter failure of contemporary Musicians to understand the essentially social nature of Music- is their downfall.  The Idea that an unknown Musician can arise from obscurity and ascend to the heights of the music industry is as old as the music industry itself, if not older.
     Everywhere that Idea is bound up with the romantic myth of artistic production and the reality of the every changing modern Music Industry- it is a timeless, epic struggle that links  Beethoven to the Beatles, Miles Davis to Moby and Devo to the Dum Dum Girls.
     Audiences can and do respond to Music which plays upon that Idea, but they don't care about Music the way Artists care about Music.  A Romantic Poet of the 19th century might have been fascinated by the idea of playing his lute in the woods, but it would be pretty tough to carry a harpsichord up a mountain, and he sure as hell couldn't bang out an EP on GarageBand in three weeks.
       The fundamental mistake of would-be professional musicians is that they assume the existence of an Audience, when in fact, there is no Audience, none whatsoever, for someone posting recordings on the internet.  At some point in the last five years, a higher percentage of non professional musicians have recorded and distributed music to the public then at any time in the past hundred years, probably by a factor of 50 or 100.
        Meanwhile, overall Audience increase mirrors the steady but small growth of the overall population, since Music is now available to everyone, always.  Thus, Audience-less Music is inevitable.   Surely it is appropriate for an artist to ask whether an audience exists for his or her music before making recordings available to the general public?  Publishing audience-less music to the public is sad.

1 comment:

Brobrobro said...

I was with you till the last sentence-your writing flip flops back and forth from spot on expose and contemplation of new trends to utterly judgemental bullshit. Stay classy Scott. The intelligensia needs you.

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