Sunday, September 11, 2016

(Timeless?) Music Today

I've been meaning to write this post for awhile. A conversation with my brother today finally motivated me to do it. He has two kids (9 and 5); mine are 14 and 11.

A few nights ago our family spent the evening with another family. Drinks were had and my buddy, a musician, fired up some Gun's & Roses and Kenny Rogers on the Sonos (via Pandora). The adults all wailed along while playing air guitar. The kids giggled and pointed at us. The next day my son asked me why his generation doesn't have such timeless and iconic music. As we parents do, I responded without any preparation, on my feet, with something like this.

Creation

Twenty-plus years ago, producing music for the masses required a lot of capital, and relationships with distribution channels. So, a musician would desire and aspire to access record labels (who had said capital and relationships) for "record deals." Convincing a label to sign your band meant you had to be pretty great at producing a quality product that would likely appeal to the masses. In today's tech-easy framework, a lot of good (not necessarily great) music can be produced relatively easily. In some cases, with nothing more than a laptop. So, there has been an explosion in artists who can create decent music. Yesterday, there were simply fewer bands that could produce material that was fairly easily consumable.

Distribution

This is where things have shifted most significantly. Yesterday, distribution was accomplished via radio plays, physical media sales, and concert halls and arenas. Importantly, the pinnacle consumption of music, a concert/arena, was something the community would experience together, in a room, with the band itself. Obviously these "shows" still exist today, but when you consider the shifts in access to music, production, and costs, the large-scale shows (arenas) are the stuff of marketers; of manufactured content with no soul. The smaller venues are the only place to see live music with soul, and therefore by definition, the number of people that can share the same live experience together is orders of magnitude smaller. So, this collective bond that thousands or millions of people can establish and share over the course of a band's "tour" (a year or two at a time), has vaporized.

I don't think Streaming actually has much, if anything, to do with the lack of iconic/timeless music production. It obviously has had a massive impact on consumer cost-to-access music, and what musicians get paid, but the connection with timeless/iconic bands isn't so clear to me. I could probably argue that better, cheaper, access to music via Streaming would promote more great bands across an even larger consumer-base. I might argue that because we have such ready access to nearly _all_ music now, that our need/desire to build up, and save up, to go see a big show has dwindled. But, I suspect that interest has waned more because the large-format shows have been commercialized to the point of no longer being as interesting as they once were.

Access

Our kids access music through Spotify, Pandora, and Soundcloud. They listen on over-the-ear headphones, or via speakers driven by Sonos (built-in amp or line-in to a receiver). They have fallen victim to Streaming's general lack of "offline" or "download" support, and realize this when we're in the car somewhere sans cell-tower coverage. That's when they ask me to fire up my music which I diligently downloaded (Spotify Offline).

Equipment

Coincidentally I introduced my son to Boulder's high-end audiophile showroom today. I needed a component and he was out running errands with me so, I took him in. I introduced him to an engineer who spends his hours tuning amps and speakers and furniture placement and sound baffles and cables and such. I showed him McIntosh amps with tubes and phonographs as beautiful as the female form. We sat. We listened. He came to understand why I take my drivers and amps so seriously. That was a fun parenting moment. I remember when my own dad took me in there when I was a kid. I haven't been the same since.

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