Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Future of Music: On Albini's speech, and a few new thoughts about where music will go.

I recently read what appears to be the text of Steve Albini's keynote address in Melbourne's Face the Music conference, and here are some of my thoughts:

On the face of it, I can see where this rather lengthy piece comes from: it's about how to use the hardworking punk ethic for independent distribution within the structure of the Internet. However, what I do not see here is an actual understanding from the point of view of the small, upstart band. He may understand the Internet, but his concept of where a new band is in terms of the Internet isn't really there.

Perhaps, given his punk ethic, he is espousing a survivalist system, where the best band wins. It's not a bad idea, but in the scale of the Internet, that's practically suicidal for any starting band, unless they have the perfect combination of capital, marketing/merchandising knowledge, connections, and online savvy - aside from, of course, musical talent/determination and a damn good live performance presence. The struggle to simply get to the point where you can break even for your band's costs will probably be epic.

That's not to say that I don't believe in what he says - I really do think that most of what he said is probably where everything should go.

However, the dark side of his address is that you shouldn't quit your day job, have a second job, and then think about your music. There's no more room for just jumping into it full time without a worked-to-the-gills plan, with the money to match the planning. And even then, you won't be assured of success at all.

The hidden takeaway I can see in the article is that the Internet has created a "new source" for music: the part-time musician. These are the people who make music without thinking about making money from them. These are the people who, if they become famous or rich, will be so because they garnered a following from making home recordings of their excellent music from their bedrooms.

In fact, there is already a practical division happening in music, where there are those who garner a following from creating wonderful music from their bedroom, but do not have the experience, need or want to tour and perform live, and those who are primarily live acts who use the Internet as just another venue for people to hear their music.

If anything, the new paradigm of the music industry may force people who want to go into it to really think about how much they are willing to sacrifice for it, even if they do have a plan. That's because while the Internet allows for information to spread easily, it also means that any new music, band, or musician will have to fight against a very difficult signal-to-noise ratio, as it were.

And the world keeps on turning.

P.S. And we haven't even gotten to the prickly issue of copyright!

Article sources:
The Guardian (main source, transcript)
Billboard article (though it cites the Guardian as well)
Youtube video of the speech

Photo by Cássio Abreu (