Why I’m Optimistic or Technology Got Us Into This and It Can Get Us Out

You’ve heard that the music business is on life support. That everyone’s stealing what they once paid for and that we’re all screwed as far as royalties go but let’s hold on for just a minute. I’m optimistic about the future of our business and let me tell you why.

The history of our business is littered with examples over and over again, in which big bad technology was going to ruin us. It actually started with player pianos. They were going to put “live” musicians out of work. Then came the phonograph, another threat. Then the radio. Who needed records if they could get music for free? How about cassette tapes? Remember how the industry predicted that would be the death knell?

And it’s not only new technology that has scared us. Hell at one point they thought Rock and Roll would be the end and don’t forget the demise of Tin Pan Alley! The list goes on and on.

So imagine you’re a songwriter one hundred years ago in 1913. You wouldn’t even be able to picture the future royalties generated by the phonograph, movies, radio, television, tapes, CDs, along with anywhere your music is played including concert halls, night clubs, department stores, hair salons, etc. (ASCAP, the oldest PRO wasn’t founded until 1914).

We are blind to what’s up ahead but if the past is any guide, there are going to be technical innovations way beyond what we currently have and they’re going to need songs and they’re going to have to pay for them!

What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Why I’m Optimistic or Technology Got Us Into This and It Can Get Us Out

  1. I think that technology is amazing! All kinds of media are now easily available to billions of people all over the world at the snap of a finger! At the same time, I think it’s important for artists to protect their work. Too many artists were in a hurry to “get their stuff out there” only to discover that others were collecting the money the should have been theirs!

    I enjoy using technology as a tool to help me create. I own a small 16 channel digital home studio and using it, and the various effects available, put my head into a different perspective that allows me to explore writing styles and ideas that I might not have otherwise considered.

    Having said that, I know that I need to keep things simple. I took a class for intro to Pro Tools and, since the class was named “Intro” I thought it would be fairly basic. As I moved forward into the class, I started to feel that though I had intended to sign up for a basic math class, I inadvertently had ended up in a pre-calculus class! I want to be an singer/songwriter…not a recording engineer!

  2. I’m not sure. You are correct saying that music technology determines the music business, and changing technology changes the business.

    Most of history, music including songwriting has been low or no pay. I am suspicious of the concept of intellectual property. What about the folk song model, where singers sing whatever they remember of someone’s song, gradually changing the songs as they are passed on, until they become families of songs. No lawyers suing. As that model disappears we lose something even if we gain something else.

    I guess in pre-recording and pre-sheet music selling times, performers got paid way more than composers. You needed a rich patron, or a P T Barnum type promoter, to get much wealth from songwriting. Now if your song becomes the iconic background for a major ad campaign you suddenly are able to buy a new house.

    Songwriting is sure an art. At least as much as portrait painting (another of my favorite arts to be a consumer of). But a portrait exists in just one spot (unless it’s digitized or mass printed or something) while a song is SUPPOSED to catch on and be sung and heard by many.

    Beyond the music business part of songwriting, there’s the art part: telling a story, making people feel good, expressing a feeling that’s clunking around in your heart, etc. That stuff can happen if even one person listens to the song.

    So these musings make me think maybe there’s another huge change coming that will affect the whole game. Change seems to be coming faster and faster so maybe we’ll see big changes in our lifetimes in the very nature of songwriting.

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