diary of a mad
househusband

15 july 2000

 

 the future of music: great, if you can find it

The continuing plunge in the prices of digital recording, sampling, and looping hardware and software empowers every musician and wannabe. At the same time, it burdens us with the responsibility and necessity of being our own producers; it's now impossible to get anyone's attention, be it a label's or the public's, without some kind of recording.

Horn players and vocalists who don't play an accompaniment instrument (e.g., guitar or keyboard) have thus far, at least to my knowledge, been slower to take advantage of sequencers, looping devices, and harmonizers than have guitarists and keyboard players. This surely won't last, as kids playing in high school and junior high bands now are already dancing to music created with samplers and loopers; they won't feel nearly as bound to other musicians as their older counterparts.

To me, one of the most exciting things computers have done for music is in the area of traditional fretted stringed instruments, both acoustic and electric: Computer-controlled equipment in the factories has brought prices down dramatically, in relation to the cost of living, while at the same time improving quality immeasurably. The expensive guitar, bass, or mandolin now costs much less in relation to your income than it did 20 years ago. Meanwhile, even the least expensive instruments are accurately fretted and intonated. The horrible cheap acoustic guitar with strings 3/8" off the fingerboard, upon which so many of us old-timers played our first chords, will justifiably become just a horror story we tell our grandchildren, who won't believe us because they've never seen one.

With barriers to entry dropping so quickly and so low, there will be a greater percentage of the world's population making music than ever before. Sturgeon's Law ("Ninety per cent of science fiction is crap. But then, ninety per cent of everything is crap.") will continue to be true-- but in absolute terms, there's already more truly good music being made today than there ever has been, and it's only going to get better.

Or worse: Knowing it's out there and not being able to find it is already driving me crazy.

The artists I like best never get played on commercial radio. Period. I've learned about them in three different ways: From public/listener supported/non-commercial radio, from TV shows (mainly Austin City Limits, but also a few other public TV shows whose producers have good taste and aren't afraid to show it), and from dead-tree magazine profiles, interviews, and reviews.

On the Internet, the distinction between "magazine" and "radio station" can disappear completely. A site focusing on reviews can also offer downloadable or streaming audio clips; a streaming audio site, with or without announcers or program hosts (what we used to call DJs) can also offer reviews to read.

And anyone can do it. Already thousands are; there could well be hundreds of thousands of sites offering music reviews and/or streaming audio within the next few years.

Regardless of what happens to Napster, Gnutella, and other filesharing software, we're going to need the Internet radio stations and review sites, desperately, just to let us know the names of the artists who'd appeal to us, if we could only find them.

The world will surely beat an electronic path to the most comprehensive and comprehensible independent guide to Internet radio stations and review sites. Its builder will surely deserve the rewards.

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