This one’s for you musicians out there. Especially those of you who complain about illegal downloads, piracy, and how your products are losing their economic value. Grouse all you want… you’re not gonna change the world you live in. It’s gonna change you, instead.
When a new medium comes along, we become enamored. We fall in love with it and adopt it. We play with it, use it, and accept it as our own until it becomes ubiquitous. We did this with the first four media ages: Oral, Scribal, Print, and Electric, when each one came along. And as we did, they shaped us into something different, each time. The problem comes when we try to make it work the way the previous one did.
And now, as we enter the fifth media age, the Digital Age, we’re doing the same thing. As McLuhan observed, we don’t live our lives looking forward, we see them in the rear view mirror. It’s no different this time. We’re treating digital media as if it were ELECTRIC media. That is, we’re still trying to conform to the rules of the Electric Age, which includes broadcast, mass production, and analogue content. It embraces Professionalism. We look to professionals to produce music and other art. And now, we wonder why that’s no longer working.
The reason it isn’t working is because it CAN’T work in a digital environment. It’s not a shift in content format. It’s not just a shift from vinyl to digital. It’s not like a change from records to CDs. It’s a complete change of the environment itself. It’s like a boat in the forest. Like a bowling ball in the snow. Old methods don’t work in new media environments. They simply don’t. You can’t point a camera at a theatre play and create a good movie. The film medium dictates that you need to do other things. And even if we could somehow write books by hand, people are now used to reading print. They simply wouldn’t buy handwritten books.
If you’re a working musician–a solo artist, a member of a band, a songwriter, or someone who is in the field of popular music– ask yourself this: How often do I go down to the music store and buy sheet music? Do I depend upon that sheet music for my livelihood? How important is sheet music to my work these days?
We left sheet music behind when the Electric Age came along. Sure, some of us still use it. But the vast majority of live musical performances are accomplished without it. It’s simply not ubiquitous anymore, at least in popular music circles. Sure, go ahead and make the argument that I’m wrong. But then, show me how many rock bands on MTV have sheet music in front of them. How many singer/songwriters, folk musicians, bluegrass bands, or rockabilly groups do you see with a bunch of music stands onstage? Go ahead, I can wait.
My point is that, while old content isn’t destroyed when a new medium comes along, it does become less meaningful. It doesn’t work very well in a new media environment. In the Digital Age we’ll still have CDs, vinyl records, and other “traditional” forms of music artifacts. But they are no longer viable. You’re probably still modeling your music and your career as if you were still in the Electric Age. You’re not. We’re not.
We’ve moved on. If you really want to thrive, to make a living creating and playing music, then you need to move on, too.
A good place to start might be with reading some of Andrew Dubber’s stuff. He gets it.