Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Question of the Day - THE FUTURE - June 2, 2009



Paul asks:

We seem to be moving into an electronic/remix digital era where one hit song can have 8 or 9 remixed house versions. Where will non-electronic/digital fans go for their music in the future?

Hartmann responds:

The future of music will be forged in the fires of the Internet and upon the anvil of digital technology. The fact that hit songs are manipulated into dozens of remixed versions shows that personal tastes run on widely divergent paths. Anyone with a modest amount of the right equipment can adjust his favorite track to fit his own specifications. Although, some artists might see this as desecrating their art, most probably find it flattering. This practice is often generated by DJs who create tracks as "special" presentations at their live events. Many DJs have become famous in their own right and a significant number of popular records have gained their success in this arena. Electronica is one "superstar" away from breaking wide open. However, there are other contenders vying for main stream popularity.

There is a vast amount of music available on the Internet and virtually all of it can be acquired for free. This allows music fans unprecedented access to all the great genres of music without economic restrictions. Subsequently, the collective fan base is diluted by the enormous variety of songs to choose from. This has put more music in play, to more people, than ever before in history. The term I have coined to describe this explosion of content is The Music Renaissance.

There is a long established historical trajectory which demonstrates that, culturally, every generation creates its own soundtrack. In the past this "music of your life" collection was dictated by the prevailing record business and funneled through radio to the fans. Now the process has reversed itself. Instead of being offered a selection of songs from which they must choose their hits, the fans now decide, on their own, what they will make popular. The search is constant and universal. When a great song is discovered, it can generate millions of hits on the world wide web in a very short period of time. Most record companies watch for these instant niche explosions and pounce on them almost as soon as they appear. This new A&R system often enrolls naiive artists into the postmodern record business. Rarely is the success they crave achieved.

The major record labels no longer generate the huge capital reserves that came from multi-platinum sales. A hit album today need only sell less than two hundred thousand copies to become a number one record on the Billboard charts. Limited resources reduce the amount of money a label can devote to the development of any one artist. This curtails the process limiting the amount of time and expenditure devoted to any given piece of product. If you aren't a hit out of the box, your duration at that company will be very short lived. With the audience choosing the stars, the record companies are left dazed and confused. Instead of leading the parade, they have been reduced to followers; and with so much music being disseminated they can't find the golden needles amidst the brass.

The impact of this on the future of live and recorded music is significant. It means that as strong as Electronica is, it may not become the focal point of main stream popularity. The burgeoning singer/songwriter genre is very much alive. There is large scale experimentation in traditional genres like The Blues, Reggae, Hip Hop, Pop and the always present County Music scene. Hybrid combinations of two or more extant styles could evolve. Low cost digital recording techniques like ProTools and Garage Band provide a fertile laboratory for creative experimentation.

Bands that achieve Internet popularity will still be required to develop a solid live act to capitalize on their success. It is not likely that their survival will be financed from digital sales, although some income will accrue. Most people will download the music without paying for it. To survive, future bands will have to develop on a regional basis. They will have to dominate the music scene within driving distance of their homes. Box-office receipts and merchandise sales will provide the main income streams. Labels will not finance national tours. Sleeping at home precludes the need for hotel rooms, per-diems and long distance travel. If they can't make it at home, they can't make it at all. If they can make it at home, they can make it everywhere. Stay home until the success achieved there draws you into a wider statewide, regional and national exposure.

The talent is on the Internet. It will grow from there. The first niche genre to produce a "superstar' will attract the ubiquitous audience. The problem is finding the gold needle in such a huge stack of brass needles. The truly talented are lost in a sea of mediocrity. It's hard to find the great ones. When you do find it you will know. It's easy to tell what is great when you see it. It will probably give you goose-bumps and make your hair stand on end. Surf the web like a bird of prey. Maybe you will discover the next big thing. No one genre will dominate forever; and each generation will choose its own soundtrack and worship its own heroes. The great music will always be out there and the best will continuously rise to The Big Top.

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