I was reading the musical genius Bill Nelson's weblog tonight, hunting for the anecdote he tells about the amazing Harold Budd. It's the one in which someone asks Mr. Budd what kind of music he makes, to which Budd replies "the kind people don't want to buy, apparently". I did not find that entry, but I did find a recent expression of concern by Mr. Nelson about the internet commodification of the music industry.
I respect that Bill Nelson has had a prolific and successful career even though the winds of popular favor have never fully shined down on his work. I was thinking just the other day how he "got" something about the advances in recording technology that others outside the real "music exchange underground" often missed. This was the simple truth that recording and computer technology would provide almost anyone the ability to be prolific, and not be imprisoned by recording in analog studios at analog+ costs.
Still, despite the respect and inspiration he has been to me as a listener and a learner,
I don't agree that the internet is bad for music or musicians. I believe that the internet has and will usher in a new time when musicians are able to be compensated for their efforts in ways the former system not only did not provide, but actively discouraged. Although it's true that corporations seek to profit from the move to on-line, and it's also true a too-large segement of listeners download and never buy, I still think that the new economy offers new chances for new remedies to old wrongs.
I am in this post less interested, though, in the march of technology as an economic engine for creative creator compensation, than in the parlor piano possibilities of the on-line medium. Anyone with Audacity and a freeware synth from kvraudio can play, in the way that once everyone of a certain stature in the middle class and of a certain set of attainments could play piano for friends at functions not yet jaded by 333 channels or enlivened by microwave popcorn.
I love the one-on-one exchange of the music. I am rarely much of a stereotypical fan, except for my perpetual fandom for people I meet on-line, but I love the sense that I can and do live in a conspiracy of kitchen-table creators, seeking out ways to share the excitement of sound.
I think of the virtual netlabel Earth Monkey Productions, which not only releases Creative Commons ambience, but also spent this Summer running workshops for local kids to learn how to remix, hosting live performances for experimental artists to present their works, and promoting poetry through a poetry remix site. This is not New-York-London-Paris-Munich thing--this activity all takes place in Barrow-in-Furness, in Cumbria.
There is this notion that creative exchange must come from people who are Musicians with a capital M. In fact, it comes from the parlor, and the kitchen table, and from weblogs and ordinary people who work in the Creative Commons, creating free material for all to share.
I love the website for Black Sweater White Cat, which features a song a day of completely free Creative Commons music. The artists there are almost all fascinating and create music in styles not found on commercial radio. I've never been featured on that website, though I've been played on the radio station in MA which is the companion radio show. Yet I think this is the greatest thing. A person could read this site every day, sample the songs, and within six months, almost regardless of genre preference, assemble a library of great music for the mp3 player for almost free. This is the conspiracy of sharing culture I admire, and try to emulate and advance.
I am a big supporter of Bill Nelson, who makes fascinating music heard by too few people. But as I am fond of his work, and not some kind of "he can do no wrong" fanguy, I will easily permit myself a steady dissent from his view of the internet, and
say that I see a bright future in music in which we all redefine how music is experienced, what it means, and what second-raters get to pick it for us. We will pick our own, and build our own culture, and it will be wonderful--maybe not tomorrow, but certainly in a decade or less.