Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is Music Dead?

It's a given that people in the consensus have no clue that modern 'classical' composers exist. The bridge between 'modern music' makers and audiences (in 21st-century (post)classical era) is simply gone. (Actually, it has been for a long, long time... if you read the diaries of early 20th-century composers, they had the same problem... 100 years ago!) But anyway, NewMusicBox and Sequenza21 bemoan this situation all the time, and their writers often compare their world, with envy, to the world of pop with its massive popularity and distribution machines.

It's been said that classical music is one side of the world, and all other music is on the other. Hell, you even see that on, where Clasical Music is a separate category than simply Music. (what the hell is that?!)

But, I have found something interesting... I recently began to look around at other genres (other than classical and pop), and I'm finding the same story everywhere. Not only is classical music 'dead', but so too are rock (which I wholeheartedly agree with), jazz, and hip-hop. All are being declared dead. Just do a Google search (ie, 'is jazz dead'), and you'll find things being said about the other genres that we've come to accept as reality in the the classical world, along with symptoms and supposed reasons why.

So, what's going on here?! I've often heard, "Is classical music dead?" But I find now that I have to expand that question to "Is music dead?"

I think yes, in a sense, it is. Or I think it is dying as we know it. Our world is going through massive changes right now. Among other things, the record industry is collapsing (and don't tell me it's because of file-sharing--that's just bullsh*t propaganda by the RIAA and the media.) There are many, many changes going on--spiritually, socially, politically, economically, biologically, and more--and society itself is going though massive upheaval (and will even more so in the next 25 years). We're seeing effects of this in music.

The causes of all these changes are too large and complex for me to go into on this blog. But I do believe the world as we know it *is* dying, and from it something entirely new will be born... but I think the trick is, we have to be responsible for creating it. *We* need to birth it. It's ours to create.

I'm proud to say that I think I'm part of a healthy and vibrant community of composers here in Atlanta. And we're getting stronger and more connected. With things like this blog, the ASSG (Atlanta Score Study Group), the upcoming Electronic Music Concert that Adam and I are putting together, I see us giving more and more life to new music. Getting it to audiences is key, so I hope to see us do more in that area--more concerts, events, podcasts, etc. Lots of ideas...

Buy anyway, let me pose the questions now to you.

What are your thoughts? Is music dead? Why or why not? And how are you filling or renewing its life?

I hope this prompts some thinking and discussion and ideas for crafting new realities for music. Please jump in with your take.



Chris Rickwood said...

I think music is more alive than ever thanks for the most part to this medium that allows me to read your article... the internet. I have sitting on my desktop right now 10 mp3s that I just downloaded of artists I probably would have never experienced 10 years ago.

Are classical concert works a thing of the past? Possibly. Live jazz? Maybe. But in its place are the thousands of indie artists promoting themselves through MySpace. To be a composer these days, you have to figure out a way to remain relevant whether it be writing for films, producing a bootstrapped tour, or putting together a concert as you are doing.

To me, the bigger problem we face is filtering the "bad" from the "good" distinguishing true artistry in a world full of Garageband users. (not that you can't make great music on Garageband).

Chris said...

Does the Score Study group have a schedule online? I'd like to attend the next meeting.

Anonymous said...

The world is changing and with it the conventional forms of pretty much everything we know are changing. As Chris said- relevance is the key. I find more and more there is a polarity of culture. People seem to be either committed to intellegent, meaningful lifestyles that seek something greater than money, or they are committed to consumerism and don't give a second thought to the meaning of art or quality. Instead of bemoaning our inability to capture a mainstream audience, we have to win over the people who would even bother to lend an ear. I've read a lot from Greg Sandow's blog and seen many articles of composers doing just this. In New York there are indie rock concerts being opened by string quartets and operas being performed in bars!

I predict that, in an age of multifunctionality and the "remix" lifestlye, as well as the overbearing monoculturalism of Wal-Mart/Starbucksworld, we necessarily must break down barriers of "classical", "jazz" and other genres and adopt a new, all-pervasive multi-culturalism. I've felt for a while that Western culture is in a decline and I accept it. I look forward to a diverse and exciting world culture that is fueled by the internet.

Nothing's dying. It's just changing into something that doesn't resemble what we are comfortable with.

And yeah- let us know when the ASSG meets.

Darren Nelsen said...

ASSG meets the first Thurs. of every month at the Crawford Communications building at 7 (sometimes 7:30) pm. I'll post a main entry with more info.

Jonathan said...

I agree with what is being said.
To me, the greatest concern in the area of "relevance" in the context of the Internet is commerce. Chris, am I wrong to assume that
this is one of the core elements of your usage of "relevance"?
Without getting to far into a art and commerce discussion, I feel that the "death" we are seeing is largely due to a lack of commerce.
To be clear, I mean that the up and coming listening generation knows that music not something that is bought but something that is downloaded for free.
We as a society place very little value on things that we do not have to pay for. I think many well meaning artists in their attempt to
create "art" and "get it to the people" (for free) don't realize that they are contributing to the devaluing of their blood sweat and tears in the long run, as well as everyone else's. I am thinking largely of the pop world but those business models trickle down to everyone else. We all hear the success stories of an artist giving away their music as promotional tool but what is always the pay off and end result of these success stories? Huge popularity while they continue to work the day job? No, its "a label picks them up" or they are selling like crazy on itunes or independently from their website.
I suppose this brings us back to the wheat and the chaff Chris mentioned; with all this free music everywhere, will the cream
really rise to the top? Or is that impossible with the ever growing dilution?
Heck, I'm an open minded person, maybe music really should be *Completely FREE*. Of course there would always be a few elite that
figured out a way to make money. Is this where we are headed? In 5 years, will we long for the day when we pretty much *had* to buy music?

Darren Nelsen said...

I feel that the "death" has to do with arrogance, single-mindedness, and mediocrity of the major record labels. They want the big hit singles. They don't care about fostering art. They don't care about fostering talent, or building up bands. They can't think about creating another U2 (which took years to build). All they care about is profits for next quarter. So, they invent bands and artists, they manufacture them now and cram them down our throats. Hence, the Britney Spears of the world. Meanwhile, they cut support for their smaller labels and drop whole groups of lesser known band en masse. Also, they want to charge $20 for CDs (of which the artist is lucky to get 5%). Also, they absolutely resist to the death any new technologies or trends that do not fit squarely within their business models (which are antiquated.) So, I blame the record companies for the "death" of music.
However!... those who posted here have very good points! Independent music is alive and well and is growing more substantial, more powerful. Artists on MySpace don't look to record labels to empower them and hence are building audiences and recognition for themselves. The power, and future, lies with them and others of their ilk on eMusic, Amie Street, and other independently driven websites. The independents will rise as the majors fall.

Darren Nelsen said...

Regarding Jonathan's comments on Free music... it's a complex and interesting issue. As an artist, I choose to give my music away for free. My reason... I want to reduce 'barriers to entry.' If someone wants to hear my music, I want to make as easy on them as possible! In fact, I think it builds loyalty. Example, there is a very good jazz composer and saxophonist by the name of Steve Coleman. He gives his music away for free. How he makes a living, I don't know. But I never would have found him or listened to him had he not made his music available for free on his website. Now I'm a huge fan. If he had a donation box on his website, I would give him some cash. If he comes to town, I will make every effort to go see him. If he's interviewed in a magazine, I'll buy it. I'm really into the guy and what he's doing. I'm bordering on evangelism... :) and it all started by downloading his albums (legally) for free off his site.

I should start another post here specifically on this issue to get the discussion going and see what others think.

Darren Nelsen said...

Here's a related article:

Ray said...

Yes. Music is dying along with EVERYTHING else we in the West live and depend on. The world has become a sold-out souless capitalist venture. No longer does the job have to be successful in any other way other than the $$bottom line$$. Think about it; money makes money, always has and eventually those who take will bankrupt the world and its people. The system will collapse.. its fate is becoming clear in 2009. "The dream is over.."