I just finished reading Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur. An indictment of what I’m doing right this second, of course. I may have all of my students read his section on the music business. Keen discusses Tower Records, and I remember well going to their Atlanta store in about 1995 or 1996, and having the feeling that if there was a recording I wanted, they had it, or they could get it. It was the last place I ever saw new LPs on sale, too. Now, I couldn’t even tell you where the nearest good record store could be found (though I did pick up a used copy of a CD of solo piano music by Charles Wuorinen and Morton Feldman at the Hastings store in Liberal). I order from Amazon, CDBaby, and Archiv, none of which is as much fun or as satisfying as some of the fantastic record stores (and music departments of bookstores) I’ve frequented over the years (the highlights–Barnes & Noble at Easton Towne Centre and Borders on Henderson Road in Columbus, Joseph-Beth Bookseller in Cincinnati, Tower Records in Atlanta, Used Kids and Magnolia Thunderpussy in Columbus, Streetside Records in Cincinnati) . The BMG Classical record club has shrunk its monthly selection of classical music to four pages in an omnibus catalog–an insult, really, although as I get older there is more music that I already own, so it gets tougher to please me.
More to the point–I would respond to Keen by saying that, while the surge of technological music-copying has been disastrous for the “record industry,” it has been a boon for the “average” musician. I would remind Keen that his precious “music industry” has–put simply–conned much of society into believing that you need a record contract and a team of professionals to make music. For the past fifty years, Americans have been letting others make their music for them, and I see that changing now.
Any public school music teacher or church music minister can tell you that musical talent is spread around fairly thickly. There are many who can sing or play well enough to entertain themselves and those around them, or to use their musical skills in worship, and it doesn’t require a college degree or a big break. It appears that the public is starting to once again recognize this.
I never understand the person who comes to me after hearing me play or after listening to one of my pieces saying, “that’s amazing, I could never do that.” Those people are selling themselves short. The human mind is a flexible, resourceful thing, and it can learn to do nearly anything, given time and motivation. I don’t believe that anyone is musically hopeless, but the music industry wants us to believe that we are. No more! Any teenager who has played with Garage Band for ten minutes can create a decent sounding song… not strikingly original, but an indicator of a strongly developed sense of musical taste. To paraphrase one of my professors, Gregory Proctor, if you ask the mechanic down at the garage to come up with a song, he can do it… maybe not a good song, but a conventional song that fits the musical culture he has been steeped in. We now hear more music than ever–it surrounds us, and compared to our ancestors, we are all probably musical geniuses.
To the end though, because it’s late, and there isn’t that much point in inflating the blogosphere with my midnight musings. In the realm of music, technology has the potential to remake folk music–where Keen sees billions of self-taught musicians condemned to anonymity, I see the nameless, shapeless forces of true folk music, building a common culture on the backs of unremembered musical mediocrities. Where today my students don’t have four folk songs in common, perhaps Web 2.0 will allow the culture of personal, meaningful music to be restored to the vast millions who don’t have record deals. I don’t know what technology means for music–especially for my music. I hope it means more live music, more amateur music and a greater importance in our culture for music as an activity that enriches the lives of those who participate.