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Sunday, March 29, 2009

How do you use music?

It's always the lament of the independent prog musician that you can't get people to pay attention long enough to even like or dislike your music. Prog, like jazz and classical, takes more than superficial attention to appreciate. We often blame the industry for aiming for the lowest common denominator. We blame the fans for not making any effort to find new music. We blame the bands that make the music we find superficial. I'm sure we can blame ourselves for something too. But maybe it's more than that, more than finding someone specific to point a finger at. We proggers make music that is a little more 'adult' or mature in nature. We're aiming for audiences tied up in bills, kids and jobs. Even the teenagers we might find an audience in are swamped with both day to day activities and by entertainment choices. I don't have the time I used to to throw on a disc and my headphones and just lay on the floor and absorb new music. I used to do that and pour over the liner notes. There are many older albums that I know all the song titles to. Now most of my listening is in the car, at work, or while I'm out walking. There are cds I've had for 3 years that I can't name a track on.

Is music becoming something that doesn't stand on it's own? Is music now something found in movies, in tv shows, in video games, in your ring tones? Is music something that has been so omnipresent in the background of electronic entertainment that we're numb to it? Prog has nearly always been a niche. Is all of music become a niche in the vast swamp of everything that we have at out fingertips for consumption? I heard an NPR story the other day about tv shows finding an audience. About 10 years ago a hit show had 20 million viewers weekly. Now a hit has under 10 million. Has the overall world of entertainment become to fractured and diversified that we only have niches? And now, since it's so easy to make your own music or movies or art, every niche is getting very crowded. If everyone is making their own music, who's listening to mine?

Maybe it's just the nature of change. Maybe we are at a point in human history where the very nature of music consumption is changing. Once upon a time music was about the only form of entertainment available. I'm under no illusion that we can or even want to go back to the days of Bach's church employment and rich royal patrons. I have long been aware that there are a lot more choices out there for entertainment. There are more ways that ever for everyone to create their own entertainment. But lately I've been thinking lately it may be more of a cultural change. We now consume music like potato chips. It's always there, there's always more, and there are almost too many flavors to choose from. Inundated with so many choices we find a handful we know we like and never deviate from those choices. There is limitless music available. We can buy it and keep it forever. We don't need to go see it or buy sheet music and play it ourselves. We don't even have to go through the hassle of putting needle to vinyl anymore. For those of us who do want a lot of variety it's hard to keep up. I have been putting all of my cds into my iTunes library. As of today I have 830 albums in my itunes. I have nearly 30 DAYS of continuous music. I'd be willing to bet that I spin less than half of those more than once a year, and I still have about 100 cds to go.

It is an interesting time to make music in. Like the tv industry has seen and the music industry is struggling with, I think the superstar is on the decline. You'll see less and less new bands achieve the status and longevity of bands like Rush or the Beatles or Madonna. I feel like I'm right at the start of finding a new way. A way to keep making the music I need to make, for myself, and finding new ways to share with people. Hey, I do have some ego. I wouldn't put out the effort I do if I didn't want other people to like my music. I can say I make the music just for me, but I'd be lying if I said that was enough. So, if you're bored and looking for something a little new and a little different come visit my niche of a niche of a niche.


BG said...

My first reaction to you article was "I don't care, people can listen to what they want, for whatever reason they prefer".

After thinking a little I must admit that I care...a little. I care enough to hope there will be enough people sharing my musical tastes, buying albums and thus ensuring the survival of my favorite and upcoming bands.

This subject also makes me think of the question: Why are people satisfied with less, when they can have more?

My theory is that among young people music is not so much about the quality of the listening experience, but much more about their social identity...finding like minded people and being accepted among their peers.

As people grow older they are more likely to be able to accept different and hopefully better music. BUT I have also noticed that many just don't bother trying to find the jewel in an ocean of cheap has lost it's purpose to them and is downgraded to being background noise.

guitarsean said...

Yeah, I rambled a lot and got off track. The main point I wanted to make is that it seems like music, regardless of style or genre, has become nothing more than wallpaper and carpeting to the average person. They No longer see it as art. It's like film. There are still artistic films made, but it's rare to find art on tv. TV is just there all the time with superficial junk. Music is something used to add a little to tv, film, shopping, cell phone, washing your dishes. It's there while you do something else. It's hard to find people who just sit and listen.