Thursday, October 05, 2006

Future of Music Coalition Summit: Day 1

I'm not sure why I can fall asleep at a moment's notice in a car, but locomotive slumber seems near impossible for me. I recharged myself this morning and missed the first half-hour of the introductory Future of Music Coalition panel, "State of the Nation." Featuring a panel of collective association representatives, the segment I caught was rather unimpressive and unmemorable. I recall a bunch of banter about the need for collective management in the changing music industry, the homogeny and hegemony of corporate music channels, and the two catch-phrases of the morning: "loss leaders" and "DRM (digital rights management)." I stayed in Pollack Hall for the "Revenue in a Digital Age" roundtable, which also fell short of my expectations. There was a lot of lamenting about how these new digital avenues of distribution don't compensate the artist properly, and how this transition from a physical, brick-and-mortar model to a solely digital one will continue to be direly protracted for years to come. Instead of suggesting ways to generate income digital music (which is what the title indicated to my eyes), the panelists seemed to indict the current model with no solid ideas of reform.

Maybe I'm just young and impetuous, but it seems that for music with a modicum of improvisation (anywhere from jambands to the toothiest musique actuelle), albums serve a different purpose than in the popular music world. Recordings are a "loss leader" to book gigs, sell off-stage at said gigs, and to attract audiences to said gigs, and continue a touring cycle. Many bands have cultivated strong followings solely from their live shows and constant road-tripping. Another example I think of is Darcy, who attracts traffic to his blog for a variety of reasons and readers/listeners can listen to his music - which he offers for free, unrestricted download. I would imagine that he garners a much larger audience this way than he otherwise could through NYC-area big band residencies alone. There's two attitudes to making records: the snapshot idea, where it's an aural capture of one band at one given moment in time; or the actual production of a work which is a proper entity unto itself, and whether it can or will be replicated live is not the primary concern. I think both have their place, and I appreciate both, but obviously the former works as a better, and often cheaper, loss leader for gigs.

And as far as DRM goes, the history of it to me seems a bit fuzzy in terms of both chronology and logic. The 1990s were supposedly the last thriving decade for music sales - the grunge revolution, the bubblegum pop resurgence, young lions in jazz, etc. Out comes Napster and discerning, exploratory listeners discover a boon - try-before-you-buy (which later turned into "if you buy"). So, to counter this, the major labels: a) start signing less musically relevant acts and b) impose more hassles and headaches upon the music they distribute. Gee, no wonder CD sales are in decline.

There was a lot of talk about the "long tail" of the industry (initially brought to my attention through this post by Dave Douglas), and how the saturation of catalogue and legacy items crowd the marketplace. I have to categorically disagree with that statement: the mergers of major labels have seen tonnes of catalog discs pulled from circulation, and if the "long tail" as posited by the speakers today - all music ever recorded, available at all times - were really true, then sites like Destination: Out would not need to exist, and the mighty list would never have had to have been compiled; the records would be common knowledge and readily available.

Anyway, I had foolishly scheduled Indigone Trio's rehearsal during David Byrne's talk, as previously mentioned. I know FMC was recording most of the panels and hopefully Byrne's speech will surface soon. It's hard to state how much I appreciate and enjoy working with Alex and Liam; the gig on Sunday will be a lot of fun, and in rehearsal we're continuing to explore and expand, not only with new repertoire but revamping old pieces. Very excited.

After rehearsal I caught most of the "What's Wrong with Music?" panel, led by the curmudgeonly Sandy Pearlman, and indulging in the "things-ain't-what-they-used-to-be" attitude of stasis. Thankfully, some of the panelists rebuked this idea in part (mostly Dan Levitin). I agree that the use of music as sonic wallpaper has reduced its impact, and that very few people have the attention span to listen to music as foreground anymore, but I don't know that this is really any different than in eras of yore. There have always been inattentive audience members, "listeners" in name only who know precious little about the music they like (the famous American Bandstand quote: "it's got a good beat and you can dance to it" - anyone know the year of that old chestnut?), and those who wish to reprogram and reuse music for their own purposes. I missed the part about overcompression and reduced audio quality - again, I agree with the notion that there's really no point in squashing all audio to within an inch of its life, but it's all been argued and whined about before.

The panel that was the most interesting to me was the blogger summit with Zoilus, Fluxblog, Said the Gramophone, MCTurgeon and cleverLazy. Maybe it was the most intriguing because I'm a neophyte to the music blogosphere in general and mp3 blogs and indie-leaning blogs in particular, but it didn't seem to chase itself like the rest of the panels did, though it did prove that you can't please everyone all the time. A lot of the panel dealt with mp3 blogs and the attempted co-opting of indie blogs by promo flunkies and other insidious industry insiders, though the notion of a community of music bloggers and re-contextualization of music through blogging did arise. I talked a little bit with Carl (Zoilus) Wilson after the panel and it is a blog I will have to investigate more thoroughly. All of the panelists' sites are, actually.

1 comment:

Mwanji Ezana said...

Yeah, definitely start reading Zoilus!