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The Future of Music

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Title : The Future of Music
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The Future of Music

This is a topic that has never hugely interested me, but Ted Gioia and others have written a lot about it. He just dropped an interesting essay for subscribers only, but it has this provocative excerpt in the teaser. Talking about a number of new ventures he says:

  • A meaningful number of these startups aim to make musicians irrelevant or obsolete, usually with some kind of artificial intelligence. Record labels seem more interested in these initiatives, while ignoring many of the rest—I’ll let you decide why that might be the case.

  • The bottom line: Music tech is evolving faster than the music itself, perhaps for the first time in history. So the next revolution might not be televised, but it sure as hell will be funded by venture capital.

Sure, could be, but the whole idea seems a bit grim to me. It also reminds me of a short story by Lloyd Biggle, jr. who was unique in the science fiction world for his focus on artistic themes:

 Biggle was celebrated in science fiction circles as the author who introduced aesthetics into a literature known for its scientific and technological complications. His stories frequently used musical and artistic themes. Such notables as songwriter Jimmy Webb and novelist Orson Scott Card have written of the tremendous effect that his early story, "The Tunesmith", had on them in their youth.

Tunesmith, written in 1957, has this passage about how music has been commercialized, indeed, the only surviving musical form is the "Com" or commercial. This is a conversation between Erlin Baque, the last true composer in the world, and his agent, Hulsey:

Hulsey reached for his briefcase, dropped it again, leaned forward scowling. “Erlin, I’m worried about you. I have twenty-seven tunesmiths in my agency. You’re the best by far. Hell, you’re the best in the world, and you make the least money of any of them. Your net last year was twenty-two hundred. None of the others netted less than eleven thousand.” “That isn’t news to me,” Baque said. “This may be. You have as many accounts as any of them. Did you know that?” Baque shook his head. “No, I didn’t know that.” “You have as many accounts, but you don’t make any money. Want to know why? Two reasons. You spend too much time on a Com, and you write it too well. Sponsors can use one of your Coms for months—or sometimes even years, like that Tamper Cheese thing. People like to hear them. Now if you just didn’t write so damned well, you could work faster, and the sponsors would have to use more of your Coms, and you could turn out more.” “I’ve thought about that. Even if I didn’t, Val would keep reminding me. But it’s no use. That’s the way I have to work. If there was some way to get the sponsors to pay more for a good Com—” “There isn’t. The guild wouldn’t stand for it, because good Coms mean less work, and most tunesmiths couldn’t write a really good Com.

Masterpieces (p. 58). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This is, of course, the age-old battle between aesthetics and economics or between quality and quantity. In the short story Erlin Baque quits the composer's union and returns to his career as a performer where, reinventing the genre of instrumental music, he achieves such great success that the world returns to honoring the great cultural creators, instead of those who make the most money.

Obviously pure science fiction!


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