Are these the best of musical times?

by Jason Gross

27 August 2007


For someone who’s running a satellite radio station, Lee Abrams has it so backwards that it’s understandable why he can’t figure out that merging his XM with Sirius is something that even the Washington establishment frowns upon.  In his post at the Huffington blog, he tries to make the case about why right now is the worst time for music.  What he actually does, though he doesn’t realize it, is make the case that this might be the best time.
To see this, let’s look at some of his assumptions.  First, he details how you know when the music industry is in a lull.

* “The music media is on autopilot.”
Right now, there are more outlets than ever, especially in the online world.  Factor in blogs and you’ve got thoughts and opinions all over the place.

* “Artists have short life spans, and quickly become trivia questions.”
That’s always been the case for most artists.  It’s the exceptions that we keep coming back to and talking about.  Also, he better get used to it because this is going to be the trend from now on.  And besides, don’t we all love one-hit-wonders now and then?

* “There’s an underground happening, but it is still out of reach to the masses.”
This guy’s never heard of MySpace or Sonicbids or any ol’ artist site where they can post music files?  It’s all easily available to anyone online.  Even better, there’s never been easier ways for artists to get the word out about their work.

* “The mainstream music culture features harmless lyrics by harmless artists.”
Again, this kind of thing always happens and it always will.  Yawn…

And now his list of ways that you know that the industry ain’t in a lull…

* “Music media goes through explosive evolution.”
If that ain’t now, it ain’t never!  The industry’s gonna wait a long time before it gets shaken up like this.  The big difference is that it’s the technology doing it.

* “Artists are in control.”
Boy howdy, ain’t that the truth?  Back to MySpace again, that’s part of how artists can reach the masses or at least a decent fan base to sustain them.

* “Music impacts culture profoundly. There are fights over music.”
There are plenty of fights and wars playing out right now and it’s about music. Specifically, the major labels are trying and failing to reign in music so it’s available only in stingy ways that make it less portable.  Slowly, they’re realizing that DRM ain’t gonna work so they’ll have to find other ways to play nice with consumers.

* “Listening technology changes.”
Yep, that’s what’s goin’ on.  Along with our portable MP3 players, we’re listening on our phones and taking music where ever we want.

* “The “look” is new: Different and scary.”
He’s talking about clothing no doubt but there is changing look going on- it’s how the technology looks that’s different and it’s sure as hell scary to the gate keepers who want utter control over how music is bought and listened to.

So that means we’re living in a golden age of music, right?  It’s still unclear how a lot of this is going to play out and the dust isn’t going to settle for real because just as solutions come up, new technology is going to keep changing everything.

As for the quality of music, which is Abrams’ bottom line in his essay, that’s a matter of opinion.  We all see and hear music in our teens and tweens as our faves and the soundtrack of our lives and the way we judge everything before or after that.  Anyone who grew up on 60s, 70s, 80s or even 90s music is probably disenchanted and threatened by a lot of the new music they hear now and that’s expected- one day, your kids’ll be disgusted at what THEIR kids are listening to and on it goes.

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