David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists

First, a definition of terms. What is it we’re talking about here? What exactly is being bought and sold? In the past, music was something you heard and experienced – it was as much a social event as a purely musical one. Before recording technology existed, you could not separate music from its social context. Epic songs and ballads, troubadours, courtly entertainments, church music, shamanic chants, pub sing-alongs, ceremonial music, military music, dance music – it was pretty much all tied to specific social functions. It was communal and often utilitarian. You couldn’t take it home, copy it, sell it as a commodity (except as sheet music, but that’s not music), or even hear it again. Music was an experience, intimately married to your life. You could pay to hear music, but after you did, it was over, gone – a memory.

Technology changed all that in the 20th century. Music  – or its recorded artifact, at least – became a product, a thing that could be bought, sold, traded, and replayed endlessly in any context. This upended the economics of music, but our human instincts remained intact. I spend plenty of time with buds in my ears listening to recorded music, but I still get out to stand in a crowd with an audience. I sing to myself, and, yes, I play an instrument (not always well).

We’ll always want to use music as part of our social fabric: to congregate at concerts and in bars, even if the sound sucks; to pass music from hand to hand (or via the Internet) as a form of social currency; to build temples where only “our kind of people” can hear music (opera houses and symphony halls); to want to know more about our favorite bards – their love lives, their clothes, their political beliefs. This betrays an eternal urge to have a larger context beyond a piece of plastic. One might say this urge is part of our genetic makeup.

All this is what we talk about when we talk about music.

All of it.

That’s what I always say!

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