When we say ‘the music industry has changed’, what we really mean is that the music industry is changing. And the ways in which that change takes place means that the idea of the music industry, as we understand it, is becoming redundant. I’m not predicting the death of the music industry or anything quite so preposterous as that. I’m just saying that it won’t exist anymore.
The music media industry (composition to consumption) used to be a thing-in-itself, with reasonably identifiable boundaries around it. Sure, some of those boundaries were hazy — I mean, there’s some potential for confusion around the extent to which a pub venue is a music business and the extent to which it’s in the hospitality industry — but essentially, as a medium, you could recognise music industry when you encountered it. A bit, in that regard, like radio and television. There are overlaps and connections all over the place – but you could (as I did) move from the radio industry to the music industry, and everyone would be clear on what had just happened.
In other words, there was Music Industry and Not Music Industry.
So that’s what they mean separately. What do they mean when you say them together?
You’ll remember that when I say ‘music’, I am not only talking about recordings of music. I’m talking about the whole medium of popular music and all of the stages of its production, distribution, promotion and consumption. Likewise, you’ll recall that when I say Online, I’m not just talking about web pages. I’m talking about the whole ecology of the online environment. The electricity into which we can plug so many internet appliances.
So having come up with something of a working definition of what I mean when I say ‘online’ and what I mean when I say ‘music’ it will hopefully be instructive to look at the two of them as a single idea: Music Online – or, to put a slightly different flavour to it, Online Music. Because the order in which you say those words gives a subtle shift to what it can mean, what you can do with that meaning conceptually, and therefore what you do as a result.
‘Music Online’ is music that has been put into an online environment. It’s music, first and foremost, and now it happens to be online. ‘Online Music’ is music that is characterised by its online-ness. What sort of music is it? It’s Online Music.
I thought that Music would be the easy one. Popular Music = Media. Job done. But there’s been some debate there, and it’s taken a bit of working through. But now for the tough one: Online.
Just to remind you where we’re at, we’re starting at the very beginning. We’re going to be talking about Music Online, so it’s important that we understand what we mean by both of those words separately and together.
When I say ‘online’, I’m not just talking about webpages. I’m talking about The Internet. That is, I’m talking about digital media, networked connectivity and computer-mediated communication. I certainly include the web, but it’s important that we don’t confuse the web for the whole online environment. It’s just one of the flavours.
Now, when we talk about the online environment, it’s important to note the set of conditions it tries to impose upon the ways in which we try to do things. The internet allows for different things to happen, and is a world in which different rules apply. It opens up a set of possibilities and creates certain opportunities that would not otherwise be possible.
This all happens as a result of the characteristics of digital media, which differ from all other media. I’ll go into in some depth about this at a later stage, because an understanding of the transformative properties of digitalisation underpins any attempt to successfully engage with the internet as an industry practitioner. But for now, I’m just going to try and explain what I mean when I say the word ‘online’.
In order to talk about Music Online, it’s probably helpful to actually start from the beginning and consider what those two words mean, both separately, and when put together.
I have no intention of trying to ‘define’ music other than to say that I think I know what it is when I encounter it. You’re probably the same yourself. I could say something about it having melody, harmony and rhythm, but actually, a lot of my favourite music has none of those things. I could say ‘intentional sound’, but then that would deny the musicality of chance acoustic events. I could go into a bit of a riff about perception and the rather interesting truth that the human mind ‘creates’ sound after the fact of its reception by the ears as simply moving columns of air. You don’t ‘hear’ music as much as your brain actually constructs it from the input from your auditory sense. And yeah, that means if a tree falls in a forest, it makes vibrations in the air, but unless there’s an ear and a brain in the vicinity – no sound.
Hell, even a series of dots on a piece of paper can be called ‘music’.
Definitions of music are problematic at best, and need to factor in aesthetic, social, artistic, communicative, anthropological, philosophical and physical understandings of the phenomenon. Precise definitions of music are not the point when we’re trying to deal with the first principles that are important to us here. But we do need to know what it is we’re talking about when we discuss this stuff.
I promised a radical change for New Music Strategies in 2008.
Here you go: it’s not a blog any more.
In 2006, I started a blog called New Music Strategies. I started writing about the rapidly changing media landscape, and how that was affecting independent artists and small music businesses. More importantly, it was about ways of understanding and navigating these changes, rather than being subject to them.
Along the way, I engaged with a good many people from the music business, many of whom shaped my thinking and gave me interesting case studies from around the world that challenged my preconceptions about what the online media environment offered, and what difficulties it raised. I gathered some of my ideas together and put out a little e-book that some people found helpful and interesting.
Over time, the readership of the blog grew. It seemed that this was a topic a lot of people were interested in. These are, after all, pressing issues for pretty much any band, independent label, promoter, venue owner, professional musician, publisher, broadcaster, music educator, retailer, equipment manufacturer, ticket outlet, performer, events organiser, studio owner, sound recordist and music consumer.
And the more people read the blog, the more feedback I received — and the more that feedback contributed to my thinking about the online music environment. I’ve had the opportunity to work through these things in a consultancy capacity, and the people I’ve worked with or presented to in that time have led me to believe that it’s been worth their while. And, of course, I’ve learned from all of these people — and it all goes into the pot.
I kind of feel like I have something of value to contribute as a result of all that. Something more than an occasional blog post could communicate effectively.
Music Industry’s next top model
Obviously things are changing… but where will it all end up? To quote Chris Griffin, where’s the chase and how can we cut to it?
Smart people are being paid big money by large corporations to anticipate what that model will be, and even smarter people are trying to create that model. But the idea that there will be one new model that we will eventually arrive at is errant nonsense.
I’m not going to tell you these things are wrong per se — just that they’re not the answer.
Its aim is to provide useful resources, advice and strategies for innovation and success in the independent music sector in a rapidly changing technological environment.
NMS examines emerging technologies (and buzzwords) such as AI, blockchain, metaverse and 'Web 3.0', but focuses primarily on sustainability, music as a tool for social change, participation, equality and inclusion, and the ways in which music technologies can build better worlds.