Lowell Clarke considers the impact of the internet on the evolution of music
It seems every week that some musician waxes lyrical about how the internet is “ruining music forever”. Of course, they’re concerned about dwindling pay checks and blank royalties. And as hard as they might try to preach change from their sinking ships, they’re ignoring the problem (and answers) right beneath their feet.
With the invention of music records, musicians were in uproar. In the 1940s musicians unionized and went on strike against ‘canned music’. If machines replaced live music they’d all be out of a job. But they were blind to the future of a new medium – we all know that for the next 60 years musicians made an absolute killing from selling records. The skill in music shifted from performing music to creating music. The Beatles set the standard in the 60s of a band both writing and performing their own songs. Their late albums were written without the intention of ever being played live, which made an album like Revolver one of the first true conceptual albums.
I’m not here to praise the Beatles. Say what you like about them, but you can’t deny their influence – an influence which spread a simple idea: Recording was not a replacement for live music, but a completely different art form. With both the financial and critical success of the Beatles, no-one was on strike about being on record anymore.
Fast forward to today’s musicians, who are having to adapt to another new medium. So far a few notable attempts have been made: Radiohead’s In Rainbows was a nice token gesture, giving a fully realised album away practically for free. But the music wasn’t any different because of it. Kaiser Chiefs (remember them, of all people?) sold their fourth album The Future is Medieval so you could pick 10 out of 23 songs to make your own track listing. For every person who bought your track listing you made £1. Unlike Radiohead’s stunt, this actually changed the way you experienced the music. Unfortunately for people with ears, you couldn’t change the fact this was a Kaiser Chiefs album.
Musicians don’t have to be limited to how music was made in the past. With mind-blowing technology at their fingertips, I expect musicians to be making album-apps that play in various clever ways. Like having different songs set to play at the same time each hour, continuously mix and repeat without any first or last track – like Pharrell’s 24 hour ‘Happy’ video. Or an electronic track that changes speed depending on your speed, starting off with slow dubstep for a leisurely walk, progressing through house into drum and bass as you speed up and break into a sprint. If I can come up with ideas like that in a few minutes I can’t wait to hear what some truly creative people will be making in the future. Music can become less about what it sounds like and more focused on how we listen to it. Anyone who says the internet is killing creative thinking clearly isn’t thinking creatively enough.