16 Nov, 15

Mark Surman, executive director, Mozilla Foundation

What kind of impact does music have in our world?

Music is one of the most accessible forms of expression - everyone can listen, and anyone brave enough to hoist a ukulele or beat a drum can participate. It's visceral. Music is also one of the most collaborative forms of expression - the more people, the better it sounds. (At least to the people making it.)

And music is a guiding force, able to steer people toward communities and causes they're passionate about. I'll hold myself up as an example. As a teenager, I listened to punk - think Dead Kennedys and Sex Pistols, Dr. Martens and leather. That punk ethos - a community that's all at once free, open, rebellious and earnest - placed me on a path I still tread today. I started my first nonprofit at 16 years old. And since I've been drawn to social causes and organizations that embody that punk passion and sincerity. In a way, music made me. It seems that the impact it has is that it gives living a context and momentum. it is not as if most things cant occur without it but when they do occur without, there is no there there anymore.

What can we do to ensure that artists' voices are heard?

There's no question that the music industry is in flux, and artists - particularly independent artists - are the ones who suffer. In the past, artists found ways to make the independent scene thrive: Dischord Records, zines and the DIY ethic of 80s punk. Today, we can do the same. And we have an amazingly powerful tool at our disposal - the Web.

To start, we can create free, independent tools to empower musicians. Consider an app that allows artists to connect with their fans and sell tickets directly, with no interference from the familiar ticket company behemoths. Or an open source tool that lets musicians easily record and publish their work. If we create an ecosystem of open source tools, we're giving power to the artists.

It's also important to foster community and education. Artists should work together, exchange ideas and teach one another - and there's no platform more collaborative than the Web. Grassroots communities can accomplish amazing things: they can connect an artist with fans half a world away; they can teach the amateur audio engineer how to record and publish his or her own work; and they can amplify individual musicians' needs and desires. At Mozilla, we believe everyone should be able to read, write and participate on the Web. The music world is no different. When artists can meaningfully operate and understand the technology and tools driving their industry, they become empowered. Today, being music literate doesn't just mean perfect pitch. It means having the agency and ability to navigate everything from composition and production to booking and promotion.

By Mark Surman, distributed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license.

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