14 Dec, 15

Nathan Larson

What kind of impact does music have in our world?

The visceral impact of sound as it hits the brain is of course completely unchanged...it's truly a joy to watch my 5 year olds face when he hears the Bad Brains for the first time, or Laurie Anderson's SUPERMAN, or M.I.A, or Sly Stone....and as the worlds population's pool of common sources for entertainment shrinks we are told we are increasingly connected on this front.

This is easy to be cynical about (one might argue that all this means is everyone on earth and beyond has access to Beyonce's new album the very moment it drops, and this is somehow unifying), but in theory this is a tremendous paradigm shift, which has yet to land anywhere, which is hurtling forward with increased innovation and no end in sight. And the fact is music is a crucial part of modern day revolution and the furtherance of seismic shifts, from the Arab Spring type movements to ISIS recruitment to political campaigns, to lending comfort and confidence to an isolated transgender kid. No exaggeration there.

The context in which music is found and consumed so varied and fluid, it hardly bears writing about....by the time I've completed this there will be yet another "outlet" or consumption method for music.

This is a great thing in the sense that music is so ubiquitous, so easily shared, and so readily discovered. This is perhaps not such a great thing in that a) there's too much of it (as per next question), and b) music frequently comes to us unbidden and unwelcome, and almost always is meant to serve another function. The music itself is so rarely intended to stand alone.

To the extent that music is now so deeply intertwined with commercial products from cars to hair products to toys to games, to streamed series about the toys, (and the game based on the film about the toys) it's harder and harder to isolate new music from it's context.

But like all new tech the potential for discovery and access is mind-blowing, and beyond good and evil. The fact is the sample group of kids I have access to are as likely to know as much about obscure '60s garage punk stuff, or classic hip hop, or "classic" punk rock, and that's extremely fucking cool. And the fact that I'm doing a collaborative remote project with a fantastic vocalist from Beirut, unable to leave, this has to mean something.

Greater minds than mine have tackled this subject. Obviously.

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

What can we do to ensure that artists' voices are heard? It's a goddamn cacophony of artists voices. There are hubs one can go to be crushed by an avalanche of artist's voices.

The question is how can we as artists / fans / distributors of music get it where we want it to go...understanding that, like us, our desired listener is overwhelmed? This is as much a marketing issue as anything else and if somebody had the answer to this...the problem is there are infinite answers. So it goes when we start dealing with the infinite like we are when we turn on something like Spotify / iTunes etc.

The perceived infinite. Because of course we know where 85% of the content from Spotify comes from, it represents in large part the back catalogues of a number of specific big corporations, and we are probably not going to find the thing for which we might search if it is not owned by one of these companies, and if others have not already made it an item that has been streamed enough to alert the algorithm. This is an over-simplification of course but the principle is there. If the program is given a choice, it will throw up something from one of it's benefactors, not the song from the band you've never heard that might be your favorite band if only certain factors were in place.

What are those factors? Because sometimes the algorithm is a great thing. If I like Beach House, I might like this....if I like Arvo Part, I might like this....sometimes it's great and sometimes you discover new stuff in this way. Amazon, iTunes, whatever. I've frequently found stuff I wasn't aware of and been satisfied that the system works.

But as an artist I don't know how to position myself or acts I represent in that pantheon of might-be-recommended material. I should know because I have a record label. I thought I had a grasp on it but I don't. I know there's amazing stuff I need to hear and I don't know how to reach it. I am sure that money is still the prime mover, but I believe the fairy tales of stuff coming out of nowhere, a fluke, and suddenly it's everywhere...it's theoretically possible.

As corny as it sounds there is nothing so powerful as word from a friend or trusted mind. It's nostalgia and therefore worthless but I was raised with the guy/gal at the record store who paid attention, and on whose word you would buy anything. Maybe this person now has a blog. I don't know. Then how do you locate the blog?

I don't think anybody would argue that it's easier than ever to create music and make it available to a theoretically vast audience. This is absolutely true, and this is why so many people are doing it themselves, and get stuck at the "how to get heard" position. People throw so much energy, time and money at this problem.

It seems to me there are countless mechanisms already in place for the artist to get a fair hearing, and it's on the listener to do the research. I could go into state funding of the arts etc but I don't think that makes anything easier once you get to the "find me" stage, when you can make a record in your bedroom for nothing.

When I contemplate this issue, I see it as a failing on my part, the listener, and understand my role in all of this is to dig. Which is what we've always done, it's just that there's a learning curve (how do you dig in this new thing, on this keyboard, on this phone) and confusion about where to start. But I have faith, and I am open to suggestions, and I am listening.

By Nathan Larson, distributed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license.

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