We’re in the golden age of gloom and doom. It’s hard to make money from recordings anymore, and bands often can’t justify touring—the numbers don’t add up, and many professionals left the industry during the pandemic. Social media is an increasingly frustrating experience for getting your music heard (if a tree falls in the forest…). More live venues are closing rather than opening, and local music and pro audio shops, where you could enjoy hands-on experience with gear in order to make an informed buying decision, are an endangered species. Add the background noise of current events, and it’s no wonder people are living in Anxiety Central.
Yet history does repeat itself. Someone, somewhere is coming up with something that we never knew was possible—but will change the world of music.
Who in 1965 thought that a high-quality recording studio could fit in a backpack? That you could carry all the music you want to hear in a shirt pocket? That new instruments like synthesizers would enrich our tonal landscape beyond anything ever imagined? That you could tap into a “celestial jukebox” and, in seconds, access any music ever recorded, with master-quality sound. Or that science would continue to make startling discoveries about music’s impact on the brain?
True, some current music industry models are unsustainable, but every pandemic has restructured society—for better or worse. Concerning our industry, one potential scenario could not only have an immense impact on music and recording, but extend to society at large.
THE UNIVERSALITY OF MUSIC
Everyone likes music, but many people think musicians are a rare breed, with talents mere mortals could never attain. Hold on. Let’s separate the concept of playing an instrument from making music. Playing an instrument requires years of arduous physical practice. Some musicians dismiss DJs because they don’t play “instruments.” Yet creating a seamless, flowing integration of multiple musical styles is indeed about making music.
A fascinating article by Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, director of the music cognition lab at the University of Arkansas, refers to studies done by a team of researchers at the University of Rochester that “demonstrated infants and adults alike track the statistical properties of tone sequences. In other words, you don’t have to play the guitar or study music theory to build up a nuanced sense of which notes tend to follow which other notes in a particular repertoire—simply being exposed to music is enough.”
To demonstrate how exposure feeds a person’s innate musical tendencies, Margulis writes, “Play someone a simple major scale, Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti…but withhold the final Do and watch even the most avowed musical ignoramus start to squirm or even finish the scale for you. Living in a culture where most music is built on this scale is enough to develop what seems less like the knowledge, and more like the feeling, that this Ti must resolve to a Do.” (Italics mine.)
THE MUSIC INSIDE
So what does this have to do with us? There’s little doubt that listening to music has beneficial effects on the brain; listening back to music you create or mix—music that’s a product of your brain—sets up a feedback loop that benefits you even more. This isn’t about narcissism. First of all, if you make music, it’s customized to your tastes. Second, it’s like a Rorschach test— feeling the emotions in your spontaneous musical expressions provides insights you’ll never get from therapy. Now imagine no barriers to everyone being able to do that.
Music, and the general population, are reaching a tipping point. We’ve gone from music being only of the moment, to recordings, to the select few being able to afford music libraries, to being able to hear any music we want at any time. And, we’ve gone from recording studios being available only to a wealthy élite, to GarageBand being bundled with every Mac. Progress along these lines is not going to stop. We’re starting to see instruments and recording tools that require only imagination, not physical dexterity, to create music. That’s not a bad thing. Several years ago, I was invited to write a review about one of the early music cruises. Well, cruises aren’t my thing, but a gig is a gig—and being in a place where every one of 2,000 people was devoted to music and knowledgeable about it was an astounding experience. There were very few that were “musicians,” but each person had music in them, recognized the nuances of good players, and, perhaps most importantly, connected through music. Although they’d love to be able to make music, they think it’s out of reach. Maybe it won’t be. What happens when anyone can be a musical participant, not just a bystander? It will weave what we love into the fabric of society, instead of being a diversion on a Saturday night.
I have no idea what the endgame will be, but I suspect there will be a deeper respect for music, and a greater appreciation of those individuals who have honed their musical and recording skills. I can’t wait to find out what’s next.