When I was a teenager back in the early 1970s, my favourite kind of music was “progressive rock” – my LP collection was dominated by the likes of Pink Floyd, Yes, The Nice, ELP and others too embarrassing to mention. Of course, this did not seem embarrassing at the time, any more than the long hair and flared jeans – it was quite normal in my world. This kind of music had a technical precision – never a missed cue or bum note – and I really liked that. I admired the skills that crafted something so perfect.
But things move on and now I am middle-aged and my tastes have changed. My hair is shorter and greyer – I still retain a preference for jeans over chinos and sneakers over smart leather shoes, but my music is different. What I now seek in music is imperfection – the human touch.
I love going to live performances. Watching skilled musicians at work is like seeing magic being performed – they seemingly create something beautiful out of nothing. And, of course, they make small mistakes and the music acquires a little bit of their humanity. Even a good live recording can convey some of this magic. One of the most amazing performances I have ever seen was Leonard Cohen last year. This guy is half as old again as I am and he could hold an audience of a couple of thousand in his hand. The live recording of one of his concerts keeps my iPod busy.
We are constantly told that the music industry is in decline, but I think the reverse is true. I think we are just entering a new golden age – an age where everyone gets to enjoy more great music and performers are rewarded fairly.
In the distant past, musicians made money by doing live performances. They made their money by doing what they were good at. If they were talented and worked hard, they made money. Then the record was invented and everything gradually changed. We reached a point [in about the 1980s I guess] when the music industry was awash with money. A rising star would release a hit record and be a millionaire overnight. Of course, many talented musicians did not get a break and never made any money at all. This was, of course, not fair on them, but also not fair on us, the listeners, as we missed out on so much talent – only getting to hear what the record companies allowed us to access.
This situation was maintained for years because making the media was expensive and copying was awkward and time consuming and the results inferior. Even in the early days of digital recordings, copying a CD was pointless, as the blank discs cost $20 each.
But things have changed. Today, making [perfect] copies of any recording is now cheap, quick and simple. Of course, such copying is illegal and I cannot endorse it, but the fact that it is such a popular practice speaks for itself. Who is complaining about this? Answer: the record company executives who are used to making a tidy living “promoting” musicians and the successful artists who have got used to spending a couple of days in the studio and banking another few million.
I can foresee a future when it is accepted that music recordings are [essentially] free. Any musician can make high quality recordings and distribute them at almost zero cost. What better way to promote a live performance? At the end of the day, the musicians that work hard and who have real talent will get paid for doing what they are good at: performing for an audience. The more talented they are and the more work they put in, the more money they make. And the record companies no longer get rich on their cut. And we all get to hear more good music. Sounds good to me.
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