The ending of R.E.M. made me reflective about music and the feeling of love it can bring.
Here is an exercise:
Think back on the last time you felt an in your core love for something. Not someone, but something. Now, when was that turned toward music? When was the last time something you heard stirred something inside you?
That feeling: it is indescribable. It’s a hot feeling in your eyes, like you might cry. A lump in your throat. It’s hard to talk. Something that goes beyond just what you are hearing and makes you feel something. You can’t describe it to anyone, nor explain why something made you feel this way. Others might deem you a “fan boy” or crazy. The song might have only resonance to you and you alone. The band may even disown it. But it is there, something that goes to the core of emotional response.
Tell me: was this feeling able to be quantified in something as pedestrian as a “Like” or a “Follow” or an activity in a stream?
Think of that moment. Really hard. Go into the least social place to listen to music (right now, iTunes) and listen to that song. Don’t talk about it with anyone, don’t socialize it. Let it consume you for a moment.
Did that feeling return? If not, what would you pay for it to? How much is your emotional response worth? How do you want it expressed?
Music is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance at the moment brought on by a few things: desperation, pervasive connectivity and ubiquitous computing.
Or rather, the access to music is undergoing a transformation, if not renaissance. The actual weight of collective creativity and passion behind an individual artist however is not. If anything, the ascendancy of access as a means of enjoyment (rather than implicit curation through purchase) is devaluing what it means to be a “fan,” or to “like” something into nothing more than edges on a graph.
Is this a bad thing? Not hardly. It is a fundamental shift, and it presents an interesting predicament in terms of how to address this as an artist.
Music is a weird thing. At a fundamental level, it is emotion expressed through orderly and pleasing assembly of frequencies. This enjoyment is predicated on the use of technology to amplify and extend those frequencies (from the amphitheater to the iPod, this has been consistent). It is emotion through sound, and should strive to bring those two cores closer together.
But what is lost in the discussion right now of how to monetize music is what exactly it is we’re monetizing. Is it access to music? Is it the value exchange between access and emotional response? Do we even care about emotional response anymore?
Or is it that we are paying for the ability to go from disordered frequencies into representations that are up to us to quantify as either background or emotionally resonant works? Where does the onus lie?
If the actual value transaction is more about that which represents rather than that which is being represented: what is the role of the artist?
I took a lot of heat somehow for advocating that in the discussion of the value of content we revert everything back into a fundamental discussion on the value of art in a society, and the place of the artist. I don’t care about the heat so much as I care about the point.
The value of art can’t be fixed through the panacea of new technology and the fetishizing of the ability to access content over the ability to make Art.
No. True value can only come from those that seek to create it. The Artist.
Right now, those that create the true emotional response of Art are the craftsman constructing our ability to access it. Spotify is more emotionally resonant to people than the content contained within. Apple makes products that serve as emotional extensions through technology, but the content on it, and the art contained within as digital bytes strengthens not the connection to the Art, but the connection to the tools enabling it.
I think back on the emotional response I had to music. I think the last time that hit me was hearing Überlin for the first time.
It wasn’t predicated on the latest social network, open graph, streaming service or “access model.” I wasn’t cognizant of breakages, licensing, catalog size, investors, valuations or charismatic CEO’s. There were no keynotes. There was no Like button, oAuth, Connect or graph. No marketing plans, promotions, exclusives or partners.
There wasn’t any filter between me and the music.
It was me, two speakers, an amp and a piece of music, and for a moment the breath was caught in my throat and I couldn’t speak afterwards.
I want nothing more than to get this feeling again.
It is up to the artists to do this.