I Wrote ‘Music Is Dead’ Back in 1999

While digging up the logo I shared with you yesterday, I uncovered this article I wrote back in June 1999 for an internet magazine lasting all of 2 issues. It was pre-blog, and every article was coded by hand. I know – Dark Ages.

I found it an interesting read both for how much has changed and how the ideas I discuss in here have stuck with me.

Enjoy this trip in the Way-Back Machine.

Music is dead, slowly it is becoming another casualty of electronic technology along side carbon paper and the sword. Each day the global network of computers becomes a greater opponent to traditional music retail and distribution channels. This causes some problems, not only for music retailers but also the record companies, currently focusing 80% of their resources on the manufacturing and distribution of atoms. The web is slowly making an entire infrastructure obsolete. Quick moving upstarts like Goodnoise and Mp3.com are taking advantage of the web’s cost-cutting opportunities by splitting their profits 50/50 with the artist, compared to the 13% artists receive in standard contracts.

This new paradigm asks the question, ‘who needs the record companies and all their middle men between the artist and the fan?’ What is preventing every musician from setting up an ecommerce website and accepting transactions on a per track basis?

Or artists could promote a subscription-based model were fans pay a fee upfront, then receive access to downloadable tracks as they’re released, in addition to deals on tickets and other merchandise.

Artists sites are then not only the clearinghouse for all things related to the artist; tour dates, interviews, fan chats, but also the distribution channel and even a streaming audio / video channel for all Brian Eno all the time.

The European Imperatur MusicTrial study found that users preferred streaming over downloading audio 12 to 1 anyway.

The combination of on-demand streaming with the speed of tomorrow’s bandwidth could easily eliminate the need to archive audio onto a CD by bringing the ability to access any artist, any track, at any time.

With tools like Shoutcast and legislation designed to open low frequency FM waves to consumers, it is plausible that the future will not be about access to 500+ channels, but rather about 1 channel, yours. Plug a low cost FM transmitter up to you home PC, rip you favorite tracks to mp3 and press play. Suddenly your entire cd collection is accessible seamlessly from your car, office, home, and walkman. Time to upload the cd’s and throw out all the broken jewel cases , discs, and inserts.

At a time when college students are purchasing 17 GB hard drives to support 20 track mp3 collections, dubbing a cd onto cassette for a friend seems archaic, it’s much easier to simply email the track across campus. Yet in both situations the branding and visual recognition of the artist and the collection of work is nil. The only visual difference between a Too Much Joy mp3 and a Pan_sonic mp3 is the name of the file, which can be easily changed. Recorded music while entering the ethereal datasphere and leaving the corporeal realm behind, is also leaving behind the visual identification and marketing mechanisms used to promote music and create demand. Leaving in limbo the future of music promotion and all those who shift radio-friendly units.

Though the age of assembly lines and uniformity is decades behind us and each web portal worth its IPO has a customization feature, recorded music is still designed to sound identical each time it is replayed. This leads to the overplayed song, annoyance, and physical nausea. The answer lies in generative music.

Generative music allows the musician to compose like an urban planner, designating themes and setting limitations, making the broad strokes.

The music then finds its own path through the instruments, tones and frequencies designated, creating an ever evolving song. Each track develops its own storyline, its own characters, and its own climax, continuously a part of the ambience until it stopped (considering no two playbacks are identical, ‘paused’ may more accurate). When restarted the music has the same feel, but the storyline has changed, creating a role playing game for your ears.

UPDATE Oct 2008: Giles Bowkett’s Archaeopteryx may be this system I describe. Very cool.
(his presentation from RubyFringe)