#TWO - "Democratisation VS Commodification of Music"

“In this digital age, whilst the democratisation of musichas been positive artistically the commodification of music has been negative artistically”

  

In this digital age, the whole function of music and art is completely revolutionized by the digitalization of media, which multiplies the possibilities of reproducibility and makes music accessible any time and literally anywhere.

In fact, technological innovation during the last few decades has been really positive artistically as it has filled the void between people, enabling for a real-time cost-free music exchange and distribution. The Internet, digital interfaces and computer softwares allow anyone to record and produce their own music without the necessity for a professional studio and a producer. As a result, the music industry that we used to know, (i.e. record labels, marketing, publishing, distribution networks, the selling of records)  is constantly and rapidly changing and this transformation reflects all the aspects of our globalized world. 

Online communication has become the active centre of a vast interconnected network of musical activity. Could you imagine our contemporary music culture without all the social networks, Facebook, “up-loaders”, bloggers, on-line magazines, YouTube, etc? Today, you can share your creative work just with a click: it is easy and economical.

On the one hand, democratisation of music has spread musical knowledge among people and created a new wave of re-contextualized cultural forms. Nowadays, it is really hard to label a musical genre whenyou listen to a new emerging artist, because technology of reproduction detaches music from the sphere of tradition and every musician is influenced by countless styles, ideas and cultures. To tell the truth, there is no way one can avoid being bombarded by any kind of media content.

On the other hand, democratisation of music is deeply linked to the concept of culture commercialization. As a matter of fact, the opportunity to reach a worldwide interconnected audience of consumers led capitalistic economic concentration to turn music into a commodity form. Step by step, little by little, music is changing into a unique branded product and social medias are changing the way we communicate with music and the way we actually perceive it.

The major record companies, mainstream music media and main commercial broadcasters are directing music towards a crystallization of standards, working hard to homogenise the musical taste of the public at large. Furthermore, the recording industry is concentrating its forces to minimize risk and production costs, while seeking to maximize profit. All these elements taken together are transforming music into an object of trade, not so different from any other kind of goods or service designed to satisfy the consumer needs of our society: the more you can reach the common musical taste, the more music you can sell, the cheaper and the more convenient it is for the major record labels to gain a profit, exploiting musicians and consumers alike with no regard for the quality of the music they are promoting and selling. Their only aim is to generate a huge profit and a long term accumulation of capital.

Moreover, the free circulation of information, online marketing and advertising give the music industry a direct line, straight from-producer-to-consumer.

As a result, whole sections of the music market are falling apart. Minor distribution networks, marketing areas, talent scouts, Artists & Repertoire, that used to be the main resources of profit for record corporations are now slowly disappearing. There is no longer the need for the middle-man between the new artist and the public: everything superfluous to the creative process can easily be bypassed to avoid wasting money for the production. This is great news for the large-scale distributors as well as for the extreme lower end of the chain, users and consumers at the bottom, who can simply go online and stream, buy or download (legally or illegally) whatever song or album they want. But this means of obtaining music brings up a whole new problem for the artist and the record labels: how can money be made as it was in the past? How can artists and record labels survive if people keep stealing billions of pounds downloading tons of pirated music every year?

Live performances would be the most obvious answer to all of the questions we have put forward, since it is really hard to revolutionize this consolidated system. Nevertheless, music cannot sustain itself just with live performances.

Music is going through a really tough period right now. It is transitioning from a pure form of art to a branch of the marketing industry, which can only be sustained by corporate sponsorship.

The Commodification of music has had an artistically negative impact, because it forces musicians, composers and songwriters to approach their art as a commodity, as a package to be wrapped up quickly and sold in order to achieve mass popularity as a means to make money.

Even if the music industry is maintaining the illusion that star performers have become successful on the basis of their own merit, it is really easy to hear someone accusing commercially successful albums of “selling out”, whilst the most eccentric creations are often forgotten behind the margins of the recording industry. Despite this, every day most consumers are happily enjoying the songs and playlists that have been cleverly marketed to them. 

This pre-constructed music industry world has also changed the figure of the musician. The scenario is quite different from in the past. As far as I am concerned, as a musician and composer, I can definitely affirm that in this modern age you cannot focus only on creating your original and innovative music while trying to be as technically proficient as possible. In fact, there is a vast number of minor details you need to pay attention to in order to become a successful artist. Every time you post a picture or you update your status on a social network, you are contributing to the creation and consolidation of your own personal brand; even the way you look and the way you dress is going to affect your success. You as a musician need to know how to dive into what we call a “globalized free market”, being well aware that your person is going to be your main business, not your own albums. For this reason, I think that the ultimate result of the commodification of music will be that not only records, ideas and connected products are objects of trade, but above all people and musicians themselves.

However, the commercialization of culture, supported by all the comforts provided by the technological revolutions of the digital era, is undermining all the criteria of originality, authenticity and singularity that make new music feel fresh and innovative. Creativity and self-expression should always be the pivotal centre of the music industry, otherwise the entire system will implode and collapse. In addition, I am more than convinced that music has still a whole range of beautiful melodies yet to be discovered, famous rock bands to shred on stage, musical styles to fuse together in order to create new atmospheres. And this is the reason why I keep on stoking the fire of my passion for music, studying every day to improve my fluency on the drums,  always challenging myself, composing original music with my band and dreaming of becoming a qualified professional.

Another phenomenon amplified by the democratisation of music is the general improvement in the level of professional musicians, singers, producers, songwriters and artists on a whole. The free access to teaching materials and the fast exchange of information through the web simplified the learning process. Nowadays you do not necessarily need to study with a teacher in person. You can just sit in your living room and watch your favourite bands perform on the screen of your laptop, download pdf books, slowdown songs without affecting the pitch, attend a Skype lesson with your guitar hero, who lives on the other side of the planet. Everything is easily accessible to you and if you are willing to put great effort into this process, you can learn basically whatever you want without moving out of your home.

I can imagine that it is exactly due to this easy way of finding solutions to any problem that the entire music industry is falling apart. Perhaps the consciousness of being able to have free access to whatever song you could think of, just by typing in the title and the artist name in the Google search bar is destroying the desire to buy a physical copy of a record.  Maybe being able to download for free the entire new album of your favourite band causes a lack of interest in learning even the title of that album. It could be that the ultimate product of this free exchange of information is the complete alienation of the audience’s care for music.

All of these points are simply personal considerations and my heart-felt hope is that people from all over the world will keep supporting artists, who are bravely trying to tell the story of our culture through their music.

 

Bibliography and Sources:

 

-        Brian J. Hracs, M. Seman, Tarek E. Virani, (2016), “The Production and Consumption of Music in the Digital Age”, Routledge

-        F. Fabbri, (2006), “La Musica: un falso molto autentico, veramente fasullo”

-        R. Reitsamer, W. Fichner, (2011), “They Say I’m Different…: Popularmusik, Szenen, und ihre Akteurlnnen”, Locher

-        T. Adorno, introduction, notes and comments by Richard Leppert, (2002), “Essays on Music”, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, California, London

-        E. Assante, (2011), “Copio dunque Sono”, Alea