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  • Writer's pictureDmitri Vietze

Music Has Been Sliced Into Smaller and Smaller Pieces: A Seismic Shift

Music Tectonics has identified several seismic shifts that have created the music landscape of today and tomorrow. These are climate changes, tectonic shifts beneath the surface, unexpected flash floods, or meteor collisions. This time we tackle how technology has created more music granules. Digital music lends itself to dismemberment. Which seismic shifts have you noticed in the music industry? What rumblings do you hear on the horizon? Connect with Dmitri on Twitter and LinkedIn, and follow Music Tectonics on Twitter and Facebook.

The technology we use to listen to and make music is changing the very nature of music. Maximum album length was determined by how much data a vinyl record could hold. Song length was influenced by radio formats which was determined by radio advertising practices. The cost of recording, manufacturing, and marketing a compact disc was an economic justification for longer albums, as opposed to singles.

Music is Like Pizza: Getting sliced into smaller pieces. Photo by Beniamin Marinescu on Unsplash

Music is getting sliced smaller and smaller. This is one of the many seismic shifts we’ve identified at Music Tectonics. And it’s thrown the licensing and rights world for a loop. To really mix metaphors, this shift relates to "putting Humpty Dumpty together again" (read this post to find out what that means) and "music is in the hands of the masses" (coming soon).

When digital downloads took over, the album got smashed and singles could be pirated or purchased. Digital audio workstations popped up in bedrooms and home studios across the land. Suddenly self-taught creators had the ability to slice and dice songs to their liking, without needing to follow past doctrines around what was the “right” way to make music. Samplers began to proliferate as did sample packs. Digital loop pedals gave performers a way to perform small snippets of music and layer them without ever having to play a song on their instrument or with their voice from start to finish in one go.

When user-generated videos (YouTube) took off, then became shorter and shorter (Vine and TikTok), full songs got excerpted, oftentimes sliced off of its metadata and attribution. When digital marketplaces emerged for song samples to be licensed, sound units for sale shrunk again.

Cutting reel to reel tape was a meticulous and imprecise process. Scratching records was a more fragile approach for extracting sound bites from a song in real time. In the era of digitization, these experimental approaches became reified and hardwired.

We’ve gone from albums to singles to samples. And once the album was sliced horizontally, we’ve moved to slicing it vertically into stems - a single instrument or voice track that could then be used in new ways. A.I.-powered or user-generated stem separators and marketplaces are emerging as I write. As song parts — horizontal and vertical — are chopped and indexed more musical montages will emerge. Watch this space, we will see music as emoji any day now. There will no longer be a need to construct an entire 3 minute song around a sample. The snippet will be the music.

After all the slices are made, new unexpected music forms will emerge. Will the new uses of music outpace the systems for managing rights and collecting and paying royalties? We know that pay outs have gone from big checks to fractions of pennies and from more sources. Tracking all those micro-payments has its own set of challenges.

Alongside all this musical dicing, there’s a data side to the conversation. We went from liner notes to lyric websites to trillions of pieces of metadata. We had big graphics files with metadata in liner notes and now we have hundreds of fields populated with each individual line item. These data nuggets create new opportunities for cross-referencing creators, discovery of songs, enabling new user interfaces and digital musical experiences, and mood- and activity-based segues.

In addition to the vast increase in songs being released every day thanks to music production being in the hands of the masses (and in the hands of robots), this acceleration of data means that keeping all these moving parts up to date is more critical and more difficult than ever. Good luck with that!

Keep the conversation going at the Music Tectonics Conference, October 28-29 in Los Angeles, CA. Music Tectonics is about the big picture: how the minor tremors that ripple through the daily news add up to seismic shifts that shape the business of music now and in the future. See you at the epicenter!

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