Once and Future Creators
Instead of consumers, fans, or even “prosumers,” what if the future of music is every one of us making music in the moment, not meaning it to last?
Back in the day, if you wanted music, you most likely had to make it yourself (unless you were rich). To enjoy that crazy ballad your cousin sang the other night, that amazing beat, or that ditty the sketchy guy played in the market, you had to create or recreate it. You might add some new twist: play the same tune on a different instrument, vary the rhythm to suit a new dance, weave in a verse from another song to change the story. That moment of creation passed, you got whatever you got out of it, and life continued.
The same impulses stay with us, and technology is in the process of handing us the means to act on them more regularly, with more satisfying results. You can use an app to generate infinite melodies, beats, harmonies, lyrics, full-blown tracks. You can record and process sound quickly and easily, using any number of workspaces, apps, websites. You can modify and transform stems from your favorite recordings, adding personal touches. You can use any number of pedals, boxes, software offerings to create loops, altered sounds, tuned vocals in real time. And on and on.
These tools, devices, and programs are becoming more and more accessible to non-specialists with little musical training. We’re entering an era that reiterates the eras captured by 19th century researchers eager to pin down the creative genius of “folk music.” Everyone will make music if they feel like it, and this music may not be documented. Though we’re coming out of decade or two of “pics or it didn’t happen,” the compulsive drive to document may be fading. People might feel just fine about creating music to reflect, process, amuse, goof around, and like a Snap or Instagram Story, have no interest in keeping it for long. Recordings may still exist, just as hand-crafted end tables and hand-forged swords and oil paintings still exist, but may live in a specific niche. The great majority of musical experiences may be self-generated by fans.
This kind of shift won’t happen simply because you throw a bunch of tech products people’s way. You can drown an emerging creator in choice, making it impossible to proceed beyond novelty or to figure out how to start making something. You can also strangle creativity with data-driven products that force people into too narrow a groove (the AI app that only generates one sub-genre of club beats, for example). Ideally, to make us all creators, we need some limitations but also certain space between the data.
Data-rich systems need to leave space for the unexpected worlds of human productivity and emotion. In fact, the less machines are embroiled with hamfisted readings of human emotion, likely the better. Emotion has its own cadence, and no machine should preempt the organic cascade that leads to response, feelings, and ultimately meaning. Yet a human with the right tools may be able to readily translate that arc into music.
What would this age mean for the business? It’s hard to say. There are so many potential digital objects, elements, skins, sounds, filters, processors you could imagine, all of which would be a mix of artistry and technology in and of themselves. There would still be plenty of specialists and likely lots of interest in “static” recorded music, live performances, and things we currently recognize as part of the music industry.
But there might also be a new musical ecosystem, one we build to motivate, comfort, or shake up our microcosm in the moment. We might make things together despite distance and time. We might make things ourselves, using any number of prompts or triggers to start a musical experience. We might want to pin down some amazing moments, but most would fade into a practice of perpetual creation.
Tristra Newyear Yeager is rock paper scissors' writer and strategist as well as an occasional Music Tectonics podcast host. Put Tristra on your team, telling your company's story and building your profile: contact rps new business manager Jade Prieboy to find out more about what PR can do for your company. Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about Music Tectonics updates and analyses.