Hubris Is The Future Of Music

New Music Strategies is a site well worth checking out if you’re involved with the music industry in any capacity; the structure and implementation of Dubber’s blog is concise and subtly monetised, and his articles are generally insightful and often thought-provoking – no more so than his recent article which accuses Gerd Leonhard of ‘serial hubris’…

Gerd Leonhard is a self-proclaimed media futurist who has previously authored a well-known book descriptively entitled “The Future of Music”. He is releasing his new book in instalments on his website before it is released as a paperback, and it is once again descriptively titled – “The End of Control”. Here is a brief description excerpted from the press release:

EoC addresses the single most important issue underlying many debates about the future of media: who controls what, why, when, and where, and how can digital content still generate revenues when most of the traditional ways of controlling its flow (i.e., distribution) are no longer available. In the book I will argue that in the future, controlling distribution is replaced with earning, receiving, and maintaining attention; that in media’s future friction is fiction; and that the “people formerly known as consumers” now literally run the show.

Andrew Dubber expresses some criticism of the breed of technological determinism espoused by EoC, and goes on to accuse Leonhard of ‘deeply lazy thinking’. It is worth checking out the post not only for this, but Leonhard himself responds in the comments, and a tasty back-and-forth ensues.

Predicting the future, even if just a day in advance, is a tricky business at the best of times; anyone who sets themselves up as a ‘futurologist’ is bound to come in for some criticism, and is almost equally bound to get things spectacularly wrong on many fronts. I agree with Dubber that it is not technology that determines our future – people do. I recently mentioned examples of ‘superior’ technology such as the 78rpm record and beta video being rejected by consumers in favour of more convenient alternatives, and I still believe it is convenience that will drive the future of music. Whichever technology satisfies this demand will ultimately prove to be the most successful.

I have not read Leonhard’s books, but I find his online writing to be interesting. However, I wouldn’t be taking concepts such as ‘the people formerly known as consumers’ or ‘usators’ too seriously, as Dubber seems to fear. Theory is all very well, and lengthy discussion of such concepts may lead to insight, but when dealing with work that is essentially academic in nature, there is often a great deal of matter that does more to propound the cleverness of the author than it does to advance the issue at hand. I have written a thesis or two that could be used as a good illustration of this point. There are few books of this nature whose essential meat couldn’t be condensed into a single page, or at most a single chapter.

The ‘former consumer’ model doesn’t strike me as being realistic; more people are not going to start making music just because they can now sell it online themselves. Those people who make music do so because of some innate desire for self-expression, and in some cases, attention. People have been making music for thousands of years, and will continue to do so even if they don’t earn a cent from it – but the majority of people are not musicians, and will not spend their time making music just because technology makes it easier for them to do so. Everyone can enjoy playing ‘Guitar Hero’ – this is fun, and requires skill, but it doesn’t make you a musician.

The idea is reminiscent of Brian Eno’s vision of organic music, where listeners set a few parameters and let the music generate itself according to their input. However, this will only work for ambient-type music, and not everyone enjoys this. Also, most people don’t want to be involved in the creation process (at least not all the time) – they just want to listen to great music and enjoy it for what it is. Consumers will always be consumers. Creators will always be creators – and they will also be consumers.


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