Skynet Likes Dubstep
November 3, 2011 § 1 Comment
We’re approaching the day when the average music listener is going to consume an auditory diet primarily composed of songs which are created by computers. Not on computers—by computers. If you think you’ve heard something like that before, you’re right—George Orwell came up with the idea around 60 years ago and included it in 1984.
I’m going to give you the old, tired argument that the original Napster opened Pandora’s box because that argument is entirely correct. The only reason that we didn’t see a collapse of the music industry in the first decade of this millennium is that it takes longer than a decade for a healthy industry to collapse. And the industry executives, because they’re smart and like making money, have been going at their counterreformation hammer and tongs. First it was lawsuits. Then the compromise of legal downloading—here’s looking at you, iTunes. Now they’re compelled to offer free downloads and online streaming in order to spark interest.
And while we’re on the subject of streaming, I’d like to point out that MySpace—a site virtually devoid of cultural relevance and commercial potential—has tried to revitalize itself as the place to stream music on the internet. Let that sink in.
If giving away music sounds like a bad way to save the industry, you’re right. It’s a white flag. The industry has been cut in half in the last decade—a time when you couldn’t separate a person under the age of 25 from their music player. And you still can’t. And everybody has to have that new song. But, by and large, everybody is unwilling to pay for what they can’t live without, and there’s no way to make them pay. The modern electronic music industry may be the first business sector in history to inspire such high demand for its product that it drives itself out of business.
But there’s an obvious solution: hire a few programmers who have extensive knowledge of music theory—here’s looking at you, Music Genome Project. Code away. When you get an algorithm that churns out decent stuff, dump the high-priced, scantily-clad divas. Most music nowadays is just electronic shrieking mixed with human shrieking anyway—there’s always the possibility that, given better noise reproduction, computer-generated music will sound more natural than human-made music. The music industry will eke out an existence from this model on the free market, or convince the government into funding its public service.
Musicians will continue to exist, but they’ll be forced to find patronage or develop dedicated regional followings, drawing most of their income from pricey live performances much like modern classical musicians do. For the popular consumer, though, they and their style will be forced into the margins of a lopsided score written increasingly by computers. Music will leave the musician behind.