I recently made the trek into D.C. with some friends to see Noah Gundersen perform at The Black Cat. It was a small venue, smoky, and real. I slipped to the front to see every bit of raw emotion that went into Gundersen’s vocals, to hear the passion in the clear notes dancing off Abby’s violin, and to feel the rhythm of the music throughout my whole body. I love Gundersen’s new album and have listened to it a great deal on Spotify, but somehow a live concert is so very different and much more meaningful. Watching someone create music, and being a part of their creation just by breathing the same air, is an exceptional experience.
Millennials crave authentic experience and community in most areas of life, and these desires influence the way we experience music. Not only do we value time with artists, we also want to give small artists the opportunity to share their creation and to be discovered. Thanks to Spotify, Rdio, and now iTunes Music, we have access to thousands of songs, albums, and downloads. Amazing, right? But what does it mean on a larger cultural and musical scale?
In the BBC podcast “The Pop Star and the Prophet,” Sam York, an up-and-coming British musician, addresses the sheer volume of music being produced today in relation to the philosopher Jacque Attali’s prophetic book, Noise, written in the mid-70’s.
In the 1970s, philosopher Attali predicted that the sheer proliferation of music would destroy its value. He argued that artists’ increasing ability to create and distribute their own music without the help of a record label would ultimately eliminate professional musicians. Attali also believed that this proliferation would devalue music for us, the listeners.
Attali was obviously correct in one of his predictions: the shift away from big recording labels. And thanks to music downloading and streaming, the album market has begun to plummet. For musicians like Sam York, it has become more difficult for moderately successful artists to support themselves through their albums.
Sam York also spoke with Frank Turner, widely considered to be a successful British musician. Despite his millions of listeners and great success, Turner still struggles to pay for a flat in London. This is a new struggle. In the past, he claims, that kind of popularity would have provided him with financial stability.
York also spoke with Stephen Witt, author of How Music Got Free. Witt sees the market for music as shifting, not failing. Spotify currently has over 10,000,000 paying subscribers (including myself). Multiply the number paid subscribers at $120 a year, and Witt claims the total is almost double the average amount spent on music before streaming became popular. In other words, we are still willing to pay for recordings—we simply want to access them in a new way.
Witt sees this new shift as positive; Attali believes that this is the beginning of the end for music as an industry and as a valuable commodity. There is too much music available and not enough people willing to purchase the albums which would provide for the artists.
I disagree with Attali. He may have little faith in the future of music, but I have hope. Artists may not be able to live solely by their recordings, but never before has there been so much opportunity for people to share their creativity, and never before have listeners had such access to it.
Attali focuses on the monetary aspect of value, but I believe that those of my generation (creator and consumer) do not see music only in terms of money. We seek to cultivate a greater sense of community and strive for authenticity and transparency. We find value in experiencing and discovering music for ourselves. I believe millennials recognize that music and experience have intrinsic value.
And both are ultimately far more important than mere monetary gain.
Image by Kris Krug via Flickr.