(Calling the product [the record companies sell] music is like selling a shopping cart and calling it groceries.)
In the past, music was something you heard and experienced — it was
as much a social event as a purely musical one. Before recording
technology existed, you could not separate music from its
social context. Epic songs and ballads, troubadours, courtly
entertainments, church music, shamanic chants, pub sing-alongs,
ceremonial music, military music, dance music — it was pretty much all
tied to specific social functions. It was communal and often
utilitarian. You couldn't take it home, copy it, sell it as a commodity
(except as sheet music, but that's not music), or even hear it again.
Music was an experience, intimately married to your life. You could pay
to hear music, but after you did, it was over, gone — a memory.
Technology changed all that in the 20th century. Music — or its
recorded artifact, at least — became a product, a thing that could be
bought, sold, traded, and replayed endlessly in any context. This
upended the economics of music, but our human instincts remained
intact. I spend plenty of time with buds in my ears listening to
recorded music, but I still get out to stand in a crowd with an
audience. I sing to myself, and, yes, I play an instrument (not always
We'll always want to use music as part of our social fabric: to
congregate at concerts and in bars, even if the sound sucks; to pass
music from hand to hand (or via the Internet) as a form of social
currency; to build temples where only "our kind of people" can hear
music (opera houses and symphony halls); to want to know more about our
favorite bards — their love lives, their clothes, their political
beliefs. This betrays an eternal urge to have a larger context beyond a
piece of plastic. One might say this urge is part of our genetic makeup.
Ultimately, all these scenarios have to satisfy the same human urges: What do we need music to do? How do we visit the land in our head and the place in our heart that music takes us to? Can I get a round-trip ticket?
Really, isn't that what we want to buy, sell, trade, or download?