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Saturday morning quotes 3.2: Free Early Music

May 25, 2013

The journal Early Music (Oxford University Press) is now celebrating the 40th anniversary of its founding, and they are generously making each and every article in the current issue available for free in electronic format.

The issue includes a wonderful collection of musings and reminiscences from an impressive roster of contributors who comment on issues real, speculative or imagined germane to the field of early music past, present and future. Reading the insights of so many luminaries who have shined a light upon forgotten musical traditions fills us with gratitude for their cumulative work, and for the existence of the journal that is a significant source of information for so many musicians who lark about in our chosen field.

But upon reflection one wonders whether making the articles available gratis is an act of desperation on the part of yet another publication that is seeing an alarming drop in subscribers.  Or perhaps Early Music is benevolently acknowledging that those who would benefit the most from reading the journal are no longer working and simply can’t afford the subscription price.  In point of fact, one wonders whether the phenomenon of the early music revival would happen at all if it began today.

The ongoing global obsession with the instantaneous transmission of information via the internet, and the inexplicable human hunger for a constant overturn of ‘news’, means that any new field of study in the arts that requires thoughtful research and a trial-and-error approach to interpretation of results would simply fizzle after the passing of a few 24-hour news cycles.  By making so much information so readily available to so many people, and without the advantage of effective fact-checking, the internet has basically undermined our way of life.  Well-intentioned researchers are choking on a glut of information that requires more time to organize and verify than the old way of simply sorting through paper documents.  Is this progress?

Musicians as creative artists have become obsolete in the Janus-faced free culture movement, and some say that the internet has even decimated the middle class (read below). The uncomfortable fact is that all musicians are struggling to remain above water today.  In a blog post entitled 45% Fewer Professional Working Musicians Since 2002, blogger David Lowery writes,

“The numbers are simple and staggering. The internet has not empowered musicians, it has exploited them.”

We frequently hear the same familiar question from friends who have stumbled upon and sampled our music, or from new fans who approach us appreciatively after a concert: Why aren’t we famous?  The answer is multidimensional but has quite a bit to do with the fact that we don’t have professional artist representation, and we have very little interest in doing what it takes to be effective promoters – we prefer to put our energy into research and rehearsal to maintain our interpretive chops.  But it also has to do with the fact that there is a glut of freely available music and a diminished appreciation for the value of real musicians performing live music.  And income from recorded music is simply no longer viable as indicated by  last month’s reported internet radio earnings: 1,074 airplays netted $9.43.  Do the math.

We leave you with these quotes excerpted from an interview with Jaron Lanier entitled, The Internet destroyed the middle class:

“At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”

“The way society actually works is there’s some mechanism of basic stability so that the majority of people can outspend the elite so we can have a democracy. That’s the thing we’re destroying, and that’s really the thing I’m hoping to preserve. So we can look at musicians and artists and journalists as the canaries in the coal mine, and is this the precedent that we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because technology will get to everybody eventually.”

“Without context, what does my music mean? I make very novel sounds, but I don’t see any value in me sharing novel sounds that are decontextualized. Why would I write if people are just going to get weird snippets that are just mushed together and they don’t know the overall position or the history of the writer or anything? What would be the point in that. The day books become mush is the day I stop writing.”

  1. Reblogged this on Marius Cruceru and commented:
    Internetul a distrus clasa mijlocie? Iată cîteva gînduri interesante cu pornire de la muzica veche.

  2. Thanks for writing this. It’s a very sobering view of the music industry. Talkies (movies) drove lots of musicians out of jobs as well, but musicians adapted (or didn’t). As a classical guitarist, my genre is not as popular as it once was (just like early music) and probably wouldn’t make it as an upstart now. But is this a bad thing, or just simply how it is? Are our options more limited, or are the viable options just different than they used to be?

    The magazine going with a free model is an example of a business embracing one of the new models that have changed the industry. They may increase readership for it, or sink the boat, depending on what other changes they are also instituting. Opera is booming, because they have fully invested in outreach and utilizing new technologies. If early music is to flourish, they have to find ways of inspiring people and welcoming them in to the early music world.

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