Monday, February 25, 2008

The Spectrum of Musical Experience

Yesterday morning I was in Chicago with my college roommate, ripping air guitar solos to Jupiter Sunrise's "Arthur Nix," much the same way we did in our freshman dorm room. Last night I got off the phone with one of my senior year roommates, then turned on the radio and heard three songs from The Beatles, culminating in "With A Little Help From My Friends." As I fell asleep, I put on a playlist of songs I have yet to share with anyone.
All three musical experiences elicited a deep emotional response, but in completely different ways. Such is the mystical nature of music--it is at once both deeply personal and reliant on shared experience. Many of us turn to it when there's no one else to turn to, and also use it as a mechanism for connection and shared memory with others.
My own consumption of music tends to follow a similar pattern: find out about a new artist or song through an artist I already enjoy, experience the music as personally as possible (alone in my room or car), then pass it along to others in the hopes that they might have a similar personal experience with it that we can then relate to each other through. To this day I send out CDs to friends almost monthly as a way to keep us tied together. As the Better Than Ezra song goes: "Someone out there's listening to the same song and feeling the same way that I do."
Sometimes (often) this phenomenon occurs on a massive scale. Radio pushes the same few songs at a time all over America and the world. As a result, people buy (hopefully) millions of albums and pack stadiums to see their favorite bands live. Perhaps no greater connection happened than when The Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 while an estimated 73 million people watched.
To this day, the easiest way to unite a room full of people is to play a Beatles song. We had a cookout for our families outside our apartment the night before graduation and it was a no-brainer to make the mix cds almost exclusively Beatles--it's happy music that nearly everyone knows and loves. Even Spencer's grandma was doing a little boogie to "Good Day Sunshine."
Taking experience one step further is live music--fans and potential fans flock to see bands play live, now moreso than ever. Whether it's a dive bar with ten people watching or Albert Hall filled to capacity, strangers come together over a common love of music.
Possibly my favorite quote about the potential depth of experience with live music comes from an interview I was lucky enough to do with Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra: "The first time I ever felt evil at a show, which was when I knew I had to play music, I went to a Ben Kweller and The Anniversary concert, and The Anniversary was playing 'Sweet Marie,' and I remember the inside of my body just twisting inside and out and just feeling like I shouldn't be here, but the only thing I really need to do is be here. It happened again to me three years later watching The Blood Brothers, and I was just thinking 'This is evil, and I love it.' I'm not a sadistic weirdo, it's just that feeling of being drawn into something."
Nothing will ever replace the experience of live music. However I believe the internet has the power to enhance experiences, both personal and communal, with music. I see it in my daily reading of music blogs and bands' MySpace pages, where millions of people come to find out the latest news on their favorite bands and discover new music; but perhaps more importantly to our discussion, they comment the hell out of those posts. They actively seek extensions of the music they love. They want a greater experience.
The question then becomes: how? It seems to me that the potential power of the internet is not even close to realized, especially when it comes to music. Sure, people can listen to or buy nearly any song they want with a quick click, they can watch videos, and can post a few lines of their own about their feelings on music. But now they want more--more access to the artists, more music, more (or at least better) ways to discover new music.
It strikes me that iTunes, in all its glory, is stuck in the first iteration of the digital music revolution. There are hundreds of startups who all think they have the answer to the next iteration, but few attract enough users to back up their claims. Furthermore, they each seem to seek out their own niche. The biggest problem is that they all focus on evolution rather than revolution. People want free music? Okay, we'll sort of give it to them (not in a format that they can put on their iPod) and support it with ads. If iTunes is Digital Music 1.0, these startups are merely versions 1.x. No one is ambitious enough to really take on the music industry as a whole.
Do I have the answers? No. But I believe the future of music will rely very heavily on the internet, and will do so because the internet will allow for a greater musical experience. Some of the innovation may come from paying closer attention to what people say they want, but there is also a portion that will stem from a solid understanding of both how people experience music (both personally and communally) and the capabilities of the internet.
Any ideas? What would enhance your musical experience (be it via the internet or not)? If you dream it, we can do it.

1 comment:

Jed said...

The only time I listen to music as more than just background noise is when I'm at the gym. While there I would love a streaming service (much like a pandora or a radio station without the ads) tailored to my workout musical preference. Eclectic but generally fast and aggressive. I don't want to take the time to choose what I want to here. And I don't want to have to remember to download new stuff before-hand.