Monday, June 16, 2008

Music as a medium (or, why video games appear to be winning)

Bob Lefsetz wrote a week or two back that "Gaming’s got all the sexiness that music used to have. It’s the land of visceral excitement…and profits." There's some truth to that statement, but does it mean music is dying? Absolutely not.
All that's happened over the past few decades is that music has shifted from a rivalrous to a non-rivalrous medium--instead of sitting down and listening to a record from start to finish while doing nothing but maybe look at the album cover, we have music playing constantly while doing other things. It doesn't compete for our time. It accompanies other daily activities like driving, reading, running, shopping, etc. The same shift has happened for TV--the hours people spent watching TV spiked in the 70s and 80s because people were starting to while TV while doing something else. (Will all cinemas of the future be restaurants as well? Or have other activities integrated?)
Gaming enjoys its sexiness and profits because it is the newest major entertainment medium, and is naturally a step ahead of movies and music in terms of being naturally engaging (a point that the wii brought to the mainstream). But watch as they follow a similar arc to music. Already gamers are complaining of the major studios releasing "safe" games--sequels or new games that follow existing models for success. Soon, tools will be made available to allow anyone to create their own games quickly, cheaply, and easily; and we will have the computing power to be able to distribute those games quickly, cheaply, and easily over the internet. Already you see the beginnings of it with user-modified levels. The real question is will the major gamining studios learn the lessons of the music, film, and TV industries before them?
But back to music. Music as a medium is alive and well, despite its gradual shift away from demanding our attention. More people are listening to more music today than ever before. Just because the medium itself isn't as engaging as it once was doesn't mean that music can't be engaging. Artists need to build relationships with their fans, and need to give them more to play with than a new CD every 2 years. This doesn't just mean releasing every track that you record and mix in the back of the tour van. It means everything from video blogs to merchandise to live shows--get creative! Get engaging! Give the people what they want, and then some! Your band is a brand, and a single product, updated once every two years, simply isn't going to cut it if you want to have any of the sexiness and profits of the gaming industry.


Anonymous said...

wow, you're starting to sound like an industry insider!

Anonymous said...

Well said Tyson. Don't forget that these days video games have their own soundtracks with a variety of groups from the relatively unknowns to the super popular included in the track lists, as well as the attempted integration of music into a video game format via games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. This fact only bolsters your point that music is shifting to being something that accompanies other activities.