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The glimmer of a new beginning came at the end.
The movie documents how ten mostly Nashville-based musicians pooled their resources and put together an extraordinary tour. All the participants are accomplished musicians and recording artists at various stages in their careers – one or two ‘major label’ names, some coming off major label deals, mostly talented indies still forging their careers amid the ruins of the dying music “industry.”
But what is most compelling about both the movie and the tour it follows is the ‘Ten ouf of Tenn’ experience and its spirit of shared resources. Traveling individually, each of these artists would have had to book their own gigs, make their own travel arrangements, drive their own cars or rentals, and played their own shows.
By pooling their resources, the ten together could afford to hire a bus and a driver. And they all became each other’s band. The film shows them all playing in different combinations, all the accompaniment you could possibly want right there in the pool. Want to play solo acoustic? No prob. But if you need a keyboard or a bassist or even a cello, well guess what, there’s somebody already on the bus who plays what you need to embellish your sound on stage.
In the film, each of the ten principals performs one of their songs. The stage performances are interspersed with segments depicting the sort of antics you might expect of creative personalities filling their days on the road. Each of the performances is captivating, and the all of the clips in between are entertaining and engaging and offer a good sense of just what being on such a tour would be like.
But it is the penultimate scene that seals the deal and, I think, firmly places Ten Out Of Tenn — both the tour and the documentary — squarely astride the shifting paradigms of today’s music experience.
In this nearly final scene the musicians have finished their last show, but no one wants to leave the venue. Not the audience, not the musicians. And so the players come down off the stage, and with unplugged acoustic guitars lead their audience in an enthusiastic sing-along of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”
In that moment, the proscenium that separates the troubadours from their audience was erased. The artists became the audience and the audience became the artists. And I as I felt the chicken skin bubbling up on my arm I turned to the friend who’d invited me to the screening and said “THAT’s ‘Music three-point-oh.'”
Which statement I will now try to defend.
As I see it, “Music 3.0” is the perfect description of the tectonic shift that music — live and recorded – is now experiencing. And following the transitions from 1.0 to 2.0 gives us some idea what to expect from 3.0
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Music 1.0 – From Drums and Chants to Beethoven and Wagner
In the beginning, there must have been a drum. Or the human voice.
Maybe a cave man put a reed of grass between his thumbs and blew.
I don’t think anybody who was there at the moment made any notes, but maybe some music historian with a lot more cred than I’m ever going to have has devised a theory of how it all started: A stick, a hollow log. Bang, bang. A rhythm. A voice imitates the sound. A chant. Before you know it, Handel is turning out “The Messiah,” Mozart is composing operas and Stephen Foster has written “Beautiful Dreamer.”
The point is, in the first epoch of this history, if you heard music, it was made by a human who was in the room with you. It might have been you. It might have been somebody from your family or neighborhood. Or it might have been a concert performed by professionals. But there was one constant, inviolate principal to any
From the first cave-man with a stick and a log through Beethoven and Wagner, there was only one kind of music, and it was all what we now call “live.”
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Music 2.0 – From Mary Had A Little Lamb to Michael Jackson
The necessity to have a “live” human in the room in order to have a musical experience ended some time in 1877.
In that year, Thomas Edison sat down at the desk in his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. In front of him was a contraption his assistants had constructed according to his design. The device consisted primarily of a hand-turned screw-crank, a cylinder covered with aluminum foil, and a megaphone.
The inventor turned the crank, and spoke into the megaphone. “Mary had a little lamb,” he shouted, “its fleece was white as snow.” As he spoke, a needle attached to the megaphone etched grooves into the thin layer of tin foil as it screwed its way across the rotating cylinder. When he had finished reciting the poem, he lifted the megaphone from the foil, and slid it back to the beginning of the cylinder.
And then he turned the crank again. And for the first time in history, a machine spoke with the sound of a human voice. “Mary had a little lamb,” the machine crackled, “it’s fleece was white as snow…”
At that moment, the musical diet of the ensuing century was cast: It would not be long before music ceased to be strictly “do it yourself” — and became instead an industrial “product” that future generations would consume like cars, soap, and toilet paper.
There were a lot of technological developments that had to fall into place before the industrial era of musical consumption would reach its full expression. Most notably is the addition of the “master and slave” model of reproduction and manufacturing.
While we are all familiar with Edison and his first invention of sound recording, few know the story of Eldridge Reeves Johnson, the founder of the Victor Talking Machines Company. Johnson’s biographer has said that when Nipper the terrier cocked his head in front of a gramophone speaker to hear “his master’s voice,” the voice belonged to Eldridge Reeves Johnson.
For it was Johnson — a turn-of-the century inventor, engineer and industrialist — who devised a system for recording masters, and then making “slave” copies of the masters, from which subsequent copies could be made for distribution and sale to a public that was just beginning to appreciate the magic of recorded music played from
consoles in their parlors.
Eldridge Reeves Johnson was the Steve Jobs of his day, and his principal product — the Victrola — was the iPod of the era. The Victor Talking Machine made the idea of recorded music popular, and the Victrola and its descendants replaced home-made music in the parlors of the world. Thomas Edison may have invented recording, but Eldridge Johnson invented the recording INDUSTRY — and the era of “mechanical royalties” and “music as a product” was born.
The era that began with Edison’s scratchy “Mary Had a Little Lamb” essentially ended with the release of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” the largest selling single album of all time. As any record “industry” executive will tell you, it has all been downhill from there.
Some will argue that the experience of industrial music consumption has evolved over the decades — from cylinders to discs, from 78s to 33s to 45s and finally digitally encoded compact disks. The listening experience went from hand-cranked cylinders to spring-driven Victrolas to sophisticated turntables and eventually Walkmen, earphones and laser beams. But throughout the 2.0 era, there was one essential constant: music was a product, and its distribution was controlled by manufacturing enterprises large and small. The medium of exchange evolved, but it always involved the essential “Talking Machines” industrial model of masters and slaves, a finite number of copies (millions, at times, but still finite), and products pressed, packaged,
shipped on trucks and sold at retail.
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Music 3.0 – From Napster to the Celestial Jukebox
The first salvo in the titanic struggle that heralds the demise of the recorded music industry as we have known it for over a century was fired in the spring of 1999. That opening volley came from the digital barrel of a rebel upstart called “Napster.”
I first learned of Napster while working for a company that I had started in 1995, “Songs.com.” When the company was formed in the spring of 1995, the concept was pretty novel: “What would you think if I tried to sell some of your CDs on the Internet?” But that simple scenario was enough to put us directly in the path of a digital juggernaut.
Sometime in the spring of 1999, I downloaded Napster to my computer (the application was famously named for the supposedly kinky hair of its creator, a college student named Shawn Fanning). It did not take long after installing the program to grasp its import. There, within the reach of my keyboard, mouse, and internet connection, was an
inconceivably vast treasury of just about any recording I could possibly want to hear, all compressed into an easily downloaded digital format called “MP3.”
The room across the hall from my office at the time was the “shipping room,” a cramped space stacked with shelves and lined with boxes filled with CDs. There, two or three times a week, one staffer would read orders off a screen, another found the purchased disk and pulled it off the shelf, another stuffed it into an envelope and slapped a shipping label on the envelope.
Into this epicenter of a product-based business model, I walked in and said, “OK, somebody name a tune.” “Billy Joel,” somebody said, “Scenes from An Italian Restaurant.”
I went back to my office and typed the title into my new program. Moments later, the refrains of a familiar song blasted out of the stereo I had connected to my computer: “Bottle of white…. bottle of red… perhaps a bottle of rose’ instead…”
“How’d you do that!?!” the staffers wanted to know.
“Easy,” I said, “The Celestial Jukebox has arrived.”
The idea of the Celestial Jukebox is not new and certainly not original to me, but I’ve been talking about it for at least ten years now. Simply stated, the concept delivers “whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it, wherever you are.” And that utopian model is almost at our fingertips today.
Or, as I’ve described it many times in the past: Someday soon, you’ll come home at the end of the day, toss your briefcase and hat on a chair and say into you stereo, “Beatles. Abbey Road. Loud.” And within moments the opening strains of “Come Together” will to pour out of your speakers, delivered from a server somewhere in what is now being called “the cloud.” You will probably not “own” your own copy of Abbey Road, or whatever else you want to hear. You will no longer need to have
your own private — and thus limited — record collection; instead you have access to the entire universe of recorded music.
Looking back on that scene in the shipping room in 1999, I can see now how perfectly anachronistic it all was: … in one room, the “pick, pack and ship” process of a product-based delivery system. In my office, a prototype of the future: the on-demand, everything at your fingertips, cloud-based music service.
We can debate whether the advent of Napster is the pivotal moment that heralded the demise of Music 2.0. Another candidate for that honor might be the launch some years earlier of Real Audio, which demonstrated the promise of streaming audio (and later video) in real time. Prior to Real Audio, content delivered over the Internet had to be downloaded first, played later. Real Audio was the first platform that made it possible to begin playing a file just moments after it began downloading — and, in the process, made it unnecessary to storea copy of the file on your own machine. The streaming music players that are now so ubiquitous on websites like MySpace, or via widgets from the likes of ReverbNation, all trace their direct lineage back to Real Audio — and are themselves parts of the evolving, infinite, cloud-based and stream-delivered music library.
Or you could assert that the seed for the demise of music-as-product was planted when the Compact Disk itself was first introduced in the early 1980s, for that was surely the first step in the transition from analog to digitally encoded music. But the CD was very much an extension of the industrial model of manufacturing and delivery. The new epoch is about the disembodiment of the content from any physical medium of distribution; it is the physical disembodiment which makes possible the infinite remote storage and delivery on demand — the very apotheosis of a finite industrial model.
Or you could argue that the introduction of the iPod was the seminal breakthrough. In many respects, the advent of the iPod was its itself an event as pivotal as Edison’s invention. The Edison “phonograph” made the recording of music possible. The iPod made it possible to put the entire history of recorded music (or at least as much as any one person could ever listen to) in their pocket. That’s certainly a revolutionary step.
There are probably as many potential points of demarcation between Music 2.0 and Music 3.0 as there have been technological developments over the past 15 years.
But as long as I’m the one writing this essay, then I’m going to plant my flag with the launch of the original Napster — because Napster, more than any other single service or platform, was the point of the wedge that will ultimately separate the music “industry” from it’s business model.
Regardless of what hardware or software development you choose on which to peg the end of Music 2.0 and the beginning of Music 3.0, there is no debating that a new epoch is upon us. If we can agree on that much, then we can commence the more constructive debate about what it all really means.
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Lala.com: This Week’s Game Changer
The imminent arrival of a Celestial Jukebox is just one aspect of the emerging era, but it is the essential foundation for whatever other possibilities the era offers.
Which is not to say that the proposition itself is not fraught with various perils. Not the least of these is how users will pay for it and how the resulting revenue will be distributed. Personally, I advocate a flat-monthly subscription plan. Please, don’t nickel-and-dime or 99cents me to death. Just let me shell out $10 or maybe $20/mo and let me listen to whatever I want to hear.
Then the issue becomes “how does that revenue get distributed?” It should be simple enough to build a database and a set of well-written algorithms that determine who are the stake holders (writers, publishers, performers, labels, etc.) on each track and distribute the proceeds accordingly. OK, maybe it’s not simple, but it should be
doable. One marvels that the nuts and bolts are not already being sorted out.
For me, the game-changer of the moment is a website called Lala.com, which entered my orbit at the beginning of this year and has since become the center of my digital music universe. (There is another similar service on the horizon called “Spotify,” but that one seems to
generate more “buzz” than actual results, because the service is yet to be offered here in the United States. I read a lot about Spotify, but so far, I can’t use it. That makes it about as good as a “Celestial Breadbox” to me.)
Lala.com has made my browser my iPod. But I’m not listening to the music from the speakers on my MacBook. No, another essential component in my implementation is a program called “Airfoil” which sends audio via WiFi to my stereo. I now spend a LOT more t ime listening to music streaming from my browser than I do listening to music from my iPod or iPhone (and then, almost only in the car).
Once the particulars get worked out, then I think my recent experience will become fairly typical:
A few weeks ago, I started hearing about a Nashville based
singer/songwriter and recording artist named Derek Webb. Derek is an avid “social media” user with a regular presence on Twitter, which is where I first learned that he had released a new album called “The Stockholm Syndrome.” Fortunately, the album is in the vast library at Lala.com (Christian/Gospel? Really??). I listened to the album — in its entirety, and FOR FREE — on Lala.com, and liked it very much. Now
I am a Derek Webb “fan.” In addition to following him on Twitter, I’ve joined his Facebook ‘fan’ page, signed up for his e-mail list, and I’m looking forward to his performance at a local club next month (Christian/Gospel? Really??).
When I see Derek at his show, only THEN will I attempt to purchase a CD. Because then I can purchase it straight from him, put all the money directly in his hands, maybe get an autograph, maybe shake his hand, let him know that he’s become a part of my life and that I am also in some small way a part of his (Christian/Gospel? Really??).
In the meantime, if I want to listen to the album again, Lala will let me purchase access to the “web album” for about a buck. And if I absolutely have to have my own copy — which would likely be only if I needed to listen to it in the car — then I can shell out the requisite dollar-per track to own my own copies.
If the full realization of the Celestial Jukebox — whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it, wherever you are — is the end-zone of digital distribution, then Lala.com is “first and goal on the ten.” If they would just abandon the $1 per web album (still better than 99c per TRACK), for a flat monthly stream-all-you-want program, they’d be on the two yard line. A few more tweaks (like a lot more hard to find music), and make the service available on my portable device (iPhone) then it’s… touchdown. Game Over.
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“Music 3.0:” A Renaissance in the Middle
The real potential of the Celestial Jukebox is not just in its ability to deliver music with which I am already familiar (Beatles…Abbey Road… LOUD), but in its ability to broaden my horizons over an infinite musical landscape.
As the above-described experience of discovery involving Derek Webb illustrates, the dawning of the Celestial Jukebox means there are no more mysteries in the universe of music. It means that when I read about or hear about a musician, I can go listen to them. First time for free? Great. Listen again for a dime? Great. Form a relationship? Then I become a “fan” and the spigots open.
And this is where an enterprise like “Ten out of Tenn” becomes the consummate expression of this new era. From the documentary, I learned the names of ten musicians, some of which I was marginally familiar with, some of which I’d never heard of. By pooling their resources, they all shine a light on each other, which light shines ever brighter when I can go to a site like Lala.com and listen to their music in its entirety. As I type, I’m listening to an artist named k.s. Rhoads (don’t ask me, that’s the capitalization he uses). I could just as well have gone to his MySpace page and had a similar experience.
The point is, by traveling collectively the artists in Ten out of Tenn all bring each other a larger audience; the universal availability of the music fortifies the potential connection. Maybe somebody goes to the show to see Griffin House. They see Kevin Rhoads, too, and they can go home and listen to his album. Both experiences — the are an expression of Music 3.0. Case in point, since I started listening to k.s. Rhoads a few minutes before typing this paragraph, I’m discovering
what an incredibly original songwriter he is, and how sonically unique this album is. It’s making me wonder what his live shows are like… I wonder if he’d sell me CD…
In the world of Music 3.0. the barriers to contact and connection are eliminated if it doesn’t cost me $10 or $15 to purchase an album I might not like. With that impediment out of the way, I’m going to listen to a LOT more, find a LOT more that I DO like, and form a mutually beneficial (i.e. remunerative for the artist) relationship
around those experiences. Despite the industrial music establishment’s wailing over the decline of CD sales, all this means that there is ultimately MORE music in my world, not less. And I’m not “stealing” any of it. To the contrary, because that music has some intangible value for me, because it enriches my life in some substantive way, the willingness to reach into my wallet and offer a tangible exchange for the individuals who supply those experiences.
In other words, we may be witnessing the death of the music “industry,” but there has never been a better time for music. Anybody reading this is likely familiar with the concept of “The Long Tail,” the theory set forth by Chris Anderson, editor of WIRED (among others), in his book by that title. The “long tail” is essentially a graph that plots a distribution curve, one one end showing the most business being derived from the most popular items that sell the most, and trailing off to minimal business being generated by a virtually infinite inventory. According to the book’s tag line, “Endless choice creates unlimited demand.”
There is some debate about whether or not the inventory represented by the diminishing end of the long tail represents a viable business. Go ahead and knock yourselves out with that discussion. I’d rather focus on the tools and processes that are fostering a veritable renaissance in the middle of the long tail.
As this is written (September, 2009), the experience of music via the Internet represents something more akin to a Tower of Babel than a utopian Celestial Jukebox. There are almost as many “tools for musicians” on the Internet as there are musicians trying to use the Internet to find their audience. But a few — like “Ten Out of Tenn” — are beginning to crack the code, to find a combination of tools and applications and services — and sheer elbow grease — that it takes to build a viable audience.
And that, ultimately, is what is what this new epoch that I’m calling “Music 3.0” will be about. The object of a musical career in the future will be less about “selling stuff” than it will be about forming the kinds of relationships that compel people to show up when you do. It will be about the live experience, not the recorded experience. Just like it was before Edison barked a children’s poem onto a ribbon of foil.
Ultimately, “Music 3.0” will form some kind of dialectical synthesis between Music 2.0 and 1.0. There will still be products, there will still be sales, and there still be tours and live performances. But there will be more strength in the middle.
It may seem paradoxical to say, given how technology-driven all this is, but like the age of minstrels and troubadours, the coming era will be fundamentally organic.
That’s what I felt I saw in those final frames of the documentary “Any Day Now:” A self-selecting collective of artists, freed from the constraints of the industrial model, taking the music back to the people and sharing the experience between them. It may just sound like a sing-along, but it was more than that. It was a “teaching moment.” It taught the audience, “the music doesn’t just belong to us, it belongs to you too…”
In the moment those performers left the stage and became part of their audience, the role of music transformed. In that moment, music ceased to be the exclusive province of an elite corps of aristocrats living atop a feudal system where only the nobles live in style. Now everybody with the talent and determination can live a life of music.
Well, maybe not now, but… soon.
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Music 4.0? Don’t Blink
There are no earth shattering or even original revelations here. My only real purpose is to an attempt to draw the lines of demarcation between three epochs, the idea being that defining the boundaries between them gives us a better idea where we’re going: the first epoch was all the years before music could be recorded; the second was era when music was recorded and distributed as products, and the third — the era we are now entering — is a time when the distribution is once again disembodied from physical products, as it was in the first era.
That disembodiment of the music means any number of things, not least among them universal access to an infinite universe of music, The music is in the digital ether now, on demand, and infinitely replicable.
Another century from now, we may look back on the previous century as an anomaly where music is concerned. Given the span of human history, that 100+ years during which music was a “product” — passed between us on cylinders, vinyl discs, spooled tape and plastic wafers — may in retrospect come to seem like a curiosity.
Who knows? By the time we get some agreement on when “Music 3.0” began, we’ll probably be well into the debate on when “Music 4.0” started. It’ll probably start with some kind of Firewire device that plugs directly into a socket in the brain. Blink three times, and you’ll hear ‘Beatles… Abbey Road… Loud… ‘
(Except, of course, at the moment, the damn Beatles are the one band you can’t get delivered in ANY digital format… but that’s a topic for another day…)