The Medium Is The Message, Version…

…I don’t know, I’ve used that expression so many times I’ve lost count.

But that fundamental McLuhanism came to mind again when I watched this TEDx talk that traces the effects of evolving technology on music delivery.

My own “Music 3.0” scenario deals only with the delivery actual audio; this talk focuses on the effects of sheet music. The way I see it, “sheet music” is not really music. It’s paper. It doesn’t become music until somebody interprets the marks on the paper and transmit them from his eyes to his fingers or vocal chords to your ears.

In that scenario, there have been three epochs of music delivery. The first, as Dr. Bowen describes, was the ‘aural’ period – if you wanted to hear music, somebody had to be in the room to play it for you. And even after the introduction of printed sheet music, that remained the case.

The delivery of actual music didn’t change until the introduction of the cylinder recorder in the late 19th century. That introduced the second epoch – music as an industrial product – which was extended by the introduction of audio broadcasting in the early 20th century.

That epoch ended with the arrival of Napster, the first iteration of on-demand-delivery of digital audio. In the digital era, music (delivery) is no longer a product. We’re still trying to figure out exactly what it is.

My hunch is the new epoch looks a lot more like the first epoch than it does the second, but it looks to me like most of us are still trying to drag the second epoch into the third.

So this is an instructive discussion of how exactly technology effects – and disrupts – music delivery. Dr. Bowen probably doesn’t know it, but he’s a pretty damn good McLuhanist himself.