Firstly it's worth noting that this post was inspired by a short discussion I had with former Luna bassist Justin Harwood (on another former Luna bassist, Britta Phillips' Facebook page) which says a fair amount right there about the subject of this post!
Secondly a disclaimer:
This is not a well researched think-piece, I am not an academic, I'm just a music fan with opinions. Some of those opinions are strong but often not fully- or clearly-formed - some are stupid, ill-thought-out or just plain wrong. This is just me rattling off some idle half-baked thoughts to get them out of my head and onto "paper."
A post that Britta had made had developed into a discussion on the state of music and the noise/signal ratio in the modern age. Some of the comments were fairly negative in a fings-aint-wot-they-used-to-be kind of way, so I chipped in saying:
But isn't it brilliant? Isn't the fact that so many people have the means to make and distribute music? Think of all the brilliant musicians from the past who never made a note that anyone heard because they didn't have the opportunity - now they do, they don't need rich parents and/or bucketloads of luck (or even an impressive and unshakeable work ethic).
We have more noise but we also have greater facility facility for filtering that noise. [...] Off course there are issues, but IMO as a listener/music-lover this is a golden age.
I think it's far too easy to see the things as simply better in the old days, but there was a lot that is bad then and a lot that is much better now. Obviously there are still problems but like has always happened "the community" (music makers, music facilitators and fans) will find ways around them, and any new ones that crop up. Music makers will continue to make music because they have to, and fans will continue to make sure that music makers are able to continue to make music. It is in the interests of us all.
Justin replied making a fascinating remark on the fan/musician relationship that I have to admit had never occurred to me:
In "the old days" intrinsic value was added to music because it was like panning for gold. You would stay up and listen to Peel, or you would go to the store every tuesday morning and read what Everett True thought was worthy of his ears, or you had to wait until your brother was out to play his vinyl. Or you would go to Other Music, or Reckless Records with $50 in your pocket and have to make a decision.
That effort, that decision, that ownership, made the music a valuable commodity.
And as a former musician who worked hard to make some records, I can tell you an important part of the artist reward is the feeling that your fans have made an effort, have sort you out, made a choice, and maybe made a personal sacrifice to be one, by paying for the pleasure. They have YOUR records in in their LIMITED collection, and that is a privilege, pure and simple. Knowing they have had to make a choice and they chose you is a very motivating and satisfying thing. And it drives you on to make more.
When you scour for a bootleg you are looking for music / performance and since that is ultimately what drives musicians, it gives more weight to their existence.
My argument in reply was that the Internet is giving us new ways of rewarding artists, we are still "panning for gold" but it's now on YouTube and blogs, on flickr and Soundcloud and Bandcamp, and with greater access to other fans, and directly to the musicians, we have resources that could not even have been dreamed of in the past. Some folk might look down on the fact that there is less of a barrier between musicians and fans but surely the fact that I can now tell a musician directly how important their music is to me, or how good it makes me feel, is surely a more satisfying "drive"?
From a fans perspective, I find it baffling that anyone would think this is anything else but a golden age. Things are moving so fast, the future is bafflingly uncertain, people are constantly trying to find new ways to make this work - whether it's Kristin Hersh and her Strange Angels; a million bands toying to varying degrees of success with crowdfunding; artists giving their music away for free in the hopes that it will generate income in other ways; or "pay what you want" models that allow the fan to determine how much value they put in a piece of music (or in the potential for more music).
What to me is clear however is that the most important thing is is the relationship between the musician and the fan - I believe it's more important now than it ever has been.
This is all written from the perspective of a fan. I have previously written on this subject ad nauseum:
But what am I supposed to do?
I am in control of my fanaticism
Being a fan
The end of the fan site?
Corporate Rock Sucks #21: Kristin Hersh breaks away