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Does the digital download kill creativity?

By Everett Themer - posted Wednesday, 12 December 2012


Todays' technology has turned everybody into a musician. Any person with a computer can turn it into a recording studio at will, and those who do all want to be the next Justin Bieber. This technology can spur creativity and give musicians a voice that they would not have had twenty years ago, but for the average listener it can have a disappointing down side. It can create a flood of bad music and influence musicians to create what they think could be marketable songs instead of their own music. The unfortunate thing is that with a little bit of internet savvy and some basic marketing skills these songs can go just about anywhere, even if they shouldn't.

In my younger days, as a working musician, I loved technology. I remember the day that I upgraded my four track cassette recorder to a sixteen channel mixer and eight track ADAT machine almost as clearly as the day my son was born. A few years later, as computers became more powerful and the software was developed, we were able to record and mix music entirely on computers. This meant that we were able to finish song after song and they all sounded as though we had spent thousands of dollars and countless hours in a recording studio. This ability inspired us to work harder writing more and better songs.

When given the opportunity to record an album or CD most bands had a goal of creating eight to twelve songs that they believed in and wanted their listeners to believe in too. Record companies have always pushed bands to put songs on albums specifically to be released as singles. The record company was the marketer and their goal was album sales. Their need to generate album sales meant that some of the material had to be geared to the intended audience. The artists hoped to use these singles as a way of introducing their music to people who would in turn buy their CD and listen to the entire work.

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That seems like ages ago. It was back in a time when most bands and artists wanted to take their audience on a musical ride. There were of course novelty bands and songs created simply to cash in on a current trend or topic. These were just that, a novelty and not produced with the intention of anybody having any sustained success. Most musicians, having spent years working on their craft, wanted to be more than a one hit wonder. They had something to say and a desire to have people hear it. What would Elvis' career have been like if he had released some singles instead of creating an amazing and varied body of work? Imagine what the world would have lost if the Beatles had based their entire career on pleasing the masses. They achieved their fame not only because they had creativity behind their music but because they also wanted to challenge their listeners and fans.

As the cd became more popular than the album people argued that songs could not be appreciated in the way artists intended for them to be. It was said that compact disks lacked the nuance and ambient acoustics that vinyl records did. While the sound may be different the compact disk could actually allow for longer album lengths. This gave musicians the freedom to experiment a little and include songs that once may not have been considered audience friendly enough for a typical length album. In the modern music marketplace individual song downloads have begun to dominate and the Cd has become less of a vehicle to introduce music and its creators to the public. As this happens, the concept of music appreciation seems to be dying away.

For me the perfect example of what music appreciation used to be came with a CD by Meatloaf. After seeing him perform a single off of Hang Cool, Teddy Bear, I immediately wanted to buy it. That used to be the purpose of singles and artists performing them. After buying the CD I of course listened to the song I had heard him perform first. Then I would listen to the entire CD, skipping the songs that didn't grab me in the first few seconds and I wasn't into yet. Then I eventually just started listening to the entire thing and songs grew on me. After a little bit of time I realized that there weren't just one or two good songs, there was a CDs worth. I could have just downloaded the single and probably been perfectly happy, but what would I have missed musically without even knowing about it?

There is a value to being able to download music. I love the fact that I don't have CDs scattered all over my house and I enjoy the ability to take an entire music library with me in my pocket. I can say that I am guilty of down loading just a song or two from an artist here and there. When I do this it often leaves me with questions. Am I hearing only one side of this band or artist? Do they have the talent to have a career as a performer? Once the catchiness of the singles wears off I usually end up downloading the artists' entire album. More often than not, I am disappointed in what I find. So many performers have a couple of incredibly well written, performed and produced songs surrounded by mediocre pieces.

It seems that today the compact disk has become less a collection of music and more of an excuse to market one or two particular songs. As these songs are marketed in a piece meal fashion the days of producing an entire CD of quality music are falling away. When musicians don't strive to be creative the goal is no longer about establishing a career built on music that they themselves believe in. It becomes more about generating the next big buzz and having one of the most downloaded songs on the internet music web sites. When up and coming musicians become more interested in producing a downloadable hit and less in building a body of work they become marketers rather than musicians and the entire art of creating music becomes weaker Once musicians stop challenging themselves to create music, they also stop challenging us to appreciate it.

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About the Author

Everett Themer is a creative director for a marketing company specialising in keeping small businesses relevant in a global economy.

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All articles by Everett Themer

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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