| Society

The Tyranny of Novelty

We hear it over and over again (even though it is not yet precisely true): people don’t want to pay for recorded music.

And what is recorded music? Music that has been thoughtfully written and crafted into a purposefully created finished form over the course of weeks or months.

What will people pay for? They will apparently pay for the output of celebrity musicians thrown together to complete the reality-show-like task of writing a song an hour over the course of one afternoon and evening.

I have nothing against the idea of unique real-time experiences, except, maybe, when they have shoved the possibility of thoughtful, purposeful creation off the stage entirely.

finding every possible way we can to foster the novel over the good

If the music industry is struggling and shrinking, maybe it’s not because of piracy after all, and maybe it’s not because of dinosaur business models that don’t know how to change. Maybe it’s because we’re busy finding every possible way we can to foster the novel over the good. Maybe it’s because, led by the harsh visions of this generation’s digital ideologists, we have come to believe in a world of innovation without end.

It’s actually a logical enough place for the music industry to end up. This is one industry that has shamelessly relied on novelty from the day that the wax cylinders first arrived in cardboard boxes in music stores. Fads have been fostered over and over again towards the crass end of selling crap to people who for one reason or another have been eager to buy it.

novelty crap was just something that came with the territory

But as long as there was also the potential for quality recorded music being produced and marketed, the novelty crap was just something that came with the territory. In the future some insist we are moving toward, in which no one pays for recorded music at all, the side effect has suddenly become very clear, thanks to this otherwise harmless trade show promotion.

We are left with music as novelty, music as short-attention-span fodder, music as a means to the perpetual end of pay-attention-to-me.

And yes, of course, musicians in general have always been an attention-seeking contingent. In the past, the music was offered as proof that someone was worthy of the attention they were seeking. And we the audience stopped paying attention if the music didn’t ultimately warrant it.

Now the veil has been lifted. Without even a little pretense left that we are interested in quality or have any intention of paying for it, musicians are free to seek attention for the sake of seeking attention, and prop the mechanism up with all the perpetual novelty they or their publicists can conjure.

If this sounds like fun for you then you are potentially in for a golden age. Anyone who loves to crow about how the traditional recording industry’s so-called cash cow (namely, recorded music) has been tossed on the scrap heap of bygone products, welcome to your future.

The rest of us, however, may sincerely want to avoid this future. I have no interest in propping up dinosaur business models or perpetuating an industry that has thrived on unfair practices.

But I would also much rather pay for the output of an artist who has thought long and hard about his or her art and can offer an end product enlivened by quality and care, heart and soul, than for the titillation of one passing moment in time. However unique, however novel.


Jeremy Schlosberg curates the music recommendation blog fingertipsmusic.com and periodically writes fine essays on the miasma that is the post-Napster music industry.
Waveform Image by Salvatore Vuoni
The above post has been edited from the original.

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