from the a-little-perspective dept
Music predates agriculture. That’s something I suppose I always knew, but had never thought about in such clear terms until Bryan Kim illustrated it in a talk at SFMusicTech with a photo of a 35,000-year-old bone flute. This places music before farming and written language on the timeline of humanity, right alongside the earliest known cave paintings in Europe, at the very least. By comparison, recorded music has only been around for a little over a century.
Viewed in that light, the idea that recordings are the central, defining aspect of music or the music industry is just plain ridiculous. Between that ancient flute and today, there have been plenty of different successful models for funding music. Kim points out that the one common thread throughout, which continues today, is that music’s primary function is more community-building than anything else:
For most of human history, music was a public and participatory experience, inextricably linked to a plural of people synched in a real-time experience. As a binding agent of dancing and singing bodies, music could literally manifest community. And lest you think our modern society has evolved beyond the tribal utility of music, just think of religious services, major sporting events, weddings, nightclubs, road trips… when was the last time you attended one of these without some sort of collective music ritual?
In many ways, music is the original social network. This makes musicians founders of community. In a networked world, that’s powerful.
I found all this especially fascinating because of the conclusion Kim reached, and the model he’s dubbed “crowd patronage” for supporting music going forward, combining the traditions of busking and of wealthy patrons that have been dominant in virtually all periods of history and, likely, pre-history. The idea is that you need an “ecosystem of fans” and then they will support you in exchange for “relationship access”. It is, essentially, the same as what we’ve been calling CwF+RtB here at Techdirt. Using Kickstarter as an example, Kim elaborates:
Just like in the era of patronage, pledgers are usually not buying a commodified product. The most successful music Kickstarter projects sell you one or more of three “values”: 1) access to artist (as discussed above), 2) exclusivity and 3) recognition/participation (especially for artist’s creation).
So we’re going to see more artists open up the creation process to their fanbase. Everything from crediting fans in the liner notes, to tracking fans’ recorded sounds as real stems, to skyping and polling fans during studio sessions.
As a musician, it’s already technically possible to do this. In the next few years, we’re going to find it become more culturally acceptable on both the artist and fan side. More importantly, artists are going to start finding which sorts of packages their fans actually buy, etching out the contours of a new crowd patronage “model”.
It’s great to see more people reaching this conclusion, and especially interesting to see it approached from a broader historical perspective: crowd patronage or CwF+RtB is only a new or radical concept when viewed through the narrow lens of recorded music’s few decades of dominance. In the bigger picture, it’s actually a return to music’s roots as a community tool and a tribal experience. Recorded music is still a fantastic thing that has enriched our lives and our culture in its own way—but the notion that music cannot thrive without the commoditization of discrete units doesn’t withstand an ounce of scrutiny. The next time someone suggests such a thing, remind them that humans were carving flutes out of bone 20,000 years before the last ice age ended, when glaciers were still creeping towards the Great Lakes and consuming all of the British Isles, and the last few Neanderthals were still roaming around Europe. It sure makes CDs and records seem a tad less significant.