The only guarantee is change.
Music is more contested right now than a Steph Curry layup. The same words keep coming up in discussion: Streaming, playlists, distribution, sampling, platforms, tech. Along with every other subject that’s been picked apart until it’s unrecognizable.
But if those words define right now what words will define tomorrow? More importantly, in what ways will they shape how the future sounds?
Music isn’t static. It’s always moving, growing, and morphing. It’s a conversation that changes every day—sometimes every second. You might not hear these words specifically.
But I guarantee they’ll be at the core of every conversation about music for the next ten years.
Hearing something new—Nothing beats it. You just know the second that timbre hits. Or the second that swing signature sinks in on a drum track.
You always have that criteria in your head. And when a new song checks off all the boxes the feeling is incredible.
It’s called discovery. And whether you know it or not it’s in the driver’s seat of the music industry right now. Discovery is becoming a question of ‘what finds your ears’ instead of ‘finding something for your ears.’ For better or worse the ritual is changing. Largely because of services that learn what you love and suggest more based on your tastes.
Suggested discovery is great. It’s like having your own personal record digger who brings a few records home every week.
I know what you’re saying: “how will this define the future? It’s already here.” Let me explain.
It comes down to ease of use and passive listening. If the exact song you always want to hear comes on without you having to do anything it’s easier to just let it play without thinking; Easier to neglect digging deeper into an artist or a sound. The long term effect of having everything you love is consequential right? Or maybe I hate paradise. Who knows?
Knowing what you like is just as important as knowing what you don’t like.
Discovery is step 1 of inspiration. Knowing what you love takes time. I’ve been actively pursuing new music for 15 years and I’m still not sure what I like. And I hope that I never will. There were some periods along the way that just weren’t me (like my brief stint as a Slipknot fan in my early teens).
So then the discussion becomes about listener awareness. The part of listening that you get to keep control of is you. Even if you’re getting your discovery served up on a silver platter, keep questioning everything. If you like something ask yourself ‘why?’ Take time to know the history of the music you love. Otherwise we’re doomed to surf on a superficial super stream of pristine polished discovery.
Hey Spotify, any chance you can play something I find awful every once in awhile? Just to keep me on my toes. Thanks.
Passive listening is dangerous. Listening is always good. But active listening is what pushes things forwards. The future of music will depend on the long term effects automated discovery has on inspiration and creation.
dog·ma /noun – a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.
All music is a series of choices. It’s what you listen to, how you make it, what you use to make it.
So what choices do we have right now?
Well, there’s billions. And as tools evolve and processes grow the choices expand exponentially.
The future sounds good right? Infinite choices, the luxury of every tool in seconds and the potential of no limitations!
But sadly that future won’t matter. At least right now. Music creation is often oppressed by narrow vision—by believing that there is one ‘best’ way to do something. Our dogma kicks in before we even try what we’re dismissing. Let’s face it, clinging on to a technique you learned in 1998 and trashing every other one sight unseen is naive.
This is nothing new either. I’ve been guilty of it myself tons of times. Finding a way to do something and then deeming it the ONLY way to do it. Opinions of this kind are everywhere. And 5 minutes on any music discussion forum will show you: dogma doesn’t just create disagreements, they create flat out anger. The truth is:
Music production is severely limited by dogma.
Opinions on technique need to be fluid, open and adaptable. Keep your own definition of ‘best’ but constantly re-think it. The only way to take advantage of the future we are creating is to keep an open mind and an open ear. Sure, you can get really really good at walking the main path. But so will everyone else. The true pioneer veers from the trail often in the pursuit of exploring every choice.
Growth and comfort don’t get along.
All the choices, tools and resources waiting on the horizon simply won’t matter. Unless of course we take off the blinders and explore the potential that we’ve collectively created. Hopefully the word dogma will define the next 10 years of music. But only because we all chose to leave it behind.
Creativity is a right not a privilege. So shouldn’t tools for creators be accessible to everyone? It’s a simple concept. And one that should be obvious throughout music. But it isn’t yet.
Slowly the shackles of inaccessibility are melting away.
Recent technological innovations have made expensive gear and processes virtual—and in turn more accessible. Just look at the sheer volume of free VSTs out there. What was once $2000 retail is now completely free to anyone with an idea and a DAW. Distribution and publishing platforms like SoundCloud and Bandcamp have eliminated the middle man and put music promotion power back into the artists hands.
And who could forget the laptop. That one thing that has arguably done more for accessibility than anything else. Studios that once cost millions to build and maintain—resulting in thousands of dollars in rental fees for artists—now fits comfortably in your backpack. The laptop and DAW software have democratized music in ways we couldn’t imagine 20 years ago.
What a time to be alive.
New alternatives are emerging everywhere is music. The once dark art of mastering is enjoying an entire re-thinking thanks to advancements in accessibility. Online educational content is limitless. Production and mixing tutorials have flattened the learning curve for even the most advanced music techniques. Apps that listen to your playing and provide real-time feedback aren’t science-fiction any more. There’s even a robot guitar that tunes itself. It’s hefty price tag (about $4000) isn’t exactly accessible. But i’d be willing to bet that a cheaper version is just around the corner:
There’s no reason to think that the trend of accessibility won’t continue into the near and distant future. Music literacy is expanding, tools and resources free up more time for creating, and ultimately, more music is made. And guess what? When the trend continues the future will be even more accessible. Which means even more of the more.
You create a community with music, not just at concerts but by talking about it with your friends. – David Byrne
Your music community is your tribe. It’s a source for inspiration, guidance, collaboration. But the part of community that’s rapidly changing is the face to face interaction.
Don’t get me wrong, all those friends you have that stay up ’til 3AM arguing about which Cocteau Twins album is the best are VERY important. But community isn’t as physically rooted as it once was.
These spaces are just as real as any community you’d find in reality.
In fact, the reach that online spaces give artists is eclipsing real-life reach. And the participation that chat functions and archiving provides enriches the whole experience.
The original concept of live streaming the performance space has grown since early DIY ideas. Boiler Room is now a global channel that live streams sets from everywhere. One look at their archives proves the new reach of community. Facebook and YouTube are both pushing their live video streaming hard as well. Resident Advisor recently streamed sets on Facebook live from Sonar festival to a massive global audience. Giving access to communities across the world who wouldn’t normally be able to travel or afford to attend a festival like sonar. These spaces let all events be part of the conversation.
These types of streams will never replace the unifying effect of real performance.
But the result of online community interaction will be micro-genres, movements, and music makers sharing common ideas way more than we already do (that’s a lot).
Mass online collaboration and community won’t water down music. It will make it more unique. The creative space will expand. And so will the diversity of our sounds through open idea exchange and conversation.
Being there without being there is the future.
5. (To Be Determined)
No one knows the full future. And that’s comforting. It’s what makes music incredible. Anything can happen and it could be right now.
Do you think the music industry could have predicted Napster? Absolutely not. Did anyone predict that streaming would surpass physical sales 20 years ago? That’s gotta be a no too.
So I’m leaving this one blank. It’s an homage to every 180 the music industry has ever made. And a celebration of every 180 to come.
Ask me in 10 years what it was and i’ll fill in the blank for you. But until then, take advantage of right now and tomorrow.
‘Cause there’s never been a better time to sit down and make something than right now.