Tag: digital music distribution

Decolonizing Our Music

During one of the breaks at the COMTA conference at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico in San Juan, a group performed Andean traditional music on double bass, harp, guitars, panpipes, and percussion.
Ed. Note: The essay below was presented, in a slightly different form, as the final keynote address at the “Decolonizing Music” conference presented by the Music Council of the Three Americas (Consejo de la música de las Tres Americas – COMTA) at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico in San Juan.—FJO

Colonization rears its ugly head whenever there is “globalization.” In the 1500s, several European nations were aggressively globalizing, especially Spain, and especially in the Americas. At the time of Christopher Columbus’s westward wanderings, the Americas already had strong indigenous cultures. There was a great fondness for music and dancing, especially for rituals and celebrations.

Alongside the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors came the arrival of Catholic missionaries. The militaries with their governments and the churches with their faith began the process of colonization and, with it, they brought Western music and culture. While indigenous music and Western music have coexisted for sure, Western music became preeminent as the government and the church often imposed a rigid adoption of Western ways, much to the detriment of indigenous music.

Companies with the financial resources and the political clout often impose a uniformity on the consumption of the music they believe is popular and therefore profitable.

The same is true today with digital colonization. The companies with the financial resources and the political clout often impose a uniformity on the consumption of the music they believe is popular and therefore profitable. Given the ubiquity of their total command of the internet, the “world” becomes their colony and the “popular” tastes rule, again to the detriment of the indigenous music, but also to art music and to any other music with a limited audience and appeal.

This scenario has forced indigenous music and even our beloved “classical” music into competing with everything—sports, popular music, even each other.  Unfortunately, indigenous music and classical music were never intended to compete.  In an April 4, 2003 London Financial Times article entitled “Out of Tune,” music critic Andrew Clark postulated that, throughout most of its history, classical music had been able to flourish through a mixture of patronage (government, corporations, private philanthropy) and paternal influence on public policy (e.g. “classical music is good for you”).  Now, neither patronage nor paternalism is certain or sufficient.  Today, corporate, private, and governmental philanthropy continues to decline.  And no one can stand before a Board of Education and use the argument that music must be in the curriculum because it’s good for us.  So now we as supporters of indigenous and classical music are trying to compete where we were never intended to compete in the first place—in the sphere of popular culture.  Add to that mix what Clark describes as “the overwhelming evidence that classical music spent most of the past century in creative implosion, and there seem justifiable grounds for panic.” We face quite a challenge. But back to decolonization.

The common thread of colonization, whether it’s the old kind of colonization or the new, is an “either/or” mentality. One music reigns supreme, while the other is neglected at best or dies away at worst. The either/or colonial approach is not healthy or even desirable for a flourishing culture. Thus, the necessity to “decolonize” our music.

Decolonizing music involves a conscious decision to move away from an “either/or” “colonial” mentality to a “both/and” “decolonized” mentality.

Decolonizing music involves a conscious decision to move away from an “either/or” “colonial” mentality to a “both/and” “decolonized” mentality. Decolonizing music, however, is not about replacing one style or genre with another. Replacing colonial music with indigenous music only perpetuates the either/or mentality that has always been destructive to music, just with a different style becoming preeminent. We must be open and accepting of new music as well as old, of classical music as well as popular, improvised as well as notated, and on it goes.

The great music historian Donald J. Grout, in his magnum opus A History of Western Music, framed this concept in very vivid terms. He observed that “reconciliation of the new with the traditional is the task that confronts every artist in his own generation, and one that can be avoided only at the price of artistic suicide.” Grout’s comments are directed at purely musical issues during the transition between the late Renaissance and the early Baroque. However, the parallels to the issue of “decolonization” are unmistakable.

In order to adequately and effectively “decolonize” music, we must become “reconcilers” or, to use a musical term, “harmonizers.” We must reconcile the new with the traditional, affirming the “both/and” and dismissing the “either/or.” We should not let our traditions swallow up the new, but we should not allow the new to swallow up our traditions. Both the new and the traditional are vital to a healthy state of musical and cultural affairs. We must maintain a creative tension between our traditions on the one hand, and the new on the other.

Our greatest and most immediate challenge will be how we deal with technology. As we all know, the digital age is upon us, utterly transforming all of society with a new cyber-reality.

One of the gurus of contemporary thought is Nicholas Negroponte, a professor and founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Negroponte describes the technological revolution in terms of a shift from atoms to bits; that is, a shift from the importance of material objects to the supremacy of digital information. All of life, music included, is in the process of digital transformation. Hence, the description by Swedish composer and acting CEO of the Swedish performing rights society Alfons Karabuda of the newest form of conquering “space.” Not the kind of “space” associated with Star Trek and its motto “To boldly go where no man has gone before,” but the infinite space of the internet and, as Alfons described it, “digital colonization.” The conquering of digital space has shifted colonization from countries to companies. In the past, it was countries like Britain, France, and Spain who amassed land colonies across the world. Today it is companies like Apple, Google, and YouTube (which is owned by Google) who are the great colonizers of digital space, especially in music.

In the past, it was countries like Britain, France, and Spain who amassed land colonies across the world. Today it is companies like Apple, Google, and YouTube (which is owned by Google) who are the great colonizers of digital space, especially in music.

Yes, technology is the driving force today. Technological innovations have changed the way we work and live and think. We cannot imagine our lives without computers or the internet. But neither can we imagine life, especially musical life, without personal interactions, human conversation, or, for that matter and very important for me, music studios without a living, breathing teacher.

Prominent technology essayist and literary critic Sven Birkerts warns, “I would urge that we not fall all over ourselves in our haste to filter all of our experiences through circuitry.” Otherwise, he says, the end result of cyber-reality may well be loss of meaning under a tide of endless information and computer bytes.

I know this was a long diversion into technology. But I believe it is central to our ability to be reconcilers. Technology and the internet open up all sorts of possibilities for “decolonized” indigenous music to be heard, experienced, and enjoyed by more people than ever thought possible. But at the same time, it presents a potent tool for “digital colonization” by the companies who control who and what gets heard and whose only motive is profit from the popular.

So, what is the point of all of this talk of decolonization and reconciliation? The point is that it is up to each of us individually and all of us collectively to ensure that both indigenous music as well as popular music flourishes. As individuals, we must adopt the decolonized reconciler mindset. More importantly, we must unify our message through the music organizations that represent us in each of our own countries, as well as around the world.

The central reason for all of our associations, societies, and councils is empowerment. As members of groups like these, we are able to exert an influence on these companies that control who and what gets heard in the media. This is not possible by individuals acting alone. To use a musical metaphor, organizations like the Music Council of the Three Americas and the International Music Council represent a unified voice, rather than several voices singing their own tunes. Individuals who act independently can become just noise that can be dismissed or played against each other by the companies and policy makers. A unified voice gets heard. And good things happen when groups of people are empowered to speak with one voice.

We must use the empowerment and collective strength of all of us who are committed to “decolonizing” music, to reconciling the new with the traditional, to changing the paradigm from “either/or” to “both/and,” and to ensuring the viability and availability of all music to all people.

Photo of Gary Ingle

Gary Ingle. (Photo courtesy of MTNA)

Gary Ingle is the executive director and CEO of Music Teachers National Association in the United States, as well as the president of the National Music Council of the U.S. and a vice president of COMTA.

New Detroit Symphony Streaming Service Filled with New Music

Screen shot of Replay website featuring a photo of Sarah Chang holding a violin.

A screenshot from the DSO’s just launched Replay streaming archive. Note the full down menus for American repertoire and music by living composers as well as that the highlighted work is Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto.

This morning, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) launched Replay, an on-demand classical performance archive in HD featuring over 100 full-length classical works originally performed on the orchestra’s Live From Orchestra Hall webcast series. The archive will be refreshed with new content each week during the classical season. Members can browse content by composer, date, or through a rotating series of curated playlists such as “Living Composers,” “Made in America,” “Virtuoso Violin,” and many more.

“Thanks to Live From Orchestra Hall, lovers of great music have been able to enjoy our performances here in Detroit no matter where they may be,” said DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin. “Through Replay, they can relive these concerts whenever they would like.”

While works currently available for streaming cover virtually every era, there is a particularly generous amount of contemporary music available including works by 17 different living composers (among them 11 Americans) as well as 8 additional American repertoire classics including such rarities as Benjamin Lees’s Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra and Aaron Copland’s entire early ballet score Grohg. Among the recent compositions featured on the site are: Mason Bates’s Violin Concerto (with Anne Akiko Meyers), Gabriela Lena Frank’s Concertino Cusqueño, Missy Mazzoli’s River Rouge Transfiguration, Augusta Read Thomas’s Cello Concerto No. 3 (with Lynn Harrell), André Previn’s Double Concerto (with Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson), and Cindy McTee’s Solstice (featuring DSO Principal Trombonist Kenneth Thompkins).

All visitors to Replay can experience a free two-minute preview of any of the performances included in the archive, but already there are 5,000 annual fund supporters who are immediately eligible to use the new service to its full extent to see and hear all of these performances in their entirety. All patrons who join the annual fund with a gift of $50 or more will receive full access. The DSO is the first American orchestra to make its performance archive available on-demand. The DSO’s contract with its musicians grants permission to stream performances each week live and then replay that content for three years on demand. Prior to today, past Live From Orchestra Hall footage was only available through special encore broadcasts on dso.org/live or through YouTube clips. Live From Orchestra Hall is presented in partnership with Detroit Public Television, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ford Motor Company Fund. Replay’s streaming archive is made possible through hosting services provided by Brightcove, an online platform that offers CD-quality audio and video in 1080p HD resolution.

“Replay is an innovative use of Brightcove Gallery and positions the DSO as a leader among Brightcove customers using the product to engage and inspire audiences across any device,” said Linda Crowe, Vice President of Digital Marketing at Brightcove.

(–from the press release)

W3C Music Notation Community Group Launched

The official logo of the World Wide Web Consortium.

Composer Joe Berkovitz, CEO of the online music notation platform Noteflight, has announced the launch of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s Music Notation Community Group to develop and maintain format and language specifications for notated music used by web, desktop, and mobile applications. The group aims to serve a broad range of users engaging in music-related activities involving notation, and will document these use cases. The group has been created as the result of a partnership between MakeMusic (the company that owns the music notation software program Finale), the Hamburg-based music software and equipment company Steinberg, and Noteflight, which is owned by the Milwaukee-based Hal Leonard Corporation, the largest sheet music publisher in the world. According to Berkovitz, he and the two other founding group co-chairs—Michael Good (MakeMusic vice president of R&D and the inventor of the MusicXML format, which creates a standard interchange format for music notation applications) and Daniel Spreadbury (product marketing manager for Steinberg‘s in-development scoring application and, until 2012, the senior product manager for the notation software program Sibelius) are expecting to be joined by many others shortly.

“One never knows what a moment means when it occurs,” writes Berkovitz, “but this could be a significant point in the history of music representation. In the hope that this moment can be just such a point, I’ve been working towards it for some time.”

The coming together of these industry leaders in music technology as part of this think tank can completely change the way that written music is formatted, stored, and distributed—something that will have a great impact on both composers and the interpreters of their music.

Blogging MIDEM 2013: Part 3 – Ephemeral Playback

MIDEM 2013 is now officially over, but the last 36 hours seemed to have occurred in a kind of accelerated time continuum so it will probably take days to process everything that took place. Monday has been traditionally the most overloaded day during MIDEM, and Tuesday the quietest, and this year was no exception. On Monday, I spent most of the day frantically trying to catch parts of multiple simultaneously-occurring sessions, since there were so many potentially interesting discussions going on, but I haven’t had a moment to turn my experiences into hopefully coherent prose until Tuesday afternoon now that everything at MIDEM has pretty much ground to a halt.

Record Store Day Panel

The Record Store Day panel

(Monday, January 28, 2013)
I was hoping to catch a session on French music export that was scheduled to begin at 9:30am and run until 11am, but I didn’t get down to the Palais until 10 since the video of my talk with Kofi Amoakohene (posted yesterday) was still uploading and at that point there were two additional sessions I wanted to attend. The first was a press conference about Record Store Day 2013, a worldwide campaign to get consumers into record shops on April 20, 2013. The organizers for Record Store Day describe it as “the largest open source event in the world.” In previous years over 1600 independent record shops have participated and over 2 million people attended worldwide. According to Record Store Day Co-founder Michael Kurtz, President of the Department of Record Stores (USA), the event “is about rebuilding trust. Over the past 20 years there has been an erosion of trust between fans and the music industry, particularly the major labels.” Record Store Day is adamantly about small entrepreneurs and getting people excited about listening to new music through the process of discovery rather than a big business marketing campaign. David Godevais, director of CALIF (France) who is the organizer for Record Store Day in France (where it is called “Disquaire Day”) claimed that during last year’s event he had “never before seen so many people queuing for record stores.” But Kurtz stressed the importance of keeping it grass roots since that is the key to its success. “We can’t allow it to be taken over and glutted.” Another member of the panel (whose name was unfortunately not included in the program schedule) posited that the large chain stores ultimately led to the decline of consumer interest in record shopping and compared a good independent record store to a good local bakery.

But before the panel was over, I dashed out of the room and up a flight of stairs to catch part of a session on the future of collective rights management that was put together by GEMA, the German performing rights society. Current EU guidelines have transformed the spheres of influence of national performing rights societies as has the global digital music marketplace. But as Dr. Enjott Schneider (Composer and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of GEMA) opined, “We must operate with transparency, but if I look into the future I see Google and Apple, organizations with no transparency.” Austrian singer/songwriter Andy Baum described how the music business has turned into a rights business and sees the new model as a problematic one for creators, “Those who are trying to get the rights are not doing it for the benefit of the artist, that’s for sure.” Alexandra Thein, a Member of the European Parliament, commented that it will be not be easy to get a political majority to support tougher rights protections at this time since they all have to address the fair treatment of consumers. During the question and answer period, Robert Ashcroft, the chief executive for PRS (the British performing rights society) claimed that “sometimes it’s better to move forward than to defend where we are” and that “the main prize is a pan-European market that authors can actually make money in.”
From there I wandered into the presentation of the results of MIDEM Hack Day 2013 which I attended the launch of on Saturday. I only had time to hear about four of the newly created hacks, since there were so many sessions competing for my attention, but the one that grabbed me was called “Ephemeral Playback” which was created by a Barcelona-based hacker named Alasdair Porter. Basically, his device is an attempt to return scarcity to music. It allows you to listen to a single song only one time and then pass the file along to someone else to do the same. His goal is to create a chain of single-time listeners. While it’s ultimately anathema to a record collector like me, there’s something that is somehow intriguing about making the listening experience so precious at a time when it is so devalued. And in the midst of Monday’s marathon information overload on steroids, the concept seemed downright appealing.

Reissue Discussion

Pictured left to right: James Jolly, Jonathan Gruber, and Jerald Miller

But I had to move on to a discussion about how to revitalize classical and jazz back catalogs in the digital era. According to Jerald Miller, founder of Nu Jazz Entertainment (USA), “people in classical and jazz are always behind the eight ball.” Jonathan Gruber, director of Ulysses Arts (UK) claimed there is a “false distinction between streaming and downloading.” Although Miller countered that there’s a significant distinction in certain communities, “In New York we don’t drive so we don’t listen to XM radio; we’re in the subway.” However Gruber thought the more significant distinction that needs to be made is between listening to music for free (which is a chance for discovery we should encourage) and a deeper engagement through ownership, personalization, and collecting. Although most of the classical music that has been selling in the digital realm has been bundled introductory compilations, Gruber was optimistic that these could be a gateway to “premium product” in the future. Both, however, believed that the era of the lavish boxed set, which doesn’t really translate into the digital sphere, is over even though neither conceded that physical sales will completely disappear. Miller described the absurdity of a Miles Davis re-issue sold in a trumpet case. “Who is interested in that and can afford it? I don’t care about collectors; they have most of what they want. I want to reach new audiences.”

Next I trekked to the opposite side of the Palais to attend some of “Visionary Monday,” a whirlwind series of presentations, some of which only lasted 10 minutes, focusing on new technologies and new listening modalities. Robert Scoble, the startup liaison officer for Rackspace Hosting (USA) claimed we have entered a new “age of context” in which experiences will be transformed based on knowing customers in deep detail. Rather than sounding Orwellian alarms, Scoble was excited about how musical performances could be tailor made to specific audience members creating one-of-a-kind personalized experiences.

Then the winners of the MIDEM Lab were announced. The winner for music discovery, recommendation and creation was Instrumagic, developed by Eyal Eldar (Israel), which enables tablet users to play a virtual guitar without needing to learn the instrument. The app has a databank containing 200,000 licensed songs and users can play any of them by simply tapping on their tablets to trigger strums and chord changes. According to Eldar, 85% of people in the United States who don’t play a musical instrument wish that they did and now they can.

Virtual Air Guitar

Eyal Eldar performs “Roxanne” on his virtual air guitar.

Other winners were: Jamplify (USA), for marketing and social engagement; Stageit (USA) for direct to consumer sales and content management; and Audience FM (France), which was the overall prize. I was particularly taken with Stageit which enables artists to perform concerts from a webcam anywhere and collect listening fees as well as tips from people who listen in. This could be yet another alternative concert space for the most challenging new music since it is possible to build a significant audience for just about anything online. Whether online audiences are willing to pay, of course, is another matter, but according to Stageit’s Evan Lowenstein, some of his artists—who include Lisa Loeb and Rick Springfield—have been able to make $30K in 30 minutes.
I glided briefly into a two-hour presentation about electronic music at the MIDEM Academy. The main pearl of wisdom I gleaned from the short time I was there was from a YouTube representative on the panel (whose name is unfortunately not listed on the program schedule) who explained the positive relationship between YouTube and electronic music:

YouTube and electronic music sit very well together since YouTube is an electronic medium for distributing content. It is one of the most popular genres on the platform. They can fill venues with a thousand people on a couple of days’ notice through YouTube.

He then described a gig cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy that was done instead via webcam over the internet from hotel room. Of course since remuneration from YouTube is virtually non-existent (unless you’re Psy as someone pointed out during a session earlier in the week), this might be perfect fodder in the future for platforms like StageIt.

Making Digital Work For Classical Panel

Pictured left to right: James Jolly, Mickaël Arcos, and Jim Selby

Back to recorded music, I then rushed back to the Classical Discussion Lounge to hear a discussion about making digital work for classical music between Gramophone Editor-in-Chief James Jolly, Naxos of America CEO Jim Selby, and Mickaël Arcos, a software engineer for Abeille Musique in France. According to Arcos, there are “no shipping costs with digital so it’s very attractive.” But Selby asserted that “consumers ultimately make the decision about what they want.” He believes that the physical business has not gone away and will remain stable in the coming years. When Jolly asked if there was a way for free to be a viable option for distributing music, Selby was adamant:

There’s no free lunch. We have to be very careful about free and not let others build their businesses on the backs of other people’s content and not pay for it. We need commerce tied to free. I don’t get anything for free. If I don’t pay my cable bill, they’ll cut me off.


Slovak Music Information Centre director Ol’ga Smetanová lures me to stay at the Czech-Slovak party with slivovitz.

After that heated discussion, I attempted to head back to Visionary Monday but got waylaid by the Czech-Slovak party and the Lithuanian party. Wine, beer, and stronger drinks were plied to passers-by with abandon, in hopes that they would walk away with some interest in the music of those countries as well. These days, people seem reluctant to fill up their luggage with promotional CDs (I’m the exception to that rule, I know), but I continued to spot evidence of the work of the Vinylrecorder as I eventually found my way out of the exhibition hall.
I caught the very tail end of a debate about how the music industry handles innovation in which Robert Ashcroft of PRS was again part of the discussion. He talked about how PRS was the first performing rights society to license YouTube even though they were not happy with the terms. “I’m not gonna see myself as a dinosaur,” he exclaimed. “Apple is now making more in profit than the music industry ever did.”
I was frantically trying to write up the events of Sunday to share with readers here during most of this, so I wasn’t able to glean much else. I did, however, manage to catch Paul D. Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky)’s closing performance for Visionary Monday. I love those globe-spinning turntables!

DJ Spooky Closes Visionary Monday

DJ Spooky spins the globes to close Visionary Monday

Now it was concert showcase time. My energy was pretty zapped by that point, but I caught part of the opening act at Magic Mirrors, which was Endah N Resha, an Indonesian husband-and-wife folk duo who won the 2013 “Play MIDEM Live” competition. I hoped their music would incorporate some elements of gamelan, but it was pretty much pop-folk in an international context, although they briefly made a few sounds that were reminiscent of kejak, the traditional Balinese Ramayama monkey chant, and, at one point, seemed to be alluding to bola lap, an Indian music performance technique where tabla players call out rhythmic patterns.

Endah N Rhesa

Endah N Rhesa from Indonesia, winners of the 2013 Play MIDEM Live Competition.

Since there was a Congolese musician named Celeo scheduled to appear at The Establishment, another club several blocks away, I thought I should hear part of his set. Unfortunately, Celeo, like the other MIDEM attendees from Congo, was not allowed into the country. The club brought in a local singer/rapper who was originally from Congo named Uba. But since no other musicians could be brought in on such short notice he performed to a pre-recorded track, which was quite disappointing even though he had a nice voice. Perhaps even more disappointing was the fact that I was one of only three people in the audience.

I ended the night back at Morrison’s Irish Pub to catch part of the Canadian Showcase, which had been a performance highlight of MIDEM for me last year. This was the other extreme. It was so crowded I could barely maneuver my way in. I stayed to listen to a couple of songs performed by pop rock singer/songwriter Jesse Labelle and his band, but people kept pouring in and it was starting to feel extremely uncomfortable, so I called it a night.


Trying to breathe as Jesse Labelle and his band get announced at the Canadian showcase

There is still quite a bit to report about today’s activities, but I’ve been typing madly away for two hours and now need to go have dinner so it will have to wait. I fly back to North America tomorrow (first stopping home in NYC, then flying out to Winnipeg the following morning), but I will try to tell the rest of the story as soon as I can.