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Music’s New Conundrum: Too Much Choice?

3rd October 2007 @ 7:30 pm - 10:00 pm

Venue: The Basement, PRS for Music, Copyright House

TOPIC

Whereas the public once received their weekly dose of music via the all-important Top 40 and Top of the Pops, they are now faced with a head-spinning level choice.  Specific artists and works, no matter how obscure, can be accessed almost instantaneously via the magic of t’Internet.  And TOTP’s own demise is growing evidence that the ‘old guard’ of trusted mass musical filters and channels are becoming less relevant in an age where people are free to follow their own paths into the musical wilderness, rather than swallow the industry’s prescribed diet.

Most people would agree that choice is a good thing, but there is a flipside to this vision of a musical consumerist’s paradise.  While aficionados and geeks might relish the challenge of judging vast swathes of music for themselves (choosing, aggregating and selecting between an array of filters, e.g. Pandora, Pitchfork, online communities), would more casual consumers (and thus the public majority) not prefer a bit of guidance, not just in terms of the music itself but also in terms of which filters are to be trusted?

When the consumer is king and we can access over 420,000 rock acts and 400,000 hip hop acts via MySpace alone, can we really be expected to sort the wheat from the chaff amidst the clamour of a thousand different advisory voices?  The demise of PeopleSound “the world’s biggest music showcase” proved the role of the tastemaker isn’t redundant just yet.

There’s always the charts, which provide one of the sole musical focal points for the press at large.  But with declining single sales and the demise of TOTP, they arguably aren’t as important as they were ten years ago.  Or is there a case for a more broadly-based popularity chart, which takes into account airplay and some of the latest stats from the likes of Shazam and Last.fm in a bid to provide a truer barometer of musical popularity?

Would such a radical overhaul represent an improvement for Joe Public?  And would it enable the non-specialist media (with its profound hold over the general public’s cultural perception) to better serve its readers’ musical needs?

More generally, are we witnessing a hype explosion in this DIY age where the zero-to-hero transition can seemingly take a matter of days?  No longer is a new act necessarily required to hone their craft through years of graft on the circuit, praying for a visit from the major-label A&R man.  Now a quirky home-made video or a few trendy London lyrical motifs can guarantee success (if not longevity).  If hype is everything, can more be done to try to ensure the real cream is developed and rises to the top, so that the general public is serviced with the best possible music?

Or is  this supposed ‘quest for quality’ made redundant by the process of democratisation, whereby millions of previously mute (and possibly very talented) bedroom artists are given a voice?  And were we ever really provided with the best the talent pool have to offer?  In the words of esteemed producer and Columbia Co-Chairman Rick Rubin:  “Until very recently, there were a handful of channels in the music business that the gatekeepers controlled…. if you had something that wasn’t so good, through muscle and lack of other choices, you could push that not very good product through those channels.”

So…do we, the masses, need a cabal of ‘experts’ to cut through the noise and show us where the real artistry is?  Or are we finally, in the midst of the digital age, big enough and old enough to make these choices on our own?


SPECIAL OFFER: Those attending this event will be able to purchase the following panellists’ books on the night, directly from the publisher.

PLEASE NOTE: These prices are for seminar attendees only, who make a purchase on the night.  MusicTank does not benefit from this arrangement.

cult The Cult Of The Amateur – Andrew Keen

RRP £12.99, seminar price £10

The very anonymity that Web 2.0 offers calls into question the reliability of the information we receive and creates an environment in which sexual predators and identity thieves can roam free. While no Luddite – Andrew Keen pioneered several Internet startups himself – he urges us to consider the consequences of blindly supporting a culture that endorses plagiarism and piracy and that fundamentally weakens traditional media and creative institutions.

net Net, Blogs & Rock’n’Roll – David Jennings

RRP £14.99, seminar price £12

As digital convergence promises to make every track available, discovering new and interesting material becomes an anarchic process. ‘Net, Blogs and Rock’n’Roll’ examines how fan communities interact with new developments in recommendation systems, wikis and Web 2.0 to make sense of the digital discovery journey.

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