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Against Perfection: Musicians no longer seem to know what music is

45 RPM Vinyl Record

For the record, music is not recorded music. A photograph of a painting is not a painting. A video of a play is not a play. Seeing a symphony in person is not the same as listening to a CD. In point of fact, the digital itself is a copy at it’s origin, it never inhabits time the same way as the performing arts. The digital replicates without effort, cost, talent or skill. Compare and contrast to performing music live, acting in a play, painting a new work.

Because a large industry has grown up around selling recordings, the recordings are often confused with the thing recorded. Of course there are recorded works that only exist as recordings and cannot actually be performed. Then there are records put out by musicians who can’t actually play their music live. But once these recordings exist in digital format, it’s nothing to make an extra copy or two. Or ten thousand or a million.

The great thing about music is that it’s different every time. That’s why we go to see plays and operas we’ve seen before, see bands we’ve seen before. It was the recording industry that taught consumers that there was only one version of a song, the one they were selling. And that was the moment where musicians were cut off from their music. Recordings create an artificial kind of perfection that stands outside of life. Life is imperfect, filled with mistakes, errors, moments of passion and virtuosity. Recordings can simulate the depth of life, but cannot capture the living.

As the cost of making and distributing recordings continues to approach zero, musicians need to understand what the digital means to them. It could mean you’ve got many versions of the same song: the unplugged version, the one you did in Austin, the desperate one you recorded in that little club in New York. The one where that great harmonica player sat in and changed the way you thought about the melody. It could mean multiple mixes, it could mean letting the fans create their own mixes. Or even computer-generated random mixes. Let a thousand flowers bloom and capture all the beautiful moments of imperfection in all their glory.

Published in economics markets money music performance value