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Music, Reflections

Networking is Everything: Is the digital revolution damaging music communities?

I’m currently getting rid of a whole load of my bulkiest belongings.  I have been wanting to cut down on the amount of clutter I own, mainly because if I have to move house at any point it will be a complete nightmare transporting all the ‘stuff’ I have accumulated in recent years.  Amongst those items destined for eBay are two large Ikea CD racks, a mini pool table, a vintage television, and my pride and joy – a Marshall JCM2000 amplifier head with accompanying 4×12 cabinet speaker.

I’m sad to see the amp and cab go.  During my gigging days, as I performed around the UK as guitarist in the progressive metal band Marconi’s Voodoo, that combo served me well.  It had a fantastically big, crunchy sound, which was just what I was looking for in those days when my greatest pleasure was to bash out riff after riff at high volume.  But eBay now beckons, and before I sell my beloved amplifier, I want to make sure it’s still in good working order, as it’s been a few years since I plugged a guitar into it.  It has been so long, in fact, that I don’t even have a guitar lead or speaker cable in my home any more!  So a trip to the local music shop was necessary.

On my way to the Northcote Music Shop (my local independent music shop) I was thinking a bit about live music, and music in general, and how much things are changing in the music industry.  When I was working in the music industry, between about 2003 and 2007, independent music stores were already in decline (physical record sales were falling drastically), but there were still a large number of record stores clinging on for dear life.  You still had indie music stores that were the hub of the local music community.  I used to work in one such shop, Modern Music, which sold instruments upstairs and CDs downstairs.  It really was the centre of the musical community in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, where I grew up.

Countless indie record stores proceeded to shut down as the digital revolution swept in, and it was sad to see Modern Music amongst the many casualties of the dramatic shift within the industry.  And what went, along with the physical presence of the store, was the community hub that the shop represented.  With so few music shops remaining in the UK, other than instrument specialists, I can’t help but wonder whether the community aspect of music is suffering?

As consumers increasingly look to the internet as a place to discover and buy music, are the physical interactions being taken out of musical exploration, and is this detrimental to music communities?  I wonder how many bands have formed through chance meetings in independent music shops, whilst one person was purchasing a CD, another trying out a guitar, and another trying out a drum kit?

Maybe I am getting my knickers unduly in a twist here, for there is no evidence that I have seen that shows musical instrument sales are in decline.  It is the physical products of recorded music that have seen the major downturn in sales.  But on the other hand, isn’t it possible that more and more instrument shops will close, as bargain hunters look to the digital world for guitars, drum kits, and pianos?  If this is the case, then there is somewhat of a cloud over the future of those chance meetings that lead people into the relationships from which bands form.  Without the community hub of music stores, there is much less opportunity for musicians to  interact, other than chance meetings at gigs perhaps or virtual discussions on online message boards.

Will music suffer as a result of the digital revolution?  Will the price we pay for digital convenience be that there is a drought of musical talent in the future?  Maybe my estimations are too extreme, and it may well be that human beings have music in their blood, and will always seek out ways of connecting with others and forming bands.  But it is impossible to deny that the music industry’s revolution continues to challenge musical conventions.  I only hope that in the digital age, everything works out for the best.

Northcote Music Shop didn’t have any speaker leads in stock when I went in this afternoon, so it looks like I’ll be heading back in again tomorrow morning after the shopkeeper has had a chance to visit their stock warehouse and pick one up for me.  Would it have been easier to have ordered it online?  Perhaps, but then I would have one less contact in the music industry.  And as we all know, in music, as in so many industries, networking is everything.

About Steven Colborne

Philosopher and author from Oxford, England.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Networking is Everything: Is the digital revolution damaging music communities?

  1. That is an interesting question. I have thought about music stores going out, I always just thought about cd sales but not the community aspect of the shops. It is definitely one less place to meet up with other musicians, but I would argue that the new ways in which we can meet people through the internet outweighs the loss here. My first thought is craigslist, my understand is that people try to set up bands through there. Although my wife tells me that craigslist has gone out of favor lately it is still a place that some groups will find each other, and I’m sure there is something else to fill it’s place (probably something I haven’t heard of yet). Out of curiosity, I checked meetup.org and found a jam session near my house in 2 days. This could have been random luck, but I would bet there are groups like this quite often.

    Although things have changed as you have outlined well, I think the future is bright.

    Posted by Hausdorff | February 18, 2012, 5:28 am
  2. Many thanks for your interesting comment. I hope that you’re right and that the internet is an opportunity for music groups to form, rather than a hindrance. Best wishes, Steven

    Posted by Steven | February 18, 2012, 3:55 pm

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