Sunday, April 25, 2010

random notes: Madonna, music industry, intellectual property, and generation x

To be prepared for his everyday job, a sound engineer I know often plays Madonna's American Life. "I'm not a fan of Madonna, but this is very effectively mixed," he says. Nor am I, but...the beauty of this album is its economy. The instruments are cleanly articulated, like the skeleton without the flesh: even when the chorus or the strings appears it does not fill up the space, but gives no impression that it lacks something. Some may call it thin, but I feel the density especially the bass and the guitar are blended. Every track has clear structure, with the lyrics easy to follow even for those who are not native English speaker.
Though I don't know much about Madonna, I've heard that this album is exceptional, for the relatively poor sales by her standards and the frequent use of (often acoustic) guitar. For my ears, this guitar sometimes sounds more electric than any other electric instruments or the effects. It comes across as not only comfortable, but also mysteriously clean. That's the punctum for me.
I wonder if this kind of engineering is possible for only big record companies. I guess it is. Then, if the trend of the declining record industry's revenue continues, will this kind of engineering disappear, or become available for poorer musicians because of the prices to hire good engineers and good studio going down?
I read an article titled The Freeloaders by Megan McArdle appearing in The Atlantic. The author is the business and economic editor of the magazine. She says the music industry (which is, actually, the record business) is in a crisis and young file-sharer are to blame, calling them "Generation Free." What she thinks as the solution is innovation of a new hardware like 3D, which is harder to reproduce at home.
I understand she doesn't really care about music, but mourns the shrinking market. She says, "To be sure, today's 20-something file-sharer may someday pay $200 to watch Vampire Weekend rock the Astrodome. Or maybe not; the Internet tends to fragments audiences. Generation X, of which I am a member, was probably the last to grow up with the Top 40 and only a few TV stations--and the kind of common taste that this structure instilled. The bounty of the World Wide Web encourages niche interests." She doesn't actually mind if artists starve. Her interests are, as a business writer, competition and profit: "This fragmentation has been good news for performers, like Jonathan Coulton, who makes a decent living selling quirky songs and related merchandise on his Web site. But the broader music industry, like other entertainment fields, has always worked on a tournament model; a lot of starving artists hoping to be among the few make it big."
I found the article through Disquiet, which criticizes McArdle's simplistic view and also points out young people are paying much, if not for the contents, for hardwares, such as mobile phone, computer, the internet, iPod, and frequently uploaded gadgets. At this moment, Japanese companies are trying hard to sell 3D TV. In an electrical bargain store I saw a man with his body painted blue standing by the 3D TV which was of course screening Avatar, talking to the customers. But the marketers say they need more contents because "There is no point to watch a reality show in 3D." The mediums, mediums, mediums...
I'm also Generation X, but I'm interested in more what kind of culture is being made, than mourning the "common taste" of the 1980s. Will Pop end? Maybe not. I don't know. Maybe this Pop thing as a historical project started roughly between the 1880s and the 1920s and will end someday. But I really don't know.
Weeks ago, Malcolm Mclaren died. It is well-known that he was influenced by Situationist. The jacket of Never Mind the Bollocks was made in this manner. He once said he appropriated some songs and made them "better." But this kind of attitude was not new.
The notion of intellectual property in music is ambiguous. Whose property is it? Who is the most creative among singer-songwriter, arranger, producer, engineer, and CEO? If only melody and chord are considered, any song can be plagiarism. Bop musicians played the game with intellectual property, appropriating the harmony structure of hit songs and embedded another title on it. Tonality may be, say, a common property.
Additionally, many classical composers didn't try to invent a novel melody, but tried hard to give a novel structure to the melodies they found. What's the difference between our contemporaries and them?
I don't know how to define Pop. It may be a very capitalistic project, and it ever mourns very Romantic notion of genius of individual artist, originality, and artistic autonomy (rock music has full of legends including of Malcolm Mclaren, even who appeared to deny such notions). Mocking and criticizing capitalism is very part of Pop:

Madonna - American life (Director's cut)

VIDA | MySpace Video

Well, I actually like American Life.
It's a pity she self-censored the video. I imagine if Joni Mitchell started her career in the 1980s, she could have been like Madonna or Cindy Lauper:

No comments:

Post a Comment