The rise of disposability in popular music

5 04 2011

There is a fundamental issues that has been brought about by the rapid development in technology over the last 15 years.  The one core instigator of the revolution and strife that is currently in the music industry and consumer market is ‘disposability‘.  Disposability is based around the idea that either technology or any type of media can be easily discarded due to the fact it has lost its value and is no longer wanted by the consumer.  The phenomenal progress of technology has not only made music depreciate more quickly, but has also made the technology itself very disposable as it is replaced by new developments on an almost monthly basis.

The roots of disposability in music today can be discovered in two different areas of development.  The first is the Internet and the second is the development of music production technology.  The Internet has facilitated the increase of fast downloading of music to people’s computers and as a consequence, because still the majority of music downloaded is not paid for, it appears to have less value to the consumer.  With this decrease in value, comes the mentality that music can be discarded as easily as yesterday’s newspaper.  The contents of the physical formats of music have changed little, however, while the explosion of content on the Internet has been its driving force.  People have come to expect more from their consumable media, music has consequently lost a lot of its inherent value.

It can be argued that regardless of the apparent loss of content in music compared to other forms of media, what is music apart from a collection of acoustic vibrations?  Therefore, what else should music provide apart from its constituent elements?  Since, the conception of music many thousands of years ago, people have enjoyed music in its pure live form and in the 20th Century, it could be enjoyed in recorded forms.  Music has had no need to complement itself with other practices apart from other legitimate art forms.  So, it can be argued that music has become disposable not because of the Internet but because of the reduced quality of the music itself, especially mass market contemporary popular music.  The relative merits of which will not be discussed further here.

In many ways, progress can be considered to be a vital part of the natural evolution of music.  Originally music would be recorded onto tape, and all studios were equipped with a similar type of equipment which meant that operation in whatever studio was relatively generic.  The rise of computing power opened up a whole new world in music production and recording.  The huge advances in digital audio and MIDI sequencing capabilities have made professional and amateur music making easier, more flexible and cheaper than ever before.  However, progress in this sector is accelerating at such a pace that music makers are in danger of being caught up in the shock waves caused by it.  Not a week goes by without a new piece of software being released that has yet another new development.  By the time a composer, producer or engineer has mastered one operating system, it is obsolete.  The recording media which is used for sound itself changes at such a rate that it is uncertain that there will be hardware players in a few decade’s time to playback the music of today’s formats.

Technology is not being exploited to its full potential before progressing, so the real needs of musicians can be clearly identified before the technology evolves to its next logical level.  When a piece of technology it being exploited to its full potential the musician is maximising the music potential in it and not just skimming the surface.   The Beatles, for example, were forced to improvise with the studio equipment in Abbey Road, forcing the maximum potential of their technology.  The Beatles’ producer George Martin was known to rewire a Farfisa organ to create new sounds and rewind echo tapes during a recording pass due to there not being enough tape in the echo machine.

There is little chance to consolidate music making.  Everybody is pushing to create something new, as with the Internet and forms of new media.  however, it seems few people want to maintain what is worthwhile.  So, it is no surprise that the music of today is as disposable as the technology it is created on.

By Nino Auricchio
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