Forget the stage, get on to online platforms

Music, as we know it, has changed. Preferences have changed, as have tastes for specific genres. Music-making has become easier, with self-publishing applications and digital services on the rise. The Internet has even produced some musical sensations that are making the transition to the stage.

This also means that the term ‘celebrity musician’ may soon become a thing of the past. Fame, at best, is temporary. As is ‘relevance’, a concept that many musicians obsess about. YouTube has already replaced the radio, Netflix holds sway given its vast reserves of original content, and platforms such as Spotify are the new musical arenas. This has meant rethinking the rules of the game, and the need for artistes to reinvent themselves to suit the information super highway.

As we sit in front of the small screen (or at Chepauk), watching the match, we are being told by our phones and tablets about the latest releases in the field of music. Other than for a minority, the happenings in the hallowed halls of the classical arts are but a blur unless it is repackaged for the online space. My favourite examples are interventions such as B.C. Manjunath’s complex rhythm series and Jayanthi Kumaresh’s web lectures (‘Cup O’Carnatic’), which have gone viral. The future will be sites such as Udemy, Masterclass or Manoke’s newly launched learning platform — various web-based applications that facilitate musical knowledge sharing.

But if you were to think that simply having a ‘web version’ or an ‘e-magazine’ does the trick. Think again, as these terms themselves are now at least a decade old. The use of VR/AR (Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality), artificial-intelligence enhanced web applications, a host of compositional software and collaborative technologies have ensured that our experience of music and performances are fast changing. A successful installation of this kind is at the Indian Music Experience Museum, Bengaluru, which has created a buzz.

Against this backdrop, I thought I would survey the most important trends worldwide as listed by music industry experts.

To start with, radio as an industry will have to think again about its survival (remember the song ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ by The Buggles in 1979?) as younger audiences worldwide are turning to streaming services such as YouTube (a stream does not require you to download a song or an album, but instead listen to it from the web location where it is hosted). With AI powering customisation and preferences, a near-ubiquitous wi-fi, is the present and the future.

Since we now have the facility for artistes to create their own labels (CD Baby for example, is one such service), and successfully produce and distribute their content online, existing music companies will have to rethink the services they will offer. For instance, do they have personnel that can help mentor artistes and help them brand themselves successfully? If the sole criteria for selecting artistes is their being ‘viral sensations’, how do they propose to spot new talents?

The ‘album,’ as such, will soon become a redundant idea. Most listeners zero in on singles or specific tracks that they like, and enjoy a mix-and-match panoply on their streaming/listening devices. It would be highly short-sighted to say “these things won’t affect us”, and retire into our cubby holes with old CD or Vinyl collections.

For a musician navigating this ocean of technology, it will be challenging to keep himself afloat. Only the adaptive will survive!

The writer is a well-known pianist and music educator

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