Says James Tata:
In my dream, music pirating, by destroying the recording industry, and with it the concept of musicians getting paid for the recordings they have made, destroys the very concept of music recording. Instead of stars whose talent is primarily charisma rather than artistic substance, songwriters are the new stars, like they were when the music business consisted of sheet music publishers. Music then returns to its original state: if you want to listen, you have to be in the same room as the musicians. The ranks of paid performers swells–suddenly we all know several people who make a living singing or playing instruments. Musicians are as common as accountants. Better still, most of us spend a large part of our youth learning how to play instruments. The piano again furnishes every middle class home. And, because we are all so musically sophisticated, we never have to listen to disco during halftime at the Super Bowl again.
Needless to say, James has bought himself a ticket to Fantasy Island. But of course (as he says) it is a dream that he’s recounting, one in which he envisions an ideal state by whose imaginary coordinates we might steer a bit closer to something that might actually come to pass.
Like, say, what? Well, I wrote a long essay for A Terry Teachout Reader called “Life Without Records” in which I speculated about the possible effects of the coming collapse of the classical recording industry (which I foresaw several years ago) on the culture of classical music. Here’s some of what I wrote:
The collapse of the major classical labels and the rise of the Internet as a locus for decentralized recording activity will almost certainly prevent the re-emergence of anything remotely resembling the superstar system. What would classical music look like without superstars? A possible answer can be found by looking at classical ballet. Few ballet companies tour regularly, and some of the most important, like New York City Ballet, are rarely seen outside their home towns; videocassettes are a notoriously inadequate substitute for live performances, and thus sell poorly. For these reasons, the major media devote little space to ballet, meaning that there are never more than one or two international superstars at any given moment. Most balletgoers spend the bulk of their time attending performances by the resident companies of the cities in which they live, and the dances, not the dancers, are the draw. (It is The Nutcracker that fills seats, not the Sugar Plum Fairy.)
In the United States, regional opera works in much the same way. Only a half-dozen major American companies can afford to import superstars; everyone else hires solid second-tier singers with little or no name recognition, often using local artists to fill out their casts. Audiences are attracted not by the stars, but by the show–that is, by dramatically compelling productions of musically interesting operas. If the larger culture of classical music were to be reorganized along similar lines, then concert presenters, instead of presenting a small roster of international celebrity virtuosos, might be forced to engage a wider range of lower-priced soloists, possibly including local artists and ensembles with a carefully cultivated base of loyal fans. Similarly, regional symphony orchestras would have to adopt more imaginative programming strategies in order to attract listeners who now buy tickets mainly to hear superstar soloists play popular concertos in person. It is possible, too, that with the breakup of the single worldwide market created by the superstar system, we might see a similar disintegration of the blandly eclectic “international” style of performance that came to dominate classical music in the Seventies. Performers who play for the moment, rather than for the microphones of an international record company primarily interested in its bottom line, are less likely to play it safe–and more likely to play interesting music.
In the midst of these seemingly endless uncertainties, one aspect of life without records is not only possible but probable: henceforth, nobody in his right mind will look to classical music as a means of making very large sums of money. Of all the ways in which the invention of the phonograph changed the culture of classical music, perhaps the most fateful was that it turned a local craft into an international trade, thereby attracting the attention of entrepreneurs who were more interested in money than art. Needless to say, there can be no art without money, but the recording industry, by creating a mass market for music, sucked unprecedentedly large amounts of money into the classical-music culture, thereby insidiously and inexorably altering its artistic priorities….
Read the whole thing here–when the book comes out, that is. (You can order it in advance by clicking on the link.)