Listening Survey, Part II

Last week, the NPR Music team, including myself, sent out a series of questions to people in the music, arts and entertainment communities. We wanted to get a sense of people's thoughts and feelings pertaining to the last decade in music, and what their thoughts were about the future.

We'll roll out the questions and a sampling of the answers over the next two weeks.

And, of course, we encourage you to answer these questions yourselves in the comments section below.

3) Since technology has allowed music to be more accessible than ever — no matter what city or country it stems from — how do context, community and origin play a role in music?

Phil Morrison, director, filmmaker:
This is only in regard to indie rock, probably: To me, indie rock has been about what might be called homogenous individualism. Singular self-expression among a group of the likeminded. The good thing here is that, while in the immediate sense conservative, it made for a trusting communal creative environment in which new ideas may come slowly, but are embraced and shared and explored. (This seems to me to have been true of hip-hop at first, as well. So if I'm right, maybe it's the nature of musical subcultures when they are somewhat small and marginal.) So I think the way in which technology widens these communities is a neutral development. You lose literal closeness, but gain the mix of people with different cultural backgrounds but similar affinities. And maybe it allows for U.S. dominance to be lessened. But what is bad is the speed. The technology encourages work to come and go so quickly, enjoyed but not absorbed. So it makes for music that suits this phenomenon (which includes music that flatters you into feeling like you're absorbing something quickly, of which there is a lot). And it encourages mutation and manipulation to such a degree that a maker's particularness can be lost. A song becomes too much about what a listener can do with it, rather than get from it. And it possibly leaves those who don't join this future in a "cult of authenticity" that can get pretty boring, self-congratulatory and stupid. So that's the bad part. Once again, I speculate that a strength of dance music in these times is that it is immune to all this.

Chris Lyons, musician, The Carrots:
The world has been turned upside-down. I have a younger cousin who has never been cool or listened to interesting music. She's a normal person interested in hot baseball players and purses. However, now we are friends on Facebook, and she posts updates about listening to Nick Cave. She dressed up as Alladin Sane for Halloween! I've been working since 13 to know about things like that. She has just discovered everything in a year. Everything is available instanteously now online. It's like taking off on a 20-year journey in a spaceship for Saturn, arriving, and finding people already there. They waited 19 years until there were spaceships that could make the journey in six months. Has all my time been wasted in a spaceship?

Jimi Biron, Executive Director of Booking, Crystal Ballroom:
We are always discussing where an artist is from and what particular musical community they represent. As the world gets smaller, the context is less about what town the artist is from and more about what the influences are.

Tristin Aaron, Media Director, Women's Media Center:
I still look for a certain credential that links the band in my mind to the punk/grassroots scene that I grew up in. To me, there is always a great divide between bands which come from that world and those which do not. I will still like and listen to catchy music that doesn't come from an "indie" or punk scene, but I will never love it as much. Like, I may like some of the songs of Vampire Weekend, Matt & Kim or others, but I recognize that having your first efforts funded by Mountain Dew's "Green Label Sound" is very different from the artists I grew up with, who worked strictly for the love of it and the friendships along the way.

David Lester, graphic artist; musician, Mecca Normal:
The music I listen to transcends time and location. I discover new things through happenstance, reading and recommendations from friends.

Andrew Kesin, co-owner, Ecstatic Peace Records:
Those issues — how the music is affected by peers — are the same. Just as the accessibility to the music has exploded, so has the ability for people to communicate in meaningful ways across continents.

Sam Coomes, musician, Quasi:
Now, it is easier to get into much more obscure scenes — like mid-'70s Zambian rock or Turkish psychedelia, or Tuareg rebel rock, etc. It used to be just scenes associated with U.S. cities like Athens, Minneapolis or Seattle — all had scenes that attracted a lot of attention way back when. But it's still the same deal: It's more interesting to get into a cluster of bands associated with a particular scene.

Alex Cohen, host of All Things Considered on KPCC, Southern California Public Radio:
I think context still plays a big role. I still associate certain songs with certain chapters of my life, and that can make a great song painful to listen to, or even a not-so-great song a joy to hear. I'm not sure how much origin plays a big part... I'm always excited when I find a band from some small corner of the world that I might not have ever heard were it not for technology. But it's often a bittersweet happiness. Take, for example, the band Two Hours Traffic. They're from somewhere deep in Canada. I've come to adore them, but I doubt I'll ever see them live because they can't afford to make it to California.

4) Have all the changes in technology in the past decade made the music better?

Al Shipley, writer:
The technology involved in creating and recording music plateaued a long time ago: Even the tools that have become fashionable in recent years, like AutoTune, have been available for decades. Pretty much any sound in any tone, frequency or texture can and has been produced and recorded at this point, so now it's just a matter of people continuing to combine them in interesting new ways. The Internet and communications technology speeding up the spread of the music, however, has changed music culture immeasurably, the same way the invention of the wax cylinder or radio changed music. Ideas are circulating faster, while trends are beginning and dying quicker.

Greg Selkoe, CEO of Karmaloop & Karmaloop TV:
Absolutely, yes, both in the sense of making and experiencing it. The new forms of consumption and production have invigorated music.

Jean Smith, novelist; singer, Mecca Normal:
Good judgment is an important part of making music. Painting watercolors is said to be difficult because it is almost entirely learning how to anticipate and leverage the behavior of water. Making good music is almost entirely listening and responding to sound — to what degree this activity is complicated by technology depends on self-discipline.

Lindsey Parker, editor, Yahoo! Music:
Technology has made it better for music discovery — MySpace, YouTube, et al — and for established artists to go the independent route. But I think the MP3/download format has made music more disposable. Album releases used to be events. Now, it's just single-song downloads that people make as their ringtones, but delete once they tire of them in a few months. Songs and artists have shorter shelf-lives now, because of downloading. It's ultimate one-hit-wonder syndrome.

Tim Quirk, musician, VP Music Programming, Rhapsody:
In the aggregate, hell yeah, though obviously some have not. Not to get all free-market on you, but giving anyone with an idea and an Internet connection the ability to make and distribute his music means total competition, and that means you have to be even more special than previously to rise above the noise.

Chris Sutton, musician, The Gossip:
No.

Carla DeSantis, writer, RCKRGR:
It's made it more accessible, but also overwhelming to find something great — a needle in a haystack.

Lucy Robinson, Publicist, Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian/Dead Oceans:
Maybe not "better," but we wouldn't have a few amazing albums on our labels that are essentially bedroom recordings without some robust laptops. I won't get into the AutoTune debate, but I've enjoyed AutoTune in the past few years, as popularized by Imogen Heap, Bon Iver and T-Pain.

Sam Coomes, musician, Quasi:
Absolutely. Just kidding.

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