Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Music, Corporate Culture, and Social Change

Odd convergences. News this morning that Odetta has passed away. A powerful voice for positive change, she embodied the authentic power that music has to make thye world a better place. At the same time, I've been pondering over a conversation I had this weekend with Alyson Gilbert, a country singer whom some may recognize from the television show Nashville Star on which she was a competitor. The producers of the program chose to put her in the country diva/pageant queen/bad girl role, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. A kind and warm person (with an incredible voice), it brought home the way in which corporate interests harness the power of music to create an alternate reality, a fantasy world, designed first and foremost to make money. Starting perhaps with the Monkeys, there is the sense that pop stars can be created wholecloth by marketers, appealing to people's needs that go unsatisfied by life in contemporary culture and filling the gaps with the aesthetic equivalent of soylent green.

So, the combination of these two has left me thinking about the direction in which music is headed. It is a powerful force, but a force for what? With every band having its own MySpace page and the number of shows available for free download on sites like, is the role of the corporate gatekeeper declining in the way some claim? Are we seeing a democratization of access? Has the ipod and itunes ushered in the end of the age of the album in which music was produced and released in 45-60 minute chunks? Will this change how music is made and disseminated? How important is live performance? Does it become more important because that is the only place a performer can make a living or does it become a relic? What does any of this mean in terms of the power music has to make this society more fair, equitable, and good?