How pop replaced folk music & how we’ll get it back through tech

I finally figured out one of my life goals. I want to make our shared collective culture more participative. It’s abstract, but it’s the first time in my life that I’ve been really confident about the fact that I’ll be happy to spend decades on solving a problem.

Some people are planners; they know exactly what they will be doing 5 years from now. I don’t even know what continent I’ll be living on then — let alone what I’ll be doing. But that changed, partly through MUSIC x TECH x FUTURE, but also by the kind of crossroads presented to me when I needed to make the choice between joining IDAGIO or continuing MxTxF as an agency.

I’d been there before. Over a decade ago, I was dropping out of the second study I had started. I knew my parents would be furious if I didn’t bundle the announcement of dropping out with an announcement and a clear direction for what I did want. I’m not the type of person to set clear goals for these things and then chase them — it doesn’t give me the intrinsic motivation I need, and most goals are materialist and arbitrary. I’m an intuitive person, so I needed to do some introspection & look for patterns that would reveal what are those intrinsic motivators.

At that time, I found that I’m fascinated by all aspects of communication — from advertising, to intercultural communication, social psychology, mass marketing, even product development. So that’s what I studied.

This time, I noticed a new pattern, which is one of the recurring themes in what I’ve been doing since I left university. Noticing this helped me set new goals and prioritize various things: doing MUSIC x TECH x FUTURE as an agency would expose me to many different things, but I wasn’t sure it would give me the depth that I needed to grow as a professional. I don’t want to be a consultant, I want to build things, and help people build things: creating a better world in the process. Joining IDAGIO meant an opportunity to continue developing myself to become one of the best product people in digital music, solve an important problem, and prove that companies can thrive by focusing on ‘niche’ behaviours in music.

Now let’s get back to the goal and the title of this piece.

The last century radically changed music. Through the recording becoming the default way in which people consume music, major things changed:

  • Music got less participative: you can just hit the play button, instead of playing an instrument or singing;
  • Music got more individualistic;
  • Music got static and would sound the same every time you hear it;
  • Music got more corporate, because the rise of the recording went hand in hand with mass consumerism.

One of the most clever tricks in consumption culture has been to convince people to express themselves by buying, consuming, instead of creating. Fashion cycles have us replacing perfectly good wardrobes.

More importantly, the shared songs of our culture were replaced by corporate-owned pop music.

I talk a lot about how I think music will become more dynamic, less static, more interactive, more adaptive, but I think ‘pop music’ is important. We need songs that everyone around us knows, songs to sing along to, to joke with, to play in a party and everyone instantly knows how to go along with it.

This used to be folk music: musicians would hear songs from traveling musicians, and then make them their own. Now that dynamic of ownerless songs, performed by many, has been replaced by pop of which the original is always attributed to 1 performer.

I think it’s important that we take away the song from the single performer and make it live among many performers (this is also why I find classical music so interesting). That sounds like a very bold thing to do, and would require a massive change in culture, but actually it’s more simple.

We have computers in our pockets that are more powerful than the computers on our desks a few years ago. We’re reaching the end of the smartphone cycle: we’re introducing artificial intelligence, smart sensors, and voice-activated devices into out lives. Soon enough, entering commands into a smartphone is going to look as archaic as using MS-DOS would be to a teenager now.

Music has always been quick to react to technology: two of the biggest streams in music right now, hiphop and electronic, were both born out of a shift in technology. We are living in a world on which digital information is increasingly layered on our every day reality. Things are interactive, on-demand, and social. Music as a media format is actually behind on this, but it took hiphop and electronic music 20 or 30 years to reach maturity, for a long time operating outside of what was allowed in legal but also aesthetic terms.

The music of the future will do a better job at involving the listener than 20th century music has. The tragedy of last century’s music was that it paired with consumption culture, which locked the listener out of meaningful participation, but now the ‘listener’ is actively remixing memes, making GIFs, and doing playbacks on Musically in order to communicate with friends.

The new creative generation is coming up, and for them, newly created culture will have a participative dimension by default.

Thanks for reading – hope it was all coherent. I’m in bed with flu, but never missed a Monday deadline for my mail-outs and I intend on never changing that.