Yesterday, I saw a Mountain Stage interview with folk singer Greg Brown. After talk of Iowa geography and Greg's house and its gardening setup, he revealed that he had some small projects in the works that will result in a downsizing of his recording process. Rather than going into the studio, Brown wants to use his simple 4-track recording setup, and maybe create a new website to sell the output. Digitally? That point didn't come up but I see it as less interesting than the fact that no record label will be involved.
I see this change as more important than the digital vs. physical product debate. The old model of the big company gatekeeper has been deflating over the years at ever-increasing rates. With the readily available home recording gear and distribution via the Internet, there's not much holding the hungry artist back. Though the whole concept isn't fully-formed, I do think that some sort of offshoot from the current state of social networking will give musicians, writers, and other creative types a simple way to get their 'stuff' out there and into the right hands.
What the final form of that network 'thing' will be is probably something that none of us can conjure (yet). Things are moving so quickly (a quick rundown: Facebook, Twitter, last.fm, ilike, Spotify, iPhone, iPod, Blackberry…) that it's easy to think we're living in the middle of entertainment chaos. I suppose there's some truth to that, though record company execs are probably taking the brunt of the pressure. Poor babies.
Monetary aspects of distribution aside, there are other issues to consider. Might there be any negatives to the so-called "universal jukebox"? Most people don't seem to think so. In fact, a recent BBC article spoke to this very idea. Counterpoint was then provided by John Taylor (Yes, that John Taylor, bass player for Duran Duran). The funny thing is that Taylor had some of the same ideas about this (basically, universal access causing a devaluation of things) as E.B. White did about about television all the way back in 1948:
"Like radio, television hangs on the questionable theory that whatever happens anywhere should be sensed everywhere. If everyone is going to be able to see everything, in the long run all sights may lose whatever rarity value they once possessed, and it may well turn out that people, being able to see and hear practically everything, will be specially interested in almost nothing."
I don't know where it's all going, but my sense is that the record label as "guiding hand" will fade away, allowing for the kind of creative process that Greg Brown is contemplating. It's a kind of musical "getting back to nature." As always, Greg has ideas on that too:
I'll park by some rivers, cook up some rice and beans, readPowered by Sidelines
Ferlinghetti out loud, talk to the moon, tell her all my
life tales, she's heard them many times. I'll make up some
new juicier parts, drink cold whiskey from a tin cup, sit in
a lawn chair and fiddle with my memories, close my eyes and
see. Sometimes you gotta go not look for nothin'.