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How iPod and iTunes Have Forever Changed the Music Industry – A Musician’s Perspective

In college, I once took a course – “Music and Society”. One of the things we discussed in the class was the iPod and its effects on how we listened to music, and how it influenced artists. Now, this was back in 2006 when iPod wasn’t quite as ubiquitous as it is today (though by all notions, it was already massively popular enough to warrant such a class). In the past 5 years, Apple has not only added to the iPod’s millions of fans, but also invented the iPhone and the iPod Touch.

The iPod, as any purist will tell you, is bad for music. For one, the idea of buying single tracks instead of albums distils the sense of continuity and overall thematic concepts that tie an album together. An album like The Who’s ‘Tommy’ would never work in the age of the iPod. Listening to individual tracks from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” seems to be an exercise in futility since the entire effect of the album is lost when the tracks are played in isolation. What the iPod has managed to do is create ‘one track artists’ who thrive on singles. Lady Gaga wouldn’t be Lady Gaga without the iPod. Neither would someone like Weird Al Yankovic sell millions of individual tracks.

Further, the iPod has changed the way musicians go about creating music. While Pink Floyd sat down with a vision of a complete, thematically coherent album, modern day artists think more in terms of individual tracks. It doesn’t matter if the tracks in the album flow into each other. After all, the songs will be heard in isolation, individually. Whatever efforts you might take to create a thematic structure will be lost, so why even try?

From a musician’s perspective, is it a good thing? Perhaps. It makes for easier song writing. It means you can create one awesome song and hope to cash in. It means you no longer need to release entire albums. Rather, you can go about on a track by track basis – release one track as soon it is perfected, cash in, use that money to party and fund your next track.

But at the same time, it means that musicians who want to experiment, branch out, and incorporate sounds and instruments that they can’t possibly fit into one track will feel a little lost. Musicians with strong lyrics who pride in spinning stories around their tracks would feel irrevocably lost, since an individual track can only afford a limited canvas to paint their images on. Guitarists who want to explore a certain sound may feel limited by the constraints on time a 4 minute track binds them in. For the dedicated, sincere, experimental musician, the arrival of the iPod means that the purity and storytelling zest of the earlier generation is lost. It also means that we will never have an album like ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ or ‘The Wall’ (both by Pink Floyd) again. ‘The Wall’, for instance, was released with a full length movie based on the tracks. Something like that could never happen in this era of singles.

One very positive development has sprung from the advent of the iPod however which has revolutionized how music is created and listened to. As a musician, it is something I’m immensely ecstatic about: the iTunes music store. The iTunes music store has the potential to completely change the way musicians have traditionally created music. How? Allow me to explain:

Traditionally, as an artist, you went on stage, performed your songs, built up a fan base, toured, and if you were lucky, talented, and had that little ‘X’ factor, you would be spotted by some talent scout. Before long, you would be produced before a record company executive, who would wave a heavily biased (in the company’s favor) contract before you. As a broke artist hungry for mainstream success, you would, of course, take whatever they would throw at you, perhaps remembering how even the Beatles had to contend with getting paid just 1 cent for every record sold (and that 1 cent was split among the four of them).

Over time, as your clout on the music industry increased, you could negotiate your contract and get the company to agree to more favorable terms that granted you more artistic freedom and monetary rewards. Madonna in the 1980s, for instance, could get the record company to agree to whatever terms she wanted. Nirvana could walk out of any contract and dictate terms to the company. That’s how things were always done for decades: the young artist got screwed, worked hard, came up the ranks and finally became big enough to work according to his own rules.

Now in walked the iPod and the iTunes store. Within a decade, the iPod would go on to become almost as common as, well, a mobile phone. Everyone I know owns an iPod/iPhone/iPod Touch. All of them have access to the iTunes store where they can purchase any track they want with a single touch. Billions of tracks are downloaded from the iTunes store every year and Apple generates a significant portion of its revenues from it.

What the iTunes, in conjunction with the iPod/iPhone has managed to do is create an army of consumers who can discover and purchase any track they want within seconds. For the artist, it means that they entire discovery, supply, distribution side of the business that was typically controlled by record companies is democratized. The artist doesn’t need to create physical CDs. Nor does he need to worry about marketing blitzes, supplying the CDs to stores, negotiating prices, etc. Any artist, be it Kanye West or the neighborhood band, could put up his tracks online for sale. And here’s the best part: you may be Jay-Z, but the finest track from your latest album will sell for the same price as that wedding band from New Jersey: $0.99.

This means that an artist can today afford to release a track, sell thousands of copies, make a nice little bundle of money, then hit the road, perform in a few pubs, record another song, put it up on iTunes, sell another 50,000 copies, and repeat the process endlessly. It means that you can finally make music as a freelancer: releasing tracks as and when they are completed and using the money earned from each track to fund further tracks. When you have 8-10 decent songs, you could perhaps release them together as an album. Think of it as the patronage system under which writers and artists flourished in the 16th century, but only instead of feudal lords and ladies, you patrons would be ordinary fans.

Of course, this is still a rather utopian idea. Only an already popular band with millions of existing fans can get away with such an approach. Radiohead can afford to do this, and so can U2. But the local indie band probably won’t build up enough buzz to sell thousands of singles, no matter how good they might be. It isn’t difficult to foresee though, that 10-15 years down the line, no one would need record companies, and unknown bands could break through and make a tidy sum through a handful of songs. Will it be enough to buy private jets, ballrooms filled with champagne, fast Italian cars, and live life like a rock star? Probably not. But will it be enough to fund great music? Definitely yes.

The future of the music industry looks bright. All thanks to the iPod.

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Playing Classical Guitar – One Classical Guitarist’s Guide to the CG Universe

The Classical Guitar, I believe, is still struggling for recognition a bit and with the
passing of Andres Segovia, who saved it from total extinction, and the recent
retirement of Julian Bream, whose individually unique mastery of the instrument,
inspired all Guitarists, it seems to me that there aren’t many “Light Houses”
currently on the concert planks. There are, however many fine players
sprinkled about but I think one or two truly great interpreters are all Humanity will
give us per Century. My humble opinion… feel free to disagree .

A great misconception that many struggle with when it comes to dedication, is the idea
that the closer we get to technical perfection on our instrument, the further we
move away from the aesthetic spirit of spontaneity and expression. I saw this
amongst many artists that I associated with in the early days and although this
phenomenon may not be universal in scope, it did, nonetheless exist amongst
amateur guitarists and perhaps still does today. Hence the absence of the guitar
from the Accepted Classical Music World, at least to the degree to which the violin
and piano exist and the reason there are so many amateur guitarists forever “stuck”
on one playing level. The other half to this equation is “The Fear of Success”
syndrome is a greater force than “The Fear of Failure”. This one is a killer because
when one starts really practicing and then sees real progress, to continue inevitably
means real, long term commitment to the craft. Commitment to anything has many
powerful implications, the least of which is time spent daily or weekly so one of
the first real goals as you set out is to decide, “What kind of time and commitment
level am I going to agree to ?”

Of course, the true value of any art form is the uniquely different way each artist
handles interpretation, for instance, and after all it is the human spirit that pushes
ordinary events into miraculous happenings. One need only to listen to one
particular piece of music performed by several dozen players to have the one or
two true Masters revealed.

The purpose of this little discourse is not to convince the Non-Artist Musician to
support the Music world, although that would be a worthy cause, but rather to urge
all Musicians to personally pursue the path of rigorous technical methodology in
order to unlock, and give voice to, one’s interpretive expressions through the vast
array of music literature out there waiting to be learned.

Now the repetition of technique exercises week in and week out is perhaps the
single least rewarding aspect of musicianship so I developed this Method, for
Classical Guitarists of all levels and abilities , to hopefully put Classical Guitar
Technique into perspective.

Advice I would give Beginners is to not put any music on your stand until your
hands are ready for it. Much preliminary work must be done before one is prepared
to play pieces and this will undoubtedly be a sobering thought for many of you.
Take, for example, what the flute or trumpet student at a Conservatory has to
endure upon entrance to the School. Play only into the mouthpiece, without the rest
of the instrument attached, for six months, then we’ll let you attach the rest of the
instrument and play music. Always remember that the mind will naturally create
clever obstacles plus multiple reasons not to overcome them so a large degree of
determination and discipline will be required when tackling a musical instrument
properly.

One great obstacle for the Classical Guitar Student, if he or she is considering
serious study, eventually comes in the form of the question, ” Am I being narrow
minded by devoting so much time and energy to one thing when there are so many
other valuable things in the world to pursue ?”

To answer that question one first has to answer the following question: “Am I open
minded enough to not think that there is only one way to play a given piece?” If the
answer is Yes, then you would also need to possess the quality which would allow
you to work at each piece in such a way as to discover the “universality” of that
piece.

Where does all this lead us?

I think to the question of directed talent. If the mind drops hints at us to follow
something that is in our nature, then we must accept the sacrifices. So, in order to
create a physical change in our routine, our mental routines must change as well, if
we are to make decisions about our attitude and pursuits.

THE ARMCHAIR PHILOSOPHER

One might take a moment to think of how methodology employed in other fields
relates to Classical Guitar Methodology. It does seem to me that the human mind
works at a higher potential when a technically oriented system is under its control.
Take the sciences, for example. If a person wanted to explore the science of
genetics, then that person must first become familiar with what is known factually
about that field before the brain can analyze new information, interpret it and
advance the field of genetics.

The musician is in a very similar position as the scientist, although the material
with which the scientist must become familiarized with perhaps is more defined
than for the Musician. The real question for me is ” What merit does the work of a
musician or a scientist have if both are completely self taught with little or no
exposure to an historical perspective of their respective crafts?”

To put this in another way, the real goal of the performing arts is to create an “in
between the lines” message to the sub-conscious, or the way that the audience is
“affected” by a performance. I have certainly noticed, through the years of
attending Classical Guitar Recitals, that there is a certain quality about the way that
many performers, even great ones, come off. One can almost hear them reflecting
within themselves about their technical ability, good or bad, as they play. The
result is a performance of “their” psyche rather than the intent of the composer.
(Don’t ever forget the Composer ! Without him or her, you would not be playing anything)

I attended a recital by one the greats in the mid 70’s and was very much looking
forward to it, never having heard this player or owned one of his recordings. But
my teacher at the time was a former student of his so I was excited. He opened the
Recital with two of the Bach Lute Suites, difficult stuff, to be sure, alone in a
practice room, let alone to a packed audience.

By the end of the first Lute Suite, this man was wringing wet, to the point of the
audience’s distraction and I’m sure his own. You could literally hear his inner
voice screaming, “I can’t make a single mistake during these pieces ” I don’t
believe anyone enjoyed the recital because we were all rooting for him silently, in
our seats, hoping upon hope that he wouldn’t make a single mistake because he
was trying so hard not to. Well, he never did make even a little mistake and I have
to say it was the most flawless, emotionally void recital I have ever heard. The only
thing that would have made it worse would have been if he had a metronome
ticking away on a chair next to him during the performance. I certainly heard it
even though it wasn’t physically there.

The performing arts MUST have a quality of vulnerability rather than feeling that
each performance is a safe one, free of error and probably of greatness as well. In a
word, boring. True, musicians and scientists have technical languages that must be
mastered but the musician embarks on journey number two, the world of creativity
and profundity, weaving magical lines one within the other all to create audible
imagery so the composer’s thoughts are captured and presented.

But isn’t this what the scientist does ? Conscientiously advance mankind on many
levels?

So in the end, what is the real difference between a great musician and a great
scientist?

KAIZEN, MY FAVORITE WORD, IN ANY LANGUAGE

Kaizen is the Japanese term for “gradual but continual improvement by taking
something apart and putting it back together in a better way”.

As a young student of the Guitar, I would often find myself sitting, very properly,
guitar at the ready, frustrated as to what to practice first. There were many skills to
develop and if the concept of “purpose” was not identified, one easily became lost,
aimlessly searching for that “right” piece to play, shouldered with just the “right”
exercises to practice. Experience has taught me that one’s self proclaimed idea of
self as it relates to abilities and the lack of ability can greatly confuse the
progression of both musical and technical awareness.

First, technique is not an end to itself; nor, ironically, is it a means to an end. This
may sound paradoxical and even contradictory but let’s examine how a very
“human” quality is revealed here. There is a fine line between the musician who is
capable of feeling the expressions of a fellow musician’s playing and the musician
who is capable of going a step beyond and is able to blend the mind, heart and soul
with discipline so that the true accomplishment of an ideal occurs rather than
simply having the “desire” to actualize that ideal. The latter is when one is inspired
by the efforts of another rather than the efforts of oneself.

Although it is very comforting to have a “mode” to work from, an artist of the
very highest caliber to, in fact, “copy”. The example of “How to play like Julian
Bream”, with his trademark tone and nuance of interpretation is actually taught by
some players, and very well, I might add, but since one cannot truly copy the inner
thoughts and processes of another, one merely becomes a “Player Piano”, put in
the roll and let it rip, guitarist.

During the development phase of learning to play Classical guitar, one’s mind will
go through almost any system of thought patterns necessary in order to convince
itself that true reasons exist for the pursuit of self expression on a musical
instrument. So how does this relate to the statement “technique is not a means to an
end?”. Technique, that very element that opens the gate to artistic expression, can
also hinder artistic expression, if not thought of properly. Few can transcend the
lure of feeling real technical accomplishment as the only goal, leave that world
behind and enter the world of true self expression.

Second, it must be realized with all due sobriety that this path of which I speak
entails years of study and honest refinement. Mastery, both technical and musical,
rarely takes place early in life, when the “illusion” of accomplishment is common
place.

AWARENESS

What is it that one feels exactly when one has an awareness of technique on the
Guitar and how does the mind conceive the physical aspects of playing ? The
answers might not seem as obvious as one thinks. Unless a visualization occurs,
not only in the mind’s eye but also in the degree of concentration while playing,
then justice is not being done to the demands of the Guitar by its very existence.

If one can manage to have a sort of projection of self onto the Guitar itself, through
time and care, one can actually begin to “feel” what it must be like to be a Guitar
being played. I don’t intend this idea to be Zen-like but perhaps it is, I don’t know.
What I do know is that if one doesn’t abuse the privilege of playing, then playing
takes on a life of its own and we become caretaker”s of its sounds. For me this
came about through slow daily practice, trying to be aware of even the slightest
movements while playing.

I don’t believe any of this is possible without the necessary technique and tone
production work required to hear the full potential of one’s Guitar.

The word “potential” is very important when describing attitudes in the study of
Musical Instruments. Given that musicians have ( or should have ) feelings that
need to be expressed through music, how can they be expressed without a good
understanding of the factors and variables available as to the full potential of one’s
instrument ? If the instrument’s potential isn’t fully realized, then neither is the
Musician”s expressive potential. What other reason than this is there to practice ?
To merely reproduce the written notes on the page and act out through them rather
than living through them ?

The danger here is that to “feel” musical involvement does not automatically mean
that actual involvement is taking place. Personal commitment to playing is where
the distinction exists and it is this very commitment that turns the amateur into the
artist where freedom from worry regarding purpose occurs, a factor which I believe
is the factor that drives the student out of the practice room, especially if there isn’t
some deadline to meet, such as a performance. This should be the goal of every
teacher: To bring the student to the point where a teacher is no longer required. The
sooner the better, I say !

PRACTICE

Practicing is what I call a process whereby results occur on a long term basis and
muscles are atoned accordingly. Scale work must be done slowly, with round tone
and sufficient volume. Unless the resistance of the strings is felt, the fingers will
not respond properly during certain passages in the literature. Believe it or not, the
goal of practicing scales, for instance, is NOT to hear the notes of the scale, it’s to
feel the fingers controlling the notes. Remember this concept, because it will carry
you throughout any CG method.

Efficient practice is a difficult concept to fully grasp on one’s own, what and when
to practice this or that, what are the strengths and how do they influence work on
the weaknesses, etc. A certain amount of exposure to powerful influences should
definitely be a large part of any musician’s growth, various teachers, (never just
one !), pouring over treatises on technique, etc., but for me, I found that after the
initial contact with these aforementioned influences, keeping my eyes and ears
open to lessons offered by classical guitar recordings were by far the greatest of my
influences. Learning to “feel” the players fingers as I listened became my greatest
learning tool.

How one goes about discerning these lessons through recordings, of course, comes
from an initial interest in the subject to begin with, but by listening to my rather
extensive collection of Classical Guitar Recordings, I was able to gain a knowledge
of the repertoire, which pieces really excited me, how I agreed with or disagreed
with their interpretations and why, and how sometimes interpretive understatement
suited a particular piece. A very important point to consider sometimes.

Pinchas Zukerman ( famous Violist / Conductor ) explains it this way, Each time I
pick up my viola, it is like a man who has spent three days and three nights in the
desert and goes to take a drink of water. It is a need. Let your inborn need to play
create its own system designed to handle answers to questions and doubts. Many
amateur musicians never allow this to happen and they quit, never allowing the self
a fighting chance to prevail during the difficult formative years of study.

A WORD TO THE WISE

Classical Guitar Amateurism on a local community level can be very depressing.
You may come across Guitarists who, because they are big fish in a little pond,
take a public position without any real right or earning. Although they play a role
where they wouldn’t normally be one, for the absolute beginner, they often are
merely feeding their own egos at the expense of the student who deludes him or
herself while the Teacher is deluding him or herself.

My humble conclusion to this centuries old problem ? Lack of contact with truly
accomplished players, either in person or via recordings, can turn the student
psyche into a kind of laboratory Petrie dish that will grow as many kinds of mold
as there are people.