time to change the way we view music and the arts

Deviate, Isolate or Eliminate?

This morning, when I logged into my Twitter account I read an anecdotal piece by the founder of Digital Music News, Paul Resnikoff. He takes the time to vent some of his disappointments and frustrations with the deteriorating state of the music business and makes an analogy to third world countries. (For the record, the best politically correct term would probably be “developing country,” though there is no single qualifier for this title.)

In any case, his description paints a mental image of what does indeed sound like a struggling body of people in a confined “nation.” Such is particularly the case with this passage:

“…Then there are the obscene – and questionable – salaries for a top cadre of executives. We just learned that RIAA president Cary Sherman yanked down $3.2 million in compensation for 2009, and Mitch Bainwol $1.6 million. And we’ve been witnessing a textbook looting of Warner Music Group for years, with a select group of operators walking away with tens of millions in cash. Yet, every week I hear about new layoffs, or get emails from people struggling to find employment in this business. It’s almost impossible to find a good job it seems – even for really qualified people. That’s why people are fleeing towards other industries, just like people emigrate from horrible economic situations.

That got me thinking about a conversation I had with one of my relatives the other day. One of my younger cousins is aspiring to be a violinist, like me. It’s endearing hear her practicing away during family gatherings and telling me about her many school related music pursuits. Although her mother is extremely supportive and excited for her daughter’s progress and achievements, she expressed an opinion I can’t say is uncommon when it comes to discussing partitioning of school curriculum funds.

“While I’m very glad [she] is playing the violin and getting these lessons at school, I could do without having to pay for it and put the money toward other areas.”

The majority-ruling premise behind these types of statements usually translates to “music/arts comes lower on my monetary priority list.” In more extreme cases of the view, it can even extend to something along the lines of, “Why do I need this? I’m not going to go into music, so can we just cut it out of the picture?”

Okay, let’s consider for a moment. Some people might want to be able to selectively choose what subject areas are highlighted in their child’s education, to cater to what they and/or the child thinks is their stronger and more desired area. If Jane Williams wants to be a neuroscientist, music seems understandably, all but irrelevant. On the flip side though, for people like myself, who knew they wanted to pursue an art form, why does the thought of eliminating what I deem irrelevant to music study, continually hold less weight? Some of the easiest to throw responses involve the phrases “well-rounded,” “support skills” and “just in case.” It is this last phrase that I believe makes the difference. The idea that we should need other areas of study to be the back-up support under arts, in the face of various career outcomes, but not vice-versa, can become ironic very quickly.

Considering that the United States is (according to IFPI‘s [International Federation of the Phonographic Industry] “Recording Industry in Numbers” Report,) the “largest” of the global music markets, isn’t it at least moderately plausible that a student might start their educational journey away from music but then, for any number of reasons, turn to it later on? It seems to me that although the business is struggling and music people are supposedly “emigrating to other industries,” if it was so looked down upon in the eyes of society as a whole, then how can it repeatedly be the biggest selling point of the United States –to where people are continually flocking, for a piece of industry action? If people are going to keep arguing for music to get bumped down the academic ladder, then the aforementioned circumstances almost beg for society to start hacking away at academic foundations and grouping children in schools based solely on their supposed career paths, which is just fantastic malarkey at best. Can people treat music like that one option “by default” less liable to work out, when kids and young adults are discovering a desire to delve into music every day, while also potentially turning down that English Language Arts Degree?

(…and anyway, while I understand the merit behind the point that written and verbal communication obviously cross more mutually exclusive career boundaries than music or arts, it’s not as if all American English classes through high school level, fully explore grammatical structure to the point of students understanding what part of speech it is they’re actually speaking in; and furthermore, does the majority of the younger American population even apply grammar effectively on a regular basis?)

Then again, to play my own momentary devil’s advocate, and as a small addendum to the Guitar Auto-Tune post, the sheer volume of collectively active industry figures can probably be largely attributed to a combination of: ease of access to equipment, instantaneous “artistic development” via tools like Auto-Tune, and the current wave of re-emerging club and house style songs, which de-emphasize lyrical depth and melodic phrase complexity. Regardless of the primary reasoning, music is a massive American export and that means someone is behind the instrument, regardless of how natural or digital that instrument might be. If nothing else, I would think that any anti-arts parents would want to keep it in the classroom to help lessen the spread of “superficial success syndrome.” Since music and enjoyment thereof is not going to simply go away anytime soon, no one wants to be trapped in a world of musicians without enrichment, right?

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