Are We Good Then?

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Popular science author and media theorist Steven Johnson recently wrote a very provocative and compelling article for The New York Times titled: “The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t.”

CLICK HERE for Steven’s Article

What-WHAT?! Did I miss something? Is everything still cool? Are people still purchasing music? Can I write some cool stuff, have a record label sign me and they will pay for the recording, artwork, distribution and marketing and even organize a tour?

Uh….nope. That isn’t what this article (and its some 300 comments!) is all about. We are still in a brave new world, but Steven has a different spin on things.

What do YOU think? Let’s get this party started: give the article a read and give us all your thoughts. Together, we can come up with some cool ideas I believe (as well as facetious ones…hey we are a bunch of creative right-brained folk who thrive on snark after all 🙂

Let’s talk!

Reference: A cool TED talk by Steven Johnson

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28 thoughts on “Are We Good Then?

  1. Catherine Flinchum September 21, 2015 / 6:57 pm

    One of the key terms I have come up with this article is accessibility and artistry.
    Especially with how we live in a vibrant age where technology has consumed a chunk of our daily lives, we have THE access to listen to music, create music, and share music just by a click of a button. Nowadays you don’t need to study +4 years in a degree on music, film, literature, etc. Access to programs like Pro Tools and SoundGarage has allowed anyone to create music and share their files on a variety of social media and marketing pages. Elite film editing software is now available online, in stores, or installed on computers, and the finished products can be promoted on Youtube, Vimeo, etc. Writers can publish their own writings online on blogs and writing forums free of charge. What interested me, were Johnson’s data on how the market of artists had from 1999 to 2014. Again, accessibility has led the idea that ANYONE can make art at an affordable cost and can somewhat make a profit.
    As much as I love seeing the arts thrive in a variety of ways, my concern deals more with the quality of the art. Since we have such an easy way of accessing of creating and promoting our product, a lot of the art that’s praised is more commercial which I feel like Johnson is addressing more of in this article rather than focusing on more of an artistic view (and by commercial, I’m defining more of the mainstream side of music that attracts a lot more of an audience.) There is much more focus on the mainstream that songs that sound similar or just completely mediocre create more of a buzz and profit from its attention. Let’s take Rebecca Black for instance, remember the song “Friday” back in 2011? Put in a simple pop beat into play, vocals, add a little auto-tune, and ridiculous lyrics and you got yourself a Youtube sensation that hit the entertainment media for the summer. Legit. If stuff like that is being praised, it can lead anyone’s interest with this musical accessibility to create a similar tune just like that and also get +1,000,000 views or likes in a day. Is the quality even better?
    Younger generations in my experience are receiving less education and knowledge on the arts, and it’s either due to funding in their school systems, or simply because they don’t have the “time” to practice because they’re doing tennis, extra math tutoring, yoga, swim, and Chinese lessons (I had an experience with a previous private student before.) Most of the students I’ve encountered focus mostly on the mainstream due to this, and they value it more than a Beethoven symphony or Miles Davis tune.
    if we want art to continue being creative for arts sake, the creative and innovative ways technology has given us access to should be a tool and resource to promote the artistic quality. Johnson’s explanation on technology being a creative tool has been great, but I feel like he needs to find the artistic quality for his next article.

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  2. Elaine Lim September 22, 2015 / 4:53 pm

    This article made me realize many things. First, Ulrich’s prediction is true. Napster and other free online-streaming services have a negative impact on the recording industry that it made many producers and engineers lose their jobs. This online streaming changed the world’s view towards music and other forms of art. Since information is now free, why not music, articles, movies, and others as well? This certainly posed a great threat to creative thinkers since people nowadays want to only spend money on what is tangible. To think about it, many people even upload stuff that they have purchased. In Youtube alone, you can see many DVD documentaries being uploaded by consumers themselves. It makes me wonder, why do people want to upload stuff for free? It is unfair in a way. Do they want to upload stuff so they can get rid of the hardcopies that they don’t want to carry around? That is probably the case. These days, when people can “save” stuff in the air, they would probably do it. But I can say that not all recording companies can lose their job. In the end, they are still considered to be the professionals and they invest in the best equipments. Not all artists are tech-savvy and not everyone have the time to tinker on softwares.

    Second, the quality of art in most cases has certainly declined. Since everyone can publish a book, anyone can be an overnight bestselling author as long as people read his work. Unlike before where you have to go several “screenings” in several publishing houses to be approved, you do not have to go to the one who sifts the good from the mediocre. It is the same with movies and music. People now have the freedom to express themselves and put themselves out there. But that does not mean that everything out there holds a great value. I noticed that people patronize anything that is very stimulating visually (like superheroes in movies) or sexually (like in books). And the popular posts are often the ones that have to be very controversial. In this society, I think the over-saturation of information that the internet caused has made us become desensitized that we always want to look for more. The feeling of “I’ve been there, I’ve done that,” certainly echoes “I’ve seen it, I’ve heard that,” which made creators stoop down for the sake of pushing the boundaries in order to cater the tastes of the masses. Fewer people these days are into the “subtle” and in-depth art.

    Thirdly, though Steven Johnson’s article started in a pessimistic tone, it sparks up some hope to many artists and performers in this age, especially with the stats that look very promising. he stated that this is a good time for musicians who want to perform live. I guess the exposure of the artists in the internet has spurred a lot of curiosity that people want to “check it out,” and see if it is for real. It makes me wonder if this is an effect of the norm in the society now, that people are always looking for “proofs”. If you did not post a picture of the gourmet meal in Instagram, it means you did not eat it (that is how it goes especially in Asian culture). Likewise, a person probably wants to listen in person, to an artist that he adores so much, if he sounds as good as the recording, not just “enhanced” by modern technology. But I guess not. Since artists can have a straight access to their fans without a middle ground due to the internet (just like anyone can give a comment in a blog and the author himself can respond to the comment), they give an impression that they are approachable, which the fans love. I guess this quality makes people want to meet and greet the artists and do not mind falling in line for book-signing sessions where they were probably persuaded to buy the actual book even if they already have the digital copy in their Kindle.

    Fourthly, the more buzz that was created, the more interest and attention you will get. Critics and reviews help a lot. In a way, you get more consumers just by having higher ratings. People want to trust more on other people’s experiences and want to be careful with what they buy. Word of mouth is the way to go, but in a digital sense these days.

    Lastly, the people who will survive this shift are the people who are willing to adapt. It is hard to be equipped and be your own producer and manager as an artist. But unless you are rich to hire someone, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

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  3. Brendan September 22, 2015 / 8:49 pm

    Steven Johnson certainly acknowledges some important points about the development of the music industry, especially those related to technological advances that increase productivity. Right off the bat, one statistic that seems to be missing (and one I certainly hope he accounted for) is simply the increase in population that the United States has seen over the past 15 years. He cites many increases in number of people participating in the arts, in particular a 15% rise in the number of people who consider themselves musicians. What Johnson fails to note is that the population of the United States rose 14.7% during that time period, which would almost completely account for that rise.

    Technology has certainly increased accessibility to the market both for the consumers (the audience) and the producers (the artists). This increased accessibility has, in some ways, made it easier to create exposure, gather fans, and self-market. However, as a result, the market has become flooded with creative content and is grossly over-saturated. Professional sounding recordings can be made in somebody’s living room, which is great for professional musicians, but it also opens the door for amateur musicians and people who do music on the side to put their product out as well. I can’t think of any other industry where so many products from non-professionals are in direct competition with professional level products, and are sold at the same level in the same place (iTunes, Spotify).

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  4. Junxiang Kuang September 23, 2015 / 5:49 am

    Wow…what a long story it is! It take me much time to read. Ok, now I am gonna give my first comment.

    First of all, I also agree with most of the conception of Steven Johnson. It is true that creative

    career can make more money than making art only, but there is one point I have different

    opinion. I think this phenomenon has appeared for a long time, not just for these decades. Have

    you guys consedered about this question? Are not most of the artists poor or living so hard in the

    history? Not only for music,but also for other arts. At the beginning or you can say in the past.

    Music is kind of luxury product for rich man. Common people do not understand the art or can not

    afford the music. That causes many musicians service for the big business man or royal. Mozart

    is a good example. He became so poor after he left from royal. And now, even though many

    people have enough money to learn music and enjoy the music. Why does this phenomenon still

    continue? As Steven says it exactly happen that people can download the music for free. Why do

    people do that? Why don’t they pay for the song whenever they download? There is a simple fact

    that nowadays music or art are not the only entertainment for people. They can choose many

    other things to meet their mental requirement istend of paying foe every song.

    In addition, I would like to share the experience which I know in my own country, China. I just

    realize and contrast that the quality of music is worse and worse than before. Why? As Steven

    mentions, if nobody will pay for downloading the music, the industy of musci will be destroied, and

    many of the musical jobs will be lost. In China, most of people would not like to pay for

    downloading a song because all of the resources are free. You can search all the music or

    movies you want on the internet. They just get used to do this. Now,you may have a question”If

    this phenomenon happens all the time in your country, how does the musician and music indusry

    continue working? How can they live?” This is what I want to explain right now. In my country,

    stars usually have a very high treatment with high income, no matter singer stars or movie stars.

    If you are famous enough, the fee you attand a show for singing 1-2 songs will be over 5.6

    millions RMB(it is around 1 million). You know what, the highest income of a actor is about 0.3

    billion RMB per year. This is the only revenue for the movie he act. The reason is people are

    willing to purchase for take a movie ticket or a live show rather than paying for 1 song. Sounds

    weird? The ultimate reason is they like their idol and surpport them as much as they can.

    Based on the phenomenon above, most of artist or musician will no focus on how to promote the

    quality of their masterpiece. The only thing they care about is what kind of facter or element that

    the audience will like to see or listen? They are so greedy for get the money from the audience,

    and the companies also compete each other, which makes them create art as soon as

    possible.No matter how the quality is. However, for a big market situation, the art of different level

    can also earn money from different people.

    Finally, music is challenging all over the world. It could be caused by the technique, culture, or

    other reasons. There are still some excellent artist are insisting creating masterpiece for us. They

    are the stars who I mentioned previously. Why they are so successful? It is because they can

    find out what they really have, and what they are different from other singer or actors. They just

    combine the commerce and their art style, and they get it! We should also thing about how to

    surpport our lives better and creat the art we like concurrently, even though nowadays

    environment is rush for every muscian.

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  5. Earl MacDonald September 29, 2015 / 1:22 pm

    Hi Steve. I love your new blog and the discussions it is generating. It appears that I have a few nights of reading ahead of me to catch up!

    The title of your first post cracked me up. Like you, I enjoyed seeing the inclusion of so much data in the Time article, but it doesn’t reflect my experiences or observations. Even more than the article itself, I have found myself mulling over a comment written by reader Tom Henning of New York:

    “It’s amazing how non-creative and unimaginative some creative people are. As exemplified by the musicians of Metalicca, just because you can conjure up wild new compositions and musical arrangements doesn’t mean you can dream up new ways of using technology and structuring your business. Outside of their realms, many musicians and writers are as creative as an accountant.”

    Sadly, I think there is much truth in what Henning says.

    I remember looking out my hotel window a few years ago and seeing an abandoned, decrepit Polaroid Camera warehouse. That image has stuck with me and is a great reminder that those whose thoughts don’t project into the future (or adapt) will be left behind; our world is changing SO rapidly.

    I have high hopes your blog will inspire solutions and action, rather than just be a place for commiseration. Thanks for using your influence to spark this open, community dialogue.

    Some of your readers and students may enjoy the following short interview interview with Brad Roberts, the lead singer of the Crash Test Dummies. I think it succinctly rebuts much of what Steven Johnson wrote: https://youtu.be/puBNa6LYg24

    Thanks Steve.

    Like

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