The story of CD Baby’s partnership with Snocap struck a real chord with me.
Technology has played a powerful role in the transformation of the music industry, starting with wire and tape recorders, the phonograph, and the electric guitar. In the 1980s other musicians and I would joke about “phoning in our parts.” It’s not a joke these days. When I worked for Liquid Audio in the early days of Internet music we had intoxicating conversations about the future of music discovery and distribution. CDs would go away; would people pay for individual downloads, subscribe to huge online music libraries or swap music in P2P networks? Would recorded music lose its revenue generating power all together and become a promotional tool for other income streams? How would all of this impact independent artists and the traditional record industry?
As these early predictions come to fruition, technology is still seen as a key lynchpin in this change process, and I think rightly so. The power of the Internet cannot be underestimated and if the software tools used in today’s music production are any indication, we will continue to see technology drive huge shifts in the way people discover, consume, and monetize media. One of the pitfalls of this phenomenon is the large footprint that any significant technology displays.
Reading Derek Sivers blog describing CD Baby’s partnership with Snocap ( "What happened with CD Baby and Snocap" ) I was reminded of similar experiences during my time with Liquid Audio. Developing, implementing and managing any large-scale technology is a daunting proposition. The technology quickly takes on a life of its own, with needs that have nothing to do with its original vision. This is not unlike what happens in publicly funded social service organizations. The federal agencies designed to help the neediest kids and families in our country are bureaucratic silos, designed for upward accountability. At times it is literally impossible to deliver the simplest help to real people because the needs of the system are so complex.
Derek Sivers is smart and brave. He saw the potential Snocap offered from the perspective of his original vision and embraced the technology despite his doubts. As the snowball got bigger and bigger he was not afraid to pull the plug. The lesson here is not that technology is good or bad but that it can entrance us and at times distract us from the truth that set us on our path in the first place. Is the music in the world today any better because of the technical miracles that surround us? Beethoven’s String Quartets, The Rite of Spring, and Robert Johnson managed to appear before anyone could imagine Pro Tools or the Internet in their most delusional fantasies. As we plow ahead in this brave new world, let’s not forget that music is the best.