Not only has technology changed the way music is created, discovered, bought and shared, it also seems to have changed the artistic process. Artists used to write music and spend months touring, mailing demos and promoting the same songs before even getting the chance to have a label distribute their album. Getting distribution could take years and was almost the last thing to happen for an artist, now it’s almost the first.
In 1996, when I was running spinART Records, I went to a gig in New York at the Wetlands to see our band Lotion. Two weeks prior, spinART had released their new album “Full Isaac”. I was back in the green room and overhead the lead guitar player state he was sick of playing the songs off their just released album.
That didn’t make sense to me. “You just started touring on this album, how can you be sick of playing the songs already?”
“Jeff”, he shot back, “the album might have just came out, but we wrote these songs almost two years ago, we have been playing them forever. We’re tired of them, we want to play new stuff”.
I realized how clueless I was for not getting it. Lotion had written these songs years ago. They recorded them as demos and sent them around. They toured and played incessantly to get a label interested. After months of gigs, mailing demo tapes, perfecting their live show, learning how to play the songs live, and coming up with the best set lists, they finally got labels interested. Then came the contract and two months of subsequent negotiations before it got signed. They then went back into the recording studio to re-record the songs they had recorded over a year before. With that done, they needed to make the full CD art, get a band photo shot and write a bio. With the CD art and master, the manufacturing order could be placed, and it wold be another three weeks before the final ready to go CDs would arrive.
Finally, 18 months after first writing and performing the songs, they had their album in their hands with full art, ready to go……but there was yet more waiting.
Magazines like Spin, Option, Magnet, Alternative Press etc needed three months lead time to consider it for review. Off went the mailings to press, college radio, commercial radio, retail stores (for in-store play), each outlet needing several months of lead-time to properly “set up” the album.
Finally, almost two years after Lotion first wrote and played their songs on the album, it was released. To the world the album “Full Isaac” was new; to Lotion it was old. They were itching to move on to new material.
The very process of distribution caused a huge time lag that impacted artistic creativity. In some ways it may have stifled the band from writing and recording more music. In other ways, it might have given them the experience to be a kick-ass touring band teaching them to play and perform better by playing the same songs over and over.
All of this changed when music fans stated buying music online. Currently at TuneCore, most music is live on-line at iTunes around the world waiting to be bought within three to four hours after finishing checkout,. What used to take years for the very select few, now takes hours for anyone that wants it.
And it got me thinking, how does this impact the creative process? I would suspect that more artists make more music more regularly, that many artists no longer need to tour and play the songs from recordings from years ago. Is more music more quickly recorded and released a good thing, a bad thing or neither? How will it impact the creative process? Would the Beatles, Radiohead, Led Zepplin, Queen, U2, or any band, have become better, worse or just plain different in this model?
It all moves so quickly now, almost at the speed of sound….