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Technology, Music and Being Creative
The tech company Apple has a long history of combining music and technology. Remember the iPod? It allowed you to play mp3 files on an incredibly tiny device, and was a big technological step up from the portability of the Walkman and offered more than the twelve of so tracks that you would get on a CD. You could store lots of CDs' worth of music in something less bulky than a Walkman!
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's involvement with music went as further back to 1982, when he envisioned a music festival akin to Woodstock. He staged a three-day concert in the mountains of San Bernardino County, promising the biggest names in music at the time. The "Us Festival", which reportedly cost Wozniak a sizeable chunk of his fortune, kicked off on Sept 3 in 1982, but the festival, featuring artistes such as The B-52s, The Police, Greatful Dead and Fleetwood Mac, was affected by unseasonably hot temperatures. The only relief came from the "Us Festival Technology Exposition", five tents behind the main stage, and roving tanker trucks mounted with water cannons. The Tech Expo tents were the only tents that offered air-conditioning, but if you were there to suss out MacBooks, you would have been sorely disappointed - the later products that Apple would be known for would not yet feature, but things that might be collector's items now were widely displayed: Atari games such as Centipede, Defender and Krazy Kong. You would have had to wait a bit longer for your iPod.
The availability of music in a digital form that could be easily copied has continually been a source of concern to the music industry. "When your product is being stolen, there comes a time when you have to take appropriate action," the Recording Industry Association of America announced, even though "nobody likes playing the heavy and having to resort to litigation". The source of the disagreement? Mp3 files. The availability of music on file sharing websites such as Napster meant that the work of songwriters, musicians and all others involved in the music industry were losing out on royalties, and while earlier piracy strategies were directed at shutting down file-sharing sites, the ease with which these sites re-appeared under different domain names meant that the strategies were not effective. And so the RIAA took things a step further by filing claims against individuals involved in the practice of downloading, some of them minors.
We can argue that sites like YouTube make it possible for musicians to be appropriately renumerated - they earn royalties each time their music videos are being played, but this does not account for the fact that if an individual downloads and converts music from the site, and plays it without accessing YouTube, the musicians are not adequately credited. Apple has also tried introducing some form of copy-protection measures, by only allowing you to play digital music files downloaded through iTunes, but unfortunately someone always finds ways to get around these.
Back in 2003, the RIAA took action against over 10,000 individuals, a quarter of which reached financial settlements. And while technology continues to develop, musicians have to embrace the fact that they will have to depend less directly on music sales, but how they leverage their music, either in the form of music publishing, fan products, and concert sales. In short, it's not all about the music anymore, but what you do with the music. Maybe we will continue to see more musicians promote products like will.I.am pushes Apple? Or perhaps in the future musicians will run Logic Pro courses to aspiring musicians to show them how to produce their own music?
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