The Power and Future of Music

2014 is finally here, and with it is lot of optimism for our economies and the overall health of the music industry. In the last few months of 2013, we saw the passing of the great Lou Reed, the announcement of a YouTube music subscription service that will integrate video (Goodbye Spotify?  Where are you Beats?), and further funding for Applauze, an event recommendation service. Spotify released their DJ Mixer app, which allows users to mix tunes from the service if you have a paid subscription. Music keeps changing and seemingly every day new apps are created and released, as the music business continues its evolution into a technology business. This evolution, however, often leaves many forgetting that music is more than “content." The social connections and healing powers of music are well documented.  Numerous sites and apps have purported to match potential dates based on music preferences, and studies have shown that emotions can be regulated by music. Dan Levitan, in his great book “This is Your Brain on Music,” demonstrates how music impacts individual neurochemistry and can change our mood almost instantaneously through pitch, timbre, anticipation, and resolution. Music helps patients with Alzheimer’s disease as well (see a great example here).

Going forward, to sustain and grow, the industry must remember the importance of their core product. We must also anticipate problems and their solutions, something at which the music industry has never been particularly successful. (Remember Napster? The service that came around a full 5 years after the birth of the commercial Internet?) There are many creative ideas out there today, but who is really thinking beyond tomorrow? In a world of augmented reality and 3-D printers, what does the future hold? Imagine the ability for a band to make its own merchandise on the road, or even further, the ability to print your favorite band t-shirts at home on your MakerBot. What about live concert hologram performances in your living room using already available 3-D technology?

Cynthia Turner, a conductor and professor of performance at Cornell’s department of music, is working on integration of augmented reality into orchestral performances. She envisions a totally different orchestra experience, where a conductor uses Google Glass instead of reading sheet music, and believes metronomes and other key music tools can be incorporated into Glass via applications. Tod Machover has been widely renowned for his work on the “Opera of the Future,” allowing amateurs and professionals to collaborate through new techniques, design of contemporary performance spaces, and creation of interactive touring concepts.

Conceptual thinking like this is our hope. Let’s start thinking about what the world looks like in 2020, and begin to envision music’s role in it. This should be the music industry’s resolution for 2014.