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Amateurs Blur With Professionals – As Music Apps Get Better, The Music Will Too [INTERVIEW]

image from ipadgames.org This is part two of my interview with Suzanne Lainson. She is a marketing strategist who has worked with sports, tech, and music companies, and currently writes about the future of the music industry for the Brands Pus Music blog. In this interview, she talks about the implication of a global community of creators and how they will shape our culture.

Hypebot: Was the iPhone a tipping point for expressive social media that could operate on a global scale?

Suzanne Lainson: For music, yes. While YouTube has been more important than iPhones for user-generated content overall (plus I think it has been a far more important development for the music industry than iTunes), in terms of opening the music creativity door to general audiences, I credit the iPhone. The primary reason has been the explosion of apps that allow people to turn the iPhone into a music-making device. Additional reasons: It's portable. People always have it with them. It's constantly plugged into a network that can reach the entire world.

Hypebot: How does having a global community of amateur and professional music creators shape culture?

Suzanne Lainson: It will change the perception of what it means to be creative and to be an artist. The walls will come down between "professional" and "amateur." Everyone will be able to create, produce, and promote music to some degree or another. It has already happened in other creative fields (e.g., photography, videography, design). As creative tools become both more advanced and cheaper, creativity becomes accessible to more people.

It becomes easier to translate an idea into reality and it becomes easier to practice to become even more creative. And then when online sites (e.g., YouTube, Flickr, Etsy, deviantART) collect this creativity and make it searchable, it becomes a vast library to draw upon. Overall, that's good for the world. We end up with a wealth of creativity coming from unexpected places. But for people hoping to specialize in a creative field, their job becomes harder. They're up against not only other professionals, but also part-timers.

Hypebot: What are the main challenges that arise in attempting to unlock the creative potential of everyone?

Suzanne Lainson: Good question. I don't really see any. Take photography, a creative endeavor that has become widely available to everyone. In the 1800s, only a few people had cameras. Eventually cameras became much smaller and mass-produced, so lots of people could take snapshots. Then, as point-and-shoot cameras got better, more "amateurs" started taking better photos. But there was still the expense of developing lots of photos to capture the few exceptional ones. That's how the professional photographers differed from most amateurs. The professionals spent the time to shoot thousands of photos and also had the darkroom skills to process rolls and rolls of film.

Then digital cameras were invented. The technology meant: (1) "Amateurs" could shoot lots of photos and just delete the bad ones. They no longer had to pay to have them all developed. (2) Shooting lots of photos let "amateur" photographers amass a bigger body of work and also improve their skills through the additional practice. In other words, digital cameras let amateurs reduce the "photo volume" advantage that professionals had over them. (3) Digital cameras allowed them to immediately see their work and experiment on the spot. In other words, they sped up the learning curve.

The playing field hadn't totally been leveled, though. In the early days of digital photography, there was a big difference in price between great cameras and the cheap ones most people could afford. But in time better cameras got cheaper. Now you see a lot of stunning photos on Flickr by people who would still technically be considered "amateurs."

Finally cameras started appearing in mobile phones. Now everyone has a camera on them. So you've got a lot of "amateur" photojournalists, paparazzi, and nature photographers available to shoot a photo if something happens in front of them.

What will likely happen with music is that the tools will make music creation so accessible, everyone will be able to make music. If, for example, they have an easy-to-use device that lets them make a song in a few minutes, they might start turning out hundreds and hundreds of songs. Some of those songs might be pretty good.And as they create more songs, they will likely get even better at it.

And the technology will get better, too. With millions of songs being generated, a lot will be so-so, but some will be very good, and some will be brilliant. Even professional songwriters write a lot of songs to find a few keepers.

Hypebot: As more fans become music creators, will they be more likely to respect the creativity of others?

Suzanne Lainson: I think that as you learn more about your craft, you respect others who are also creative. However, I've seen a lot of musicians whose exposure to music is pretty limited. So I think you can still run into the problem of "not knowing what you don't know." In other words, even as you learn to use the tools to create, you don't necessarily take the time to study what others have created unless you are motivated to do so. Getting good at your own work doesn't necessarily expose you to anyone else's work.

In terms of piracy, I think musicians who are trying to sell their own music are less likely to assume they are entitled to free music. That being said, and even if they would never use illegal file sharing to build their music libraries (no musicians I know have ever mentioned doing it), and even if they wouldn't ask a friend to burn a copy of an entire album for them, they are not likely to question getting a mix from a friend. Sharing their favorite songs with one another is pretty common among musicians. So there IS some "piracy" going on. But then, if they hear something they like, they might go out and buy the entire album. They are also likely to buy an album from a fellow musician as a show of support. (Or if they are too broke, they might suggest an exchange of albums so they have each other's.)

But I don't think piracy is much of an issue anyway. (1) With so much free legal downloadable and streamable music, musicians can hear everything they want. (2) I foresee a time in the near future when no one will sue pirates because no one will have the money to do so. (3) I think technology will allow everyone to create "sounds like" music. Rather than pirating someone else's work, you'll just be able to press a few buttons to generate music reminiscent of someone else's but is uniquely yours.


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