I was recently sent a link to Music Xray. This company claims to have software that can analyse a piece of music, and by comparing the underlying mathematical patterns to those of hit songs, can indicate the probability that the piece of music will also be a hit song.
Maybe the system works, maybe it doesn’t. That doesn’t really concern me. What concerns me is what the very presence of this system means. It’s another symptom of the state of the music industry, an industry which is controlled by people with no interest in music, people who focus on grabbing money in the short-term and are unaware of the damage that they are causing to the future of music.
Music Xray, if it works, will only succeed in homogenising music, stripping out all of the quirks and mistakes and leaving behind a limited set of acceptable songs. And though these songs will be mathematically perfect, they will be devoid of soul and originality. They will cause a chemical reaction in your brain that brings pleasure, but they will not be intellectually stimulating.
Music will not die, because music does not require an industry to survive. However, we will end up with two distinctly different forms of music – the music which has been produced by computers to cause the desired response to make everyone part with their money; and the music which has been written by humans, complete with all its beautiful flaws, potentially even with these flaws exaggerated as a badge of authenticity.
And maybe one day there will be a backlash, and people will tire of being exploited. Then, the industry will reprogram their computers to emulate the flawed underground music, and the “real” musicians will have to prove themselves through different means. In many ways, we have already seen this happen, as the mainstream repeatedly hijacks new movements and then clumsily attempts to mass-produce what they see, leaving a noxious aroma over the rich, promising cultures which they invaded.
Who is to blame here? Is it the music industry for manipulating the market to seize every penny that they can lay their hands on, without any thought for their long-term livelihood? Is it the consumers, for having simple tastes and a willingness to keep paying silly money for the same thing? Is it the artists, for being so desperate for fame that they are willing to sign a contract that will probably never bring them any money? Or is it all of us, for thinking that we are invincible, and that bad things only ever happen to other people?