The Present and Future of Guitar
01-Apr-2012 By Dan Vuksanovich
When Loud Online asked me to write an article about the present and future of guitar, a “State of the Union” if you will, I jumped at the chance and began collecting my thoughts on the topic. I initially planned to examine the evolution of guitar genres and conduct an analysis of where we are now and where we’re going from a musical genre standpoint. When I started writing, however, I couldn’t help but include a focus on technology disruption and the state of the music industry in general. And then it hit me… I was doing this backwards. The present and future of guitar is not only inextricably intertwined with technology disruption and the music industry, it is beholden to and will be driven by technology disruption and changes in the music industry.
We like to look back with rose colored glasses and think about the musicians who came before us being “true to themselves,” true to a musical vision and immune to outside influences. This is simply not the case. Professional musicians are and always have been part of an economic ecosystem and their music cannot be examined in a vacuum without examining economic influences (otherwise they would not be “professional” musicians). In modern times we think about record sales and concert ticket sales as part of musical economics, but even as far back as the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods, musicians were economically supported by the patronage of the church or rich noble families. Think a record company has too much influence over your music? Would you prefer an ornery 16th century patron who could have you beheaded?
With all that in mind, where the heck are we right now? We are in a state of disruption caused by advances in technology. As consumers, we love technology because it can help make our lives easier. Holiday shopping done in two hours instead of two weeks? With online shopping, no problem. Car broke down? Search for a nearby towing service on your smartphone, and then find a nearby restaurant with Google maps so you can grab a bite to eat while you’re waiting for your car to get fixed.
As employees and business owners, though, technology disruptions can hurt. Sure, we feel the pain as musicians and at times it can seem like we’re the only ones hurting, but look around and you’ll see examples of huge companies brought to their knees by disruption. Eastman-Kodak, once a photography giant, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year largely because it couldn’t adapt quickly enough to the market shift towards digital photography and away from traditional film.
Blockbuster video sold itself to Dish Network after feeling the heat from newer, sexier content streaming services like Netflix. Book seller Borders disappeared entirely when it could not compete effectively in the new online sales and eBook markets.
What I don’t understand is why everyone is so up in arms about the changes to the music industry in general. Back when big record companies and MTV wrote the rules of what we would listen to, musicians used to complain about the fact that music had to fit into a certain box in order to be accepted by those big bad record companies and marketed to the masses. Now that the big bad record companies are on the run, I hear musicians complaining about the “good old days” when there was still money to be made in the music industry (conveniently forgetting that it was the big bad record companies making most of the money). Personally, I don’t think that opportunity has disappeared. I think that a) the game has changed, and b) people just like to complain.
Yes, content streaming, file sharing and American Idol are changing everything, and mostly in ways that are full of risk and uncertainty for struggling musicians, but honestly, has there ever been a time when musicians lives were not full of risk and uncertainty? In the end we have two choices in how to handle the massive changes our industry is experiencing. We can embrace the change and work within the framework of what the music industry has become, or we can resist the change, as Borders did, and become extinct.
This is not all bad news, folks. Consider what advances in technology are doing to benefit individual musicians. For example, it has become incredibly inexpensive to record and produce music. Gone are the days of needing to buy studio time by the hour and pay a professional producer. Got a computer? Well then, for a few hundred dollars you can get up and running with recording software and a USB interface that will allow you to record and produce music in your bedroom. If you’ve already got some sort of amp and effect modeling equipment then you’re in an even better situation because you can typically connect those devices directly to your computer for recording purposes. Don’t have a few hundred dollars? No problem, try Sonoma’s free version of Riffworks, or try the extremely inexpensive open source recording suite Reaper.
Want to market your music? Social media is free and can get your music in front of millions of people. Ever heard of Julia Nunes? Check out her YouTube channel. She’s got over 50 million views of her ukulele original and cover song videos. She’s not the Yngwie Malmsteen of the ukulele, either. She’s just a musician who loves her instrument and has embraced the idea of taking her music directly to the public.
The truth is that in the “good old days” musicians were able to abdicate the business side of the industry to managers, agents and record companies. That option is quickly disappearing. Want to be a professional musician? Better brush up on your business skills, because if you don’t, the Julia Nunes’ of the world will leave you far behind.
So that brings us to the future of guitar. What will it be? Musically, I have no idea. What I do know, though, is that it will be an individual, not a huge corporation, that will show us the way. This individual will not need to prove him or herself to a record executive. This individual will take his/her music directly to the public, and the public will decide whether it’s the future of guitar by taking it viral… or not.
All this is good news, though, right? Each one of us now has the opportunity to create, record and market music on our own, with no one to interfere with our creative vision. The future of guitar is up to each one of us now, and that’s what we as musicians have always wanted, isn’t it?
About the author: Dan Vuksanovich received his Master of Music degree in classical guitar performance from the Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University in 1999. He currently teaches and blogs about how to get better at guitar via his website, www.whyisuckatguitar.com.
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