As we sit here today, there may be growing concern and unrest about the future of the music industry, and the future role of musicians within this rapidly changing environment. With regular headlines detailing the collapse of the record companies, periodic news of an orchestra declaring bankruptcy, or the occasional story of another school district abandoning their music program so, ironically, no child is left behind, it is little wonder that the future for musicians seems at the worst, dire, and at the best, unclear. If, however, you can push beyond the fear and uncertainty and clearly see what’s unfolding around you, then, like the awesome beauty of a tornado, or the terrifying splendor of an avalanche, there is great wonder to behold in the cataclysmic collapse of our music industry. I can say this because we aren’t seeing the end of music, or the end of people loving music, or society needing music, or even consumers purchasing music. We are only seeing a transition between the old way of mediating music and the new.
The upheaval that the music industry is currently experiencing has been caused by the music industry equivalent of a Kuhnian paradigm shift. Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, details the traumatic process involved in shifting from one scientific paradigm to the next. With all accepted paradigms there is a steadfast inertia and unwillingness to change. Contradicting evidence that disputes the current theory is ignored or rationalized. Eventually, the anomalies can no longer be ignored. A state of crisis can develop as new approaches and theories are proposed to resolve the discrepancies. The eventual shift to a new paradigm is often contentious and rarely smooth or quick, as supporters of the old, battle the supporters of the new. Although Kuhn’s work on paradigms focused solely on the hard sciences, there are clear similarities to what the music industry is experiencing now.
For the better part of the 20th century, the record companies and music publishing industry followed an incredibly productive and lucrative business model predicated on the notion that all streams of production and distribution flowed through tightly controlled centralized entities, namely the record companies, publishing houses and distribution networks. This paradigm was incredibly stable. It wasn’t until very recently when computers became powerful enough, hard drive became big enough, and the internet developed enough bandwidth that all of the record industry’s worst fears slowly began to come true. As file sharing programs like Napster suddenly burst on the scene and the power of peer to peer music sharing became abundantly clear, the biggest players in the music industry grumbled, yelled, complained, stomped their feet and did their best to suppress the emerging paradigm. Led by tech savvy college students, who readily embraced the move to a digital world of music, the tide began to turn away from the old centralized model of music distribution to a new decentralized approach. Peer to peer music sharing bypassed every single element of the old music industry model. Still, Big Music saw only the threat that this new model held and none of the amazing potential. Their instinct was to protect the very predictable and lucrative paradigm that had served them so very well over the past decades. It had built their gleaming castles filled with armies of middle managers, and no one was the least bit interested in letting it go. So as the digital revolution left the campuses and found favor with ever younger and ever older converts, the music industry stood paralyzed. Steadfast in their refusal to embrace new methods to sell and distribute their product, they pursued the only course of action that seemed prudent at the time– attack the new paradigm, or “Sue the Children.” The industry went straight for the teens who were doing the vast majority of file sharing.
Suing teens by the thousands clearly had a chilling effect on the file sharing community, but at what cost? As Seth Godin points out in his Jan. 7th 2008 blog entitled “Music Lessons”:
“suing people is like going to war. If you’re going to go to war with tens of thousands of
your customers every year, don’t be surprised if they start treating you like the enemy.”
Since the initial rounds of lawsuits and public lamentations of their soon to be lost paradigm, the industry has, with much reluctance, began dipping their toes into the chilly waters of the digital revolution. The biggest shift happened this past couple of years when some of the biggest record companies began offering some of their catalog on Itunes and other providers without DRM (digital rights management).
So in this climate of economic uncertainty, what are the tools a musician will need to navigate the challenging waters of the 21st century? First, they must have the ability to adapt to rapidly changing challenges and opportunities–they must be agile. Next, they must be broad-minded. They need to have the ability to assess situations from various angles and viewpoints drawing from a deep well of broadly acquired knowledge. They also must be collaborative, partnering with other across diverse disciplines and perhaps across diverse countries. They must be life-long learners possessing the ability to acquire new skills and creatively apply them to processes, tools, and artistic opportunities not yet even conceived. Finally, they must be engaged global citizens, and demonstrate a willingness to share their talents and gifts with the next generation so the beauty of artistic expression is carried on for years to come. This is a rather daunting list, but the good news is that the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, situated within an excellent liberal arts college that excels at individualized learning, is perfectly situated to provide our students with exactly what they will need.
What we have to remember, even in this technological age, is that first and foremost, the primary job of a Conservatory of Music is still to train superb musicians, composers, and educators. At the core of this process is providing a solid classical technique which will provide the foundation for everything else. Over the past 20 years, I have witnesses too many fine young artists fall short of their full potential because they lacked technique. It is critical to remember that transcendent artistic moments are built on a foundation of rock-solid technique. This applies to all the fine arts from painting to sculpture, acting, dance, and music. Great Conservatories are built on these essential foundations. The Conservatory then must nurture artistic expression. A conservatory must be committed to helping young artists find their unique artistic voice. Never should it be said of a Lawrence graduate that they are “all chops and no soul.” I am happy to report that our graduates have plenty of both!
Next, the real key to producing creative, versatile, agile, intellectually deep graduates, is to focus on broadening the educational offerings available to the student. Lawrence already has great expertise in this area with its double major programs, endless study abroad offerings, Freshman Studies, convocations, hundreds of courses to choose from in the college. “Well-rounded” is the operative phrase here. It is imperative for students to emerge from the practice room and broaden themselves. A broad liberal education outside of music is a vital key to unlocking one’s full musical potential, and providing the tools needed for success after college.
Collaboration is another important element in a Lawrence education. It is pursued and encouraged across all disciplines. It starts right in the walls of the conservatory itself. It is a common trend in all institutions for departments to practice some level of segregation and isolation. As we look across the landscape of the conservatory, we need to seek opportunities for greater collaborations between strings, voice, woodwinds, brass, theatre, composition, jazz, classical, keyboards, music history, and world music. At the Conservatory, we are always asking: are there opportunities to explore partnerships and collaborations that aren’t currently taking place? Within the Conservatory? Within the College? What can we do to partner with the fine arts department, sciences, languages, economics, government, even geology? These collaborations are remarkable opportunities for growth. A recent class in poetics teamed writers, musicians, and videographers to create collaborative projects in film.
At Lawrence, we are also pushing for political and community engagement. We are committed to dismantling any semblance of an ivory tower and fully engaging with our community. For a skeptical student, programs like Arts Bridge may seem like a great benefit for the community at the expense of the time and energy of hard-working students and faculty, but it only takes the briefest time participating in such a program for a student to realize the immense educational and personal benefits such interactions generate. The opportunities for personal growth that these opportunities foster are exactly what the 21st century conservatory needs to provide, and it is exactly what the Lawrence Conservatory does provide.
Furthermore, the global vision which is so critical in today’s world is second nature at Lawrence. For our students, taking advantage of study abroad programs is the norm, language classes abound, and classes in comparative religions, and world culture fill pages of the course catalogue. We are every bit as committed to this global viewpoint in the conservatory. Our courses in ethnomusicology perfectly complement the five separate world music traditions that are taught at Lawrence. Students can study Brazilian samba drumming, Australian Aboriginal didjeridu, Cuban drumming and singing, Balinese gamelan, and Ghanaian drumming and dancing. The wonderful aspect of a strong world music offering is that it in no way diminishes our core curriculum of Western music traditions, but rather complements and expands it. Studying non-Western music can be a transforming experience as one learns about both the music and culture of the world traditions. The experience also deepens one’s appreciation for our Western music traditions by expanding musical perspectives.
Finally, at Lawrence we are constantly exploring new ways to help students reach their full potential and prepare them for life after their time at the Conservatory. This spring, for example, we will be offering a new course in conjunction with the Economics, Art, and Theater Departments called Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Arts. The course will bring in successful entrepreneurs in the arts, as well as help students initiate their own innovative, real-world projects. The course will encapsulate everything we are doing at Lawrence to prepare our students for the challenges of the 21st century.
As the dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, I am committed to doing everything I can to prepare our students for a fulfilling, exciting, musical life. I undertake this challenge with full knowledge that many of our students will end up in musical careers that may not even have existed at the time of their graduation. Lawrece will give them tool to overcome these challenges, so when our graduates leave these halls, they will go forth with neither fear nor dread, but with passion and excitement, knowing that they have all the tools they need to take advantage of the many artistic opportunities that await them.
Submitted on 6 September 2009
By Brian G. Pertl, Dean, Lawrence Conservatory of Music