The Playground

The Simply Music blog

Sharing Music, the Digital Revolution & the Future of Community

Found in: The Music Business

Simply Music IllustrationMusic has always been a social phenomenon. Whenever people have gathered together, music has usually been involved. In some cultures, the distinctions between music, dance and spoken language are blurred and music is part of almost every communication. In others, music might be shared more passively, but that doesn’t have to make it less meaningful. Most of my favourite musical experiences have occurred in company. I have many memories of wonderful concerts shared with friends. It’s a strange hybrid experience; ultimately your response is uniquely yours, but with the right music and the right companions, you can have the sense that you’re floating on the same cloud. How often have you sat down with someone after a concert and found you need only to mention some moment in one song and it’s clear from their face that they got it the way you did?

The same goes with recorded music, which is one area where the mostly brilliant digital music experience can seem to miss something important. Most people my age will remember buying the latest CD (okay, or LP) from their favorite artist and getting together to share a first (and second, and third) listening, perhaps poring over the liner notes or discussing a lick or lyric. Then there was the subtle art of the mix tape, carefully crafted to move or impress. I see my own children consuming music in a different way. It’s still meaningful to them, but they seem to be less inclined to communicate the experience through shared listening. Their milieu doesn’t encourage it. I recently observed two teenagers walking down the street sharing a single pair of earbuds, which was endearing, but didn’t seem too satisfactory from an aural point of view, let alone safety. Actually, call me squeamish, but using someone else’s earbuds just somehow seems to be de-motivating.

You could argue that the digital music realm is just another step down the path away from being participants and towards being purely consumers, but there’s plenty of evidence that we are still busily making music. Despite it being, by all reports, harder than ever to make a living as a musician, there seems to be more and more music out there.  Reality TV shows, whatever else you may think of them, are getting more of us interested in the process of making music and inspiring some of us to take up singing or playing an instrument. Outlets like YouTube are encouraging amateurs to break out and show their work, even if only to friends. Musicians of all stripes are finding new outlets and specialist audiences.

Eric Whitacre’s thoroughly global Virtual Choir


Maybe there’s even an opportunity for us here to bring music-making to more individuals by somehow leveraging the new forms of sharing offered by social networks. We can all be stars on our own channels, smudging the lines separating polished professionals from part-time potterers, perhaps finding new followers and feeling okay to share our offerings, even when they don’t seem to come up to the standards of a traditional musical elite. We may even be able to use networks to develop new real-world musical communities. Perhaps the free-for-all is a chance for everyday people to reclaim music-making as an everyday pursuit.

One thing is certain – with all its pros and cons, the digital revolution is here to stay and will affect us in ways we can’t yet even imagine. The future of community is probably one of less depth and more breadth – larger social groups with shallower communications – but there will always be those of us who will look for ways to reach real people in real ways. And there will also be those who find exciting new ways to combine the arts and social media. Perhaps poring over a new album with friends in your lounge room is being replaced by sharing links to some exciting new find on Facebook.

In that spirit, here are some inspiring examples of uniquely digital creativity:

Don’t you worry ’bout a thing – Arranged & performed by Jacob Collier


The home-made delights of Pomplamoose


In a future article we’ll discuss some options for sharing and community-building. In the meantime, feel free to tell us some of the ways you use the online realm to share and discover music.