Within the past month, two big names in the music industry have had some rather harsh words for Social Media and the Internet.
In case you missed it, singer John Mayer quit Twitter (leaving behind 3.7-million followers). Initially he said he was more interested in his blog and Tumblr site, but in a blog entry (which seems to have mysteriously disappeared from his blog), Mayer wrote:
…since the invocation of Twitter, nobody who has participated in it has created any lasting art. And yes! Yours truly is included in that roundup as well…Has any artist, since they’ve begun to give you daily insights into their life created their best work yet? Are the best writers of our time on Twitter?…Those who decide to remain offline will make better work than those online. Why? Because great ideas have to gather. They have to pass the test of withstanding thirteen different moods, four different months and sixty different edits. Anything less is day trading. You can either get a bunch of mentions now or change someone’s life next year.
Then, just a week or so ago, one of my musical heroes, T-Bone Burnett, went even further while addressing the Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit. I’ve been a fan of Burnett’s since his days with the Alpha Band, through his solo work, and on to his film work with the Coen Brothers, so it pains me to find an area where we disagree. But here are a few statements from Burnett’s session:
“Stay completely away from the Internet…..Don’t be on Facebook, don’t be on MySpace…as soon as you’re on MySpace you’re one of 6-million.”
“Don’t go near the Internet because you’re degrading what you’re doing to such a low point, it has reduced its value to zero.”
He then somehow equates the Internet and MP3s to America’s exporting of jobs and manufacturing overseas only to then buy our own products back. He talks about how this contributes to a trade imbalance…but I’m still not sure what that has to do with recorded music. These are the thoughts and words I would expect from someone who has let the industry pass them by, but Burnett continues to be relevant as a musician and producer.
I believe that both Mayer and Burnett really miss the mark. They seem to be working under the assumption that, while new things are not necessarily bad, they are less pure, perhaps. Mayer challenges us with the statement, “Has any artist, since they’ve begun to give you daily insights into their life created their best work yet?” Well, Twitter has only been around for 4 years, and really only in the “mainstream” for perhaps half that time. How can we evaluate what will stand the test of time? And it’s rare that we determine that someone has created their best work until years, if not decades, later. In other words, the jury is still out. His argument buys into that argument that Twitter is nothing but narcissistic, pointless babble. Mayer seems content to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because something doesn’t work for him doesn’t mean it won’t work for others. And how do we define terms like “lasting” and “art”?
And as for Burnett, how do we determine whether digital is inferior to analog? True audiophiles (which is only a small minority of music fans) debate the best sounding media on a regular basis. If you look at the early history of radio, there were major battles over the use of recorded music as opposed to live music. Playing recorded music on the radio was seen as inferior. And with the introduction of each new medium, purists argued that newer was inferior to older. Does Burnett record only on vinyl as opposed to CD? Does he not understand the nature and value of newer distribution models?
Being present on social platforms and creating art aren’t mutually exclusive. We need to resist the temptation to vilify the new, lest we become like the guy who yelled “Judas” when Bob Dylan plugged in his guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. We need to move forward (with caution), and not be afraid of change. This is an exciting time, and I believe the digital age has made it possible for more good music to be created. Yes, there is also more bad music, but the cream will rise to the top.
I began blogging about this recently in The Changing Face of the Music Industry over on the Whitaker Center’s website, and will be posting over there more often as I examine the relationship between music and the Internet.
Are Mayer and Burnett right or wrong? I think that perhaps, while they may be right in terms of their own careers, generalizations like these are more symptomatic of the bias created by personal prejudices, rather than endemic to the Internet and Social Media in general.
What do you think? Are the Internet and Social Media the enemies of art and creativity? Or can they co-exist or even thrive together? I’d particularly love to hear from those of you who are musicians, writers, or artists. How has the Internet or Social Media impacted your art? Has it hurt or helped?
- John Mayer Quit Twitter To Focus on Lasting Art (justjared.buzznet.com)
- John Mayer Says He Left Twitter For ‘Art’ (mtv.com)
- Conan O’Brien Embraces Social Media (inklingmedia.net)
- Social Media or Anti-Social Media? (inklingmedia.net)