Andrew Sullivan linked to this Oliver Sacks interview the other day, and highlighted this quote regarding the iPod and musical creation:
As Daniel Levitin has pointed out, passive listening has largely replaced active music-making. Now that we can listen to anything we like on our iPods, we have less motivation to go to concerts or churches or synagogues, less occasion to sing together. This is unfortunate, because music-making engages much more of our brains than simply listening.
I should first say that I haven’t read either Sacks’ book on the subject, or any of Daniel Levitin’s work. But at the very least, I’d like to see more evidence for this. In the first place, on the face of it, I think the effect of the iPod on attendance of religious services is negligible. It just sounds like the kind of wait a minute statement that’s only plausible if you don’t stop to think about it.
But more substantively, I just don’t believe a smaller percentage of people are making music than they used to be. In fact, I’d wager that a larger percentage of people are, for a pair of interconnected reasons: there are more ways to make music, and more ways to distribute the music you’re making, than there used to be.
"Human Synthesizer" Design by Network Osaka, used under a Creative Commons license
It’s not clear to me whether Sacks considers the creation of a mash-up in a program like GarageBand “making music,” but I’d certainly say it is. Further down the line, there are games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Is somebody who plays those “making music”? I’m not sure. I haven’t played the games, and I haven’t read Sacks’ book, so I’ve no idea where he would stand on that. Now it may be true that fewer people are, say, learning to play the piano, in favor of some of these new tools. Or, conversely, more people are being introduced to the idea of making music through those digital venues, and begin to see “amateur musician” as a plausible secondary identity.
While this seems somewhat apart from Sacks’ original point, I would also be willing to accept that fewer people are making an attempt to make a living off of music. The relatively new facts of digital piracy, downloading, and filesharing have yet to fully sort themselves out.