Making the World a Safer Place for New Music

Here’s to a Happy and Prosperous 2011

The first post of the new year – what to say? Ah, got it. . .

As a music publisher, I’m excited to see and experience all of the wonderful technology we have at hand. First, a speedy broadband connection – without this, I wouldn’t be able to communicate with you reading this post. I get all my news via this connection, whether it’s via news feeds (RSS or podcasts) or internet radio. In fact, I’ve reduced my paper subscriptions from 5-6 publications to one: the Economist. Thanks to the internet, we have more than enough views of the world to appreciate and I often feel as though I don’t have enough time to stay on top of it. But, I digress. . .

Second, wireless devices – smart phones, laptops, and tablets. So, when I’m out and about I still have access to the internet and its plethora of information. Last summer, we watched a fireworks display from a neighbor’s lakefront balcony. A forecast of thunderstorms was the topic of discussion and our neighbor (a generation older and not tech savvy) expressed concern for his orchard. So, I fired up my iPhone, opened a weather app, and showed him the radar. “Wow, you have all that information available on your phone,” he said with amazement. He’s a very intelligent man, so he didn’t spend much time oohing and aahing about the tech. He had already moved on with his thoughts and re-focused on the impending weather. My point is: thanks to the internet and the tech of the devices that can access it, peoples lives are instantly transformed for having the information at hand.

This access helps us my family live very well on very little. We choose to heat our home with sustainable wood, burned in a stove with a catalytic converter (researched via the web). All the wood is reclaimed from downed trees (removed from neighbors’ yards) and costs us nothing to keep us warm for the winter. In fact, for the next 2 winters we’re toasty warm for free. Yes, it’s only doable with a brawny, resourceful person to collect and chop the wood, but it is certainly worth the effort. Would I do this if I lived alone? Probably not, and then I’m in the same situation as the rest of you. But, returning to my point, our access to the internet helped us make an informed decision in minutes that 10-20 years ago would have taken days/week to decide and provides us with the option to live a much, more sustainable life.

Further, we don’t subscribe to traditional cable or satellite TV – we have plenty of visual stimulation from news podcasts and streaming video sites. Again, only viable with a speedy broadband connection. We’ve recently added a Veebeam to our TV, so we now exchange the USB dongle between laptops whenever one of us wishes to do the screencasting. We also listen to radio online and have no loss in access to our valuable information – unless the broadband, electricity AND mobile phone networks crash at once. (OK, now I’m sounding like James Burke, so back to point.)

And, here we come (via a circuitous path) to my thoughts today: As a music publisher, part of what I do involves producing and printing of individual parts for performance by live musicians in concert, ie, an orchestra, an opera, a jazz band, you get the idea. Traditionally, the publisher would either make the music available for purchase (after having printed and stored same many, many sets in a warehouse) or rent/hire out one set of parts (sending it out via courier for each performance). Either way, it’s an expensive business. 10 years ago, I was keen to see the development of software and tech (at that point, networked computer with multiple monitors or laptops) to be used as music stands – all hard wired together. The parts could be sent via internet and loaded onto local server for display on each player’s music stand. The main problem is convincing a hall to hard wire their acoustically perfect stage for the tech – a non-starter.

So, my enthusiasm is ramped up with this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas which should feature the debut of many new tablets. Such devices can be placed on existing music stands, connected wirelessly, and all without any refitting of stages. And, with the use of software like WoodWing, deliver a more organic, page turning and viewing experience a la paper to the performing musician. And, speaking from the view point of a music publisher, I’m keen to see how long it takes our performing organizations, as well as software makers, to embrace this idea as a standard practice.

I’ve seen the advent of music typography (or engraving) software and its acceptance in publishing. I laid down my fountain pen (as a copyist) in the 1990’s and haven’t turned back. I don’t miss the eye, neck, wrist and back strain from all-night copying sessions to produce performance materials for a recording session. The all-night sessions are now much more comfortable with the web. I organized a team of engravers throughout different time zones to work at their peak (best times of day/night), eliminating the need for a room of engravers, turned sleep-deprived, cranky zombies at the end of an all-nighter.

From a publishing standpoint, electronic files allow for a streamlined production process and reduction of physical inventory by using print-on-demand services. QR codes printed on a small piece of paper could be used at the concert venue’s merchandising stand to convey a sale. The purchaser then takes the card, redeems it (as it were) and receives the purchased printed folio or audio files of that performance. Or use Bump (an iPhone app) to deliver the folio/audio files to the phone/tablet instantly for display/listening at home. Play Buttons sold of that evening’s performance for an instant memento of what’s heard a la the Grateful Dead and Dave Matthews Band merchandising practices.

Not too long ago, performing venues experimented with hand-held devices to distribute program information in real-time whilst a listener heard the performance. When it comes to translating libretti for opera, or learning about the history of a work, it’s brilliant. And, the best part, it was the listener’s choice to use (or not) the tech whilst enjoying the show.

As with all new uses of existing technology, there are the naysayers and those whose mindset is that of a Luddite. It falls to us, then, to help them value the information for themselves – like my older neighbor and his quick adoption of the weather radar in hand. After all, in some countries, people have mobile phones, but live off the grid, as it were. They don’t have bank accounts but transfer funds to/from their phones. This, to overstate the obvious, is yet another application of information at hand via tech.

This instant tech also means the publisher has a means to “follow” the user and its path to better understand how consumers use their products. Let’s get over the creep factor – whatever privacy you perceive you have on the web is also a non-starter for discussion. So, the very tech I’m embracing to simplify my life is also generating much more information about the way I consume information (and complicating others’ lives!). Nonetheless, while we do our best to control what personal information is broadcast, it is a difficult and all-consuming task to accomplish without completing living off the grid.

Our daily living goal is to live as sustainably as possible. For us, it means using tech, along with the web, as an essential resource – similar to water. Our lives flourish because of the instant access. I just want to see my profession – music publishing – do the same: embrace all that’s necessary to maximize the human interaction while reducing expenses. Make it sustainable for everyone living on the Earth, thereby allowing us to continue living a fulfilling, prosperous and enriched life. We must have art, and it should be affordable and accessible for everyone.

With that lofty sentiment, I wish you all the best for a happy and prosperous new year!


  1. Tiffaney Hohney

    All I’ve got to say is I love you

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