In the baroque and classical periods composers and musicians were valued in a very different way from today. Composers such as Handel and Bach took up residence with noble members of society where they received patronage for their performances and the showcase of new compositional works (Grout & Burkholder & Palisca 2006). As with all musical forms, a century ago everything was communicated through the medium of performance. To consumers, music was not yet an entity that could be owned or physically possessed.
In 1908 a case of piracy was heard in the US Supreme Court between two manufacturers of piano rolls. The claim was that one had copied the roll of another. The court ruled that:
“A copy is that which comes so near to the original as to give every person seeing it the idea created by the original . . . . These musical tones are not a copy which appeals to the eye.
In no sense can musical sounds which reach us through the sense of hearing be said to be copies” (Jones, 2009).
This is an interesting indicator of where music sat in the mind of the populace at the start of last century; it illustrates how music has become commodified with the advent of material formats. Prior to this people did not believe in the value of a sound but as technology evolved to present music in new media such as vinyl records and CDs, music came to be conceptualised in terms of aural ownership and value. Before recorded music this was not the case. Music was a collective experience solely based on communication through performance - far from the individual experience of the iPod that it has become today.
In the modern context this almost seems alien as we have lived with the musical habitat of recordings our whole lives. Hajdu (2009) suggests that we listen to a piece of music and take it in, hoping that it will prove to be not only an expression of human feeling but also a stimulus to it. We expect music to move us personally; this forms a personal ownership or connection to that music (Hajdu). In a more literal sense we buy a copy of music to solidify our ownership of it, for the social status it bestows or to draw inspiration from it and apply it to the work we do ourselves, using whatever of it serves our needs best (Hajdu). The conceptualisation of music has taken on many functions in a modern context; people draw a deep personal connections as well as materialistic utility.
As piracy disrupts the music industry and its now almost monopoly on setting a price for musical products, the debate about the value of music has intensified. Is music to be valued under the technological standards of the last century that allow for its form to be encapsulated and re-experienced? What some have termed a revolution poses key questions for the future which go beyond debates about monetary value or even artistic merit. The challenge for the future of music is whether it can again be seen as a medium through which to create, cajole and communicate rather than as a commodity to be owned and traded.
Grout D, Burkholder P, Palisca C,. 2006, A History of Western Music, seventh edition, Norton & Company, USA.
Hajdu, D,. 2008, 'I ME MINE', New Republic, 25 June, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 1 May 2011.
Jones, R,. 2009 ‘Technology and the cultural appropriation of music’, International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, Vol. 23 Nos. 1–2, p109–122.
Jake Stanaway-Dowse Sid:11239528