MusicTank debate: Is new tech the new Beatles or just new thinking?

MusicTank debate: Is new tech the new Beatles or just new thinking?

Gaynor O’Flynn, the UK digital-music performance artist, issued a passionate plea for a more measured application of technology to creativity during a MusicTank panel session this week.

Titled Is Technology the New Beatles?, the concept behind MusicTank’s discussion event in London was to question whether digital media could be as revolutionary an influence on music as The Beatles were.

O’Flynn, however, argued that it would be a mistake for artists to allow technology to dictate how they created, distributed and marketed their works and made a living.

“Get out and play and be creative,” she told the MusicTank audience. “There are 22,000 people on my mailing list from gigs, events. The big lie is to buy (Facebook) ‘Likes’. Focus on your art, work hard, and learn about your rights. That, for me, is the way to create a sustainable business model in this technology age.”

She said she understood why the consumer-friendly nature of new technology has had such an impact on how 21st-century artists approached their careers.

“When people first applied new technology to music, they used (computer) folders and windows, metaphors for (the analogue) things they knew,” she explained. “But technology doesn’t always serve us; it can slow us down. To be creative, new technology is something (a tool) you have to use.”

Panellist Michela Magas, founder/creative director of Music Tech Fest and a European Commission advisor, supported O’Flynn’s advice on how to engage technology with music. “Every technology is as good as you use it,” she said.

Despite current drawbacks, the music industry is learning to embrace technology effectively, noted Gerard Grech, CEO of the UK government-supported initiative Tech City UK.

Following live high-tech inspired performances at the MusicTank event, Grech said: “What we saw today came out of R&D (research and development). Technology allows you to be in all kinds of businesses. Technology is pushing us into a new world of music consumption and creation. That was impossible 10 to 15 years ago.”

Giving an overview of the state of digital music, Jeremy Silver, author, thought leader and entrepreneur, warned that technology can be “demonic, disruptive and damaging”. Referring to negative side effects such as piracy, he added: “The Internet is an instant laboratory for anyone who wants to experiment, but it can be scary and difficult to navigate.”

Also participating in Is Technology the New Beatles? were various music-tech innovators.

Adam Place is founding director of nu desine, manufacturer of the AlphaSphere, a new kind of electronic musical instrument that melds music technology, product design and electronics engineering. “We believe in the democratisation of the music-making process and, something like the AlphaSphere, which has appeal in education and also in therapy, demonstrates this.”

Ben Dawson is co-founder and product director of Immersive Album, a content-delivery format designed to enable fans to engage with recorded music by adding art and design using digital mobile and virtual-reality devices. “We enable artists to present their works in 3D spaces,” he said.

Rory Elliott is called the Alchemist at holographic-content creator Musion. The company was the co-creator of the hologram projection of Tupac Shakur, the dead legendary US rapper, at the 2012 Coachella Festival. Elliott disclosed the results of a poll that asked which dead artists readers would love to see “digitally resurrected”. Jimi Hendrix topped the list, followed by Kurt Cobain and John Lennon. The next seven were Freddie Mercury, Jim Morrison, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and Notorious BIG.

Rafe Offer is co-founder Sofar Sounds, which sets up intimate concerts in people’s living rooms worldwide. Offer said the venture started as a desire to attend small gigs that had no irritating background noise spoiling the experience.

Today, Sofar Sounds has organised more than 1000 gigs in 100 cities. “The artists taking part are selected by people who curate who plays,” Offer said. “It’s not about whether the artists (selected) are popular. The question is: are they good or not?”

Jean-Baptiste Thiebaut is head of business development at ROLI, which manufactures the Seaboard Grand, a next-generation digital keyboard described as “piano of the future”. “Fascinated by computers’ ability to play music,” he said, ROLI made the Seaboard to “bridge the acoustic world and the physical world and the digital possibilities”.

[Juliana Koranteng]