Does music vanish the moment the performance comes to an end? It seems that music only exists as long as we can hear it. After all, music is organised sound - and when there is no sound, there is no music.
But if that were the case, why do songs, pieces, even specific performances live on through generations and ages? The reality is that music is so much more permanent that we often realise.
And what’s the most intriguing thing about it all? That music is immortalised in such an intangible way! Music has no physical matter, music doesn’t look like anything. Music lives on in our minds, in our ears, as works of art.
The Recording Industry and the Industrial Economy
Now you might be tempted to think - yes music is permanent because we have recordings! Youtube videos, playlists on spotify, CD’s and vinyl records - music exists in all these mediums.
While yes, that’s true to a certain extent, music’s permanence existed way before technology even made recording of sound possible. Music’s permanence began to take noticeable shape when the notion of a musical ‘work’ was conceived around the beginning of the 19th century.
The word ‘work’ bears an intriguing link to the world of economics, where goods are produced and thereafter distributed to be consumed. If we think of musical works as artistic goods, then we are stockpiling for ourselves these artistic entities (as amorphous as they are) to be later performed to a listening audience.
That may be a rather crude way to put it, but in essence it means that the music we make is our artistic capital that we as musicians are stewards of!
What it Means for Musicians
In light of the permanence of music, we as musicians need to take even more pride in what we create. Yes, we make music for fun, for relaxation, as a communal activity, but on top of all that, we also make music as art.
Let’s take our work seriously as musicians, as artists, and create music we will be proud of. Don’t just create music for more likes or appraise, as important as those may be for some, but create it as an expression of yourself and your experiences that will last a lifetime or more.
By Neil Chan