Essential Tools for the 21st Century Musician: Technology

In my previous post about tools for the 21st Century Musician, I discussed improvisation as probably the most useful tool musicians can be using. In a way, technology is even more indispensable. Unless our voice is our primary or only instrument (and even then there are exceptions), then nearly everything we make music on is the result of some level of technology.  Whether we’re talking about the technology of carved bone flutes and dried skins over a wooden frame, or the highly advanced craft that luthiers use to carve/mold stringed instruments, or the ability to build circuitry or program for electronic instruments or computers, there is always some level of technology involved in the making of musical instruments.

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Kaiser on the Royal Opera House Cinema Season

Royal Opera House Cinema Season 2013/14
Royal Opera House Cinema Season 2013/14

Michael Kaiser’s latest blog post discusses the slowly growing trend for streaming to movie theaters as the Royal Opera House moves into that form of broadcast.

The Royal Opera House recently announced it would soon begin beaming performances to American movie theaters, mimicking the broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. We have also seen several high profile theater productions transmitted in a similar manner. The rationale given for the value of these broadcasts is that they build new audiences, although the jury is still out on this. From my unscientific observation, it seems we are merely substituting one source of entertainment for another for the same, traditional audience.

He brings up several questions about what this means in the bigger picture for the arts such as:

Are we witnessing a major transition in the arts from regional organizations to fewer mega-organizations with the sophistication to mount large scale productions, to market them well and to raise large sums of money?

Technology has certainly made it easier for consumers to access the best in culture – if not live than via their personal computers and mobile devices.

And as the cost of a ticket to a regional symphony or opera company has risen dramatically, is it now preferable to many consumers to watch name-brand singers, dancers and musicians at home, or a local movie theater at a far lower cost than going to a live performance at a regional venue?


Does this spell the end of the mid-sized regional arts organization? Will it be increasingly difficult to build an audience and a donor base for a $10 million arts organization? Will boards simply give up trying to fund ever-increasing budgets? Will many of these organizations shrink, or disappear entirely?

As I’ve blogged a bit about the live cast phenomenon, outdoor stadium projections, and economies of scale, and how this type of media may affect local music economies I haven’t really been following the trend much.  It remains to be seen how this will affect smaller music markets but until the infrastructure and technology for live casting becomes affordable, Kaiser is correct in that fewer arts organizations with smaller budgets will be able to afford this.  And now these smaller organizations will have to begin competing with top notch brand names in the Classical Music industry in their own markets.  It’s something that the musicians in organizations are also aware of as this short conversation between me and one of the LA Phil’s cellists at the Internet Cello Society forums shows.

And even if many, if not all, performing organizations can access this technology and engage in this kind of broadcasting, it’s still a matter of what is the market for seeing the Small-Town-Symphony-Orchestra in the cinema play Beethoven’s 5th as opposed to seeing it played by the Berlin Philharmonic or the LA Phil?  Other than possibly ex-pats from various cities, it would seem the market might be small–which is why I think a return to local culture could be a way to alleviate the competition issue since that would create product differentiation.

While the international market may prefer seeing a cast of the Berlin Phil perform Beethoven or the Met Opera perform Puccini what if the Louisville Orchestra were to start performing the works that made its international reputation that were commissioned specifically for them?  What if Liza Kravinsky’s Go-Go Symphony were to create it’s own livecast market or Orchestras that exist to feature local composers, compositions, and content?

Certainly, growing audiences for such local institutions will take time, but it’s already happening as I’ve been documenting in many of my blog posts.  I’ll be curious to see if what comes of it once an organization like this attempts to break into the cinema market.  Of course so much of this is ironic given how the cinema industry put so many musicians out of work in the early 20th century as well as how live scores for films is making something of a comeback.

Do check out Kaiser’s piece as I think some of the other questions he asks might be intriguing to explore.  To find a Royal Opera House screening near you in the states, go here.  Also check out David Byrne’s ‘The internet will suck all creative content out of the world‘ piece discussing online streaming.

Historical Overview of Technological Solutions to the Arts

Mark Shubin gives one of the most interesting overviews of the technology in the arts–fascinating stuff and do take a look at some of his other blog posts.