The second annual Rethink Music conference wrapped up yesterday here in Boston, though the ideas behind the event are meant to keep going. Presented by Berklee College of Music in association Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the two-day program and “Impact Weekend” brought together “the strongest minds from across all facets of the music industry to examine current challenges and formulate paths forward.” If it affects the present and future of music performance and business, Rethink Music means to cover it.
This blogger wasn’t able to attend Rethink Music (darned rent-paying, emotionally fulfilling day job!), and due to my affiliations with the higher education community, chose to opine about the event after the fact. Yet something tells me that as a devotee of jazz reissues, small classical labels and other specialized outlets for “old” music, there wasn’t much there for me anyway.
Then something else tells me I’m wrong.
The fact is that Rethink Music should have something (if not everything or exactly the right thing) to say to anyone who cares about any form of music as something more than a diversion. Panels such as “Music and Technology” and “Building an Artist Brand” might seem better suited for Justin Bieber or P. Diddy’s clientele, but those topics deal with marketing and utilizing today’s resources to grow audiences, issues that even Louis Armstrong and Mozart’s current “handlers” need to consider. Every niche label owner, audio restorer, record collector, local orchestra manager and purveyor of the pop of yestercentury should be listening.
YouTube, blogs, digital downloads and other online platforms have revolutionized the way listeners find and hear music. They’re not perfect, but they certainly have their advantages (unless we all have the time and money to shop for 78’s, or fly to that opera we want to hear). As for “branding,” has anyone ever thought to publicize “Satch” and “Wolfie” as anything more than historical objects, or suppliers of medicine that’s good for audiences even if they don’t like the taste?
In short, Rethink Music is talking about access and adaptation, two words which are too often criticized by aficionados of “good music.” Discussions about the death of classical music and jazz often come down to a lack of new audiences, or degenerate into sweeping generalizations about the banality of popular taste. Yet the fault, as well as the hope, is in our hands: if we want to keep hearing the music we love, and if we want our children to hear it all, we’ll start paying attention to what meetings like Rethink Music have to say.