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The decade in ideas: local artists, DJs, studio heads, and tech geeks discuss the past and present in music 

Wednesday, Dec 23 2009
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This month marks not only the close of the year, but also the end of a decade in which we saw the way we create, listen to, and consume music become faster and easier for artists and fans. But all that progressive technology has also left us with broken business models, artists whose music is regularly stolen from the Internet, and inferior quality against so much quantity. SF Weekly writers Jasmine Block, Ezra Gale, David MacFadden-Elliott, and Lars Russell interviewed locals from the artist, DJ, tech, and recording studio sides of the industry to get their reflections on how far music has come in the last 10 years, and where it needs to go next. Jennifer Maerz

What's the one music-related invention that has made the biggest difference to you in the last decade?

Artists and DJs

Headnodic, Crown City Rockers: Musicmaking is so quick and easy, and the delivery of songs is effortless and free. It's a double-edged sword. Music had gotten dispensable because of it. Our attention span is so small that we need to put out a new song every few days in order to stay relevant. I think quality is suffering over quantity, but I'm just an old curmudgeon.

Sonny Smith: Pro Tools. It was a big help, but there were too many trappings with it, too many chances to obsess, and too many chances to sit in front of a computer all night. I had to get away from that bullshit. So I got into tape, which is where rock 'n' roll started.

Logan Kroeber, the Dodos: Well, it's got to be the iPod. It certainly brought about a lot of change in my line of work. Also, the Line 6 looping [guitar] pedal has made a lot possible for our band, especially when we were just a two-piece.

Chet "JR" White, Girls: Computer-based recording is definitely the greatest invention in the last 10 years. It's given people the tools to make a professional-sounding recordings without needing a studio.

Claude VonStroke: The computer sequencer, hands down, whether it's in Reason or Cubase or Sonar or Logic. The technology behind the sequencers allowed me to create the music that was in my head, [helping] me focus my ideas in a way that made a lot of my biggest tunes possible.

Odessa Chen: Pro Tools. Being able to practice and then hear it back in such high fidelity (as opposed to a cassette tape) right away makes it easier to equate the "feeling" of singing with what that singing actually sounds like to other people.

Juan Manuel Caipo, Bang Data: The development of audio/recording/editing software, along with digital distribution and online retail/music-sharing technology. The fact that we have been able to produce music at a fraction of the cost and distribute it worldwide is pretty unbelievable. Yeah, we still have to work hard maintaining good quality and getting the word out by becoming self-promoting warriors, but it's fun and well worth it.

DJ Jeffrey Paradise, "Blow Up": Without a doubt it would be [vinyl emulation software] Serato Scratch Live. I was really late to accept Serato because I'm a real vinyl enthusiast, and the search for rare records is something I loved. Serato makes that process much much easier, cheaper, and faster. It's wild.

DJ David Paul, "Prince vs. Michael": Instead of hauling cases of records on tour I can travel with just the Serato box, control records, a laptop, and a small bag of records. It also allows me to spin songs that were previously CD-only releases.

 Eric Frederic, Wallpaper.: The iPod. We see music returning to its original state as an almost intangible presence. You can't see it, can't touch it, but you sure as hell can listen to it. You can also store thousands and thousands of [songs] in a handheld device, which changes the way people think about albums (versus singles), for better or worse.

DJ Kush Arora, solo artist, "Dub Mission": MP3s freed people of the money decision of buying something creative. The commercial music industry is crumbling because people's spending habits are no longer preventing them from exploring creative avenues in music. But labels also can take risks without losing their shirts on physical manufacturing.

Tech

Kevin Arnold, founder and chief executive officer, Independent Online Distribution Alliance: The iTunes music store. It's about the commercialization and the creation of a digital music marketplace, and iTunes was certainly the biggest impact there.

Bryn Boughton, founder and chief marketing officer, IRIS Distribution: iTunes enabled labels to sell, but also really made it easy for you to consume music digitally as a mainstream music consumer if you weren't a real technologically-savvy person.

RJ Pittman, director of product management, Google: iTunes, paired with the iPod, really opened up the world's eyes to where this is all going. In terms of continued portability of music, the next piece has to be the rise of the 99-cent download. The rise of the legal à la carte model has dramatically shifted the way we think about and approach the way we listen to music.

Tim Westergren, founder and chief strategy officer, Pandora Internet Radio: Probably the iPhone, because it is essentially allowing personalized Internet radio to become fully mobile. It's setting up Internet radio to be the future of radio, period.

Studios

John Vanderslice, musician and owner of Tiny Telephone: Definitely the MP3 codec. That's what shattered the power structure and the false gods. In the '90s, there was a hierarchy that a lot of bands believed [in]: You would sign to an indie label and then move up to a major label — like going up from triple-A ball to the majors. That, thankfully, doesn't exist anymore.

What will be the biggest issue facing the music industry in the decade to come?

Artists and DJs

Headnodic: How to keep it an industry. With less monetary value put to recorded music, it won't be long until corporate America has the only dollar left, and before long, artists will be like NASCAR, with corporate sponsors throwing money at them to say "Bacardi" or "Hennessy" in a song. Oh, wait ... too late.

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz

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