Ah, T Bone Burnett! He’s considered the godfather of the Americana movement. He’s the guy who made traditional music from folks like Maybelle Carter and The Carter Family cool in the 21st century. He’s exposed the healthy roots of American music like no one’s done before.
I’m a fan for sure, not just of Burnett’s work but of the gospel he brings to a discipline that is divine. His outlook on music as an art form is one I share. His view on technology’s bastardization of contemporary music is also a view I share wholeheartedly.
Burnett’s keynote at the 2016 AmericanaFest kicked the conference off with riveting commentary that is clearly moving people within the music community. He’s apparently very comfortable addressing disciples of an enormous movement regarding music’s sacred nature, while eschewing the trappings of technology.
“Digital is not an archival medium. Most new technologies do not survive 10 years. Our art, if we do it right, will,” he said. In the past he’s mentioned the fact the digital revolution has turned musicians into salesmen. “I didn’t start playing music because I thought it would lead to a career in marketing.”
Yet, the digital revolution has forced everyone on both sides of music’s infrastructure into a corner that dilutes the creative process of artful music, and the creative process of marketing. In essence both fields are now littered with posers and opportunists. [Technology] has no ethics”…”music and art are not binary”….”we are told to get good at marketing.
“The arts have always led the sciences. Einstein said Picasso was ahead of him by 20 years,” which is a bold and honest assessment of our innate, creative nature, one that has been diminished by the educational system which puts a much higher value on science.
“Art is not a career, it’s a vocation, an inclination, a response to a summons.”
In tandem with his keynote address, Burnett wrote an op-ed piece in The Tennessean which opens yet another controversial topic regarding music, technology, and copyright law. It’s a noble stand he’s taking defending music’s integrity where tech and art meet at the intersection of 75 years of copyright, common law, and consent decrees that have worked fine until now.
That he has to take a stand is a sorry situation, as most artists should take a stand for themselves, or at least join together for the common good. But his voice carries weight, and the music he loves comes from a more pristine era than we occupy today.
At every plateau over the last 100+ years where technology put the cart before music, there have been controversies.
- Sheet music,
- The 78 record
- The 33 LP
- The 45 single
- 8-track cassettes
- Streaming….the list of formats music has survived is pretty amazing
The glory years of recorded music were highest in the last half of the 20th century when vinyl was king, and the record label system was still in place. We live in a digital reality, yet analog recording is assuming a trendy place in the market. If you decide to go analog, the effects of the digital marketplace can’t hurt you…at least, for now.
T Bone Burnett will always be credited with reviving the roots of American music, turning our attention backward to a simpler time. It’s possible he’ll be able to keep everyone from having to turn to a whole new chapter in protecting their art, the discipline that is music.