Is the internet stifling new music?

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Is the internet stifling new music?

The internet may have been a miracle for music fans, Duran Duran star John Taylor says, but instant access to decades of recordings and artists' inner thoughts is not all good.

In an extract from a speech marking the 40th anniversary of the first message sent over the internet, Taylor explains why the likes of Twitter and YouTube may harm future pop and rock stars.

By John Taylor
Duran Duran bassist

I hated being a teenager, until I discovered just how powerful the world of popular music was. It helped me find an identity and find myself.

Not just the notes and beats, but the icons and the haircuts and the clothes and the liner notes. Music saved me in a way, or at least it gave me a sense of direction of how life could be.

I became a teenager in 1972. In 1972, I was listening to music that was almost exclusively made in 1972. Some of it had been made in 1971, but that was about it, with few exceptions.

“ The speed and growth of new technology has actually served to disguise how little real growth is taking place at the artistic level ”

Something the internet has most definitely done is bring more music from more places and more eras into the hearts and minds of us all, but young people in particular, which is great.

Most students I know have an extremely broad appreciation of music. Far broader than I did. Obviously classic rock is very popular, but so too are all sorts of vintage and world music.

My stepson is at New York University (NYU) and he was telling me how he's currently into Cole Porter, music from the 1920s and swing music from the 40s. So the availability and accessibility of music on the internet today is truly incredible, and I applaud anything that can inspire interest or curiosity in anyone.

But this also means that those of us who before would have been looking towards the current culture for inspiration are now often to be found, like my stepson, in various backwaters of older music.

Creative recession?

This relative lack of need for current, innovative culture can cause, has caused, is causing - maybe - the innovative culture to slow down, much as an assembly line in Detroit slows down and lay-offs have to be made when the demand for a new model recedes.

And the speed and growth of new technology, which has been so heralded and so much fuss has been made of, has actually served to disguise how little real growth is taking place at the artistic level.

“ I'm still buying copies of that first Roxy Music album, I'm almost embarrassed to say ”

In September 1972, Roxy Music appeared on prime time TV in the UK. It was their first national TV exposure, a three-minute appearance performing their first single.

And the way they looked and sounded stunned me, and a generation of mes.

But we had no video recorders, and of course there was no YouTube. There was no way whatsoever that I could watch that appearance again, however badly I wanted to. And the power of that restriction was enormous.

The only way I could get close to that experience was to own the song. I lived in the suburbs, so I had to ride my bike for miles before I could find a store that sold music, let alone one that had the record in stock. It was a small trial of manhood and an adventure.

But once I had that song, I could play it whenever I chose. I had to go on a quest of sorts to get it, but my need was such that I did it.

The power of that single television appearance created such pressure, such magnetism, that I got sucked in and I had to respond as I know now previous generations had responded to Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan show, or The Beatles, or Jimi Hendrix. I believe there's immense power in restriction and holding back.

Fading star power

When artists today are asked to Twitter their every thought, their every action, to record on video their every breath, their every performance, I believe they're diluting their creative powers, their creative potency and the durability of their work.

And in the long run I believe they're also diluting the magical power and the magnetic attraction that they can or will ever have over their audience.

I wonder - if I'd had unlimited access to that first Roxy Music TV appearance, if I'd had unlimited access to knowledge of their personal quirks, if I'd been able to access film footage of every performance, every rehearsal, every interview they gave that year from around the world, then I believe the bubble of my obsession would have burst a long, long time ago and I'd have ceased being a fan a long time ago.

I'm still buying copies of that first Roxy Music album, I'm almost embarrassed to say - import copies on premium vinyl, anniversary CD copies, Japanese imports with paper sleeves, iTunes downloads when I'm on the road and need a fix. Such was the power of that initial strike.

John Taylor originally delivered his speech at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) on 29 October.

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