Vantage point

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

What is music? What makes us like a particular song, or a tune or even a genre?

I am not trained it music at all. I have absolutely no idea about the nitty-gritties of classical music be it, Indian or Western. And I represent at least 98% of the world's population. We have no idea about music in the scientific sense. Yet is is this 98% that makes the music industry run.

So I have often wondered how exactly the music industry works, ever since I have learnt the basics of marketing. Listening to music is a need. The music companies, artistes and bands fulfil this need. But when they make their "product", do they make it with the market in mind? Is saleability the only criteria rather than how good it is or how good it can be? To give an analogy, companies that manufacture potato chips use monosodium glutamate to add that extra tang to it. Now if they stop using it, the chips won't taste as good, so they keep using it. But if they stop using it, not only will they probably reduce the carcinogens we ingest, but we will also get the real flavour of what a potato chip was supposed to be like, whenever it was first made. Ditto with fried chicken and the pseudo-Chinese food we get here.

Think that way about music. For centuries there were no record companies, and so there was no major market for music. Music was truly art, patronised by kings, and pursued by some people who have that special knack for it. Thus for centuries the art of music flourished, with richer additions to it and it kept growing.

And then suddenly you have the industrial revolution and it intriduces into this whole melodious equation of art and music, an unpredictable variable called "market". Now the tastes of the people or what they hear is not governed by the growth of the art of music. Rather the growth of the art of music is stunted because of the demands of the market.

Is this truly music, or is it just another superficial device of pleasure to keep the 21st century human being from boring himself to death? Is true music dying a slow death under the huge and rapid wheels of the market forces?

Well, even if it is, at least everyone's making a lot of money out of it.

What is true music anyway? Whatever you read about in the Samveda?

What is true music?