The Piano Man Music

Lessons from a digital 2021

This is my last column for this year, and what a year it has been. The hope and euphoria that marked its beginning soon gave way to widespread chaos and despair as the second wave descended upon us. As this column goes to press, the Omicron variant has already hit the headlines and we don’t know where we are headed next.

There’s a motley aggregation of offerings for the famed Chennai December Season. While some organisations continue to have a virtual festival, some others decided to go offline, and a few are attempting hybrid performances. This kind of presentation has created confusion among listeners and artistes.

If online or hybrid is indeed the future, are we privileging just one month to load up as many hours of content as possible, causing a law of diminishing marginal utility to set in?

With companies such as Spotify using the year-end as a means to amplify their traction figures, the fragile artistic ego has found yet another avenue to engage in comparisons. The “number game,” as one of my friends puts it, has seen a surfeit of bragging posts on social media making tantalising announcements including the number of countries one has audiences in (which is rather moot since even a Facebook profile can now be seen anywhere), the number of streams and hours that one’s music has been consumed and so forth. Nowhere do these statistics reveal the quality of listenership or performative progress — actual feedback from listeners. For instance, do we have the same set of people listening to our music multiple times or is it a lot of people listening for a few minutes and then getting bored? To put it less subtly — we are all now comparing the size of our houses as opposed to what actually goes on inside them.

Powered by technology

I realise I sound like the old curmudgeon trying to judge a tech-obsessed world. But the fact is that instead of us becoming more active and informed users of technology, the companies powered by technology are now using us. With data becoming crucial, we are quantifying prowess and popularity rather than stepping back to observe what is really going on.

Technology by itself is not a terrible thing. Far from it, and I say this as an entrepreneur grappling with it everyday. And it has meant a lot of good things in other sectors — including education and the arts. More and more audiences are getting acclimatised to interact and learn online — and this has opened up new conversations, new audiences, and new ways of learning and absorbing. It has also brought the world closer in our collective ability to consume content.

But our obsession with numerical measures of success and the way it impacts our psyche and mental health cannot be ignored. As we step into 2022, I would sincerely wish that we use the lessons from the pandemic to slow down and work on our artistry in more meaningful ways. And step into a happier version of ourselves. Happy New Year.

The writer is a well-known musician, educator and associate professor at Krea University.


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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 1:31:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/lessons-from-a-digital-2021/article37969979.ece

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