In 1976, a French polymath called Jacques Attali wrote a book that predicted this crisis with astonishing accuracy. It was called Noise: The Political Economy of Music and he called the coming turmoil the “crisis of proliferation”. Soon we would all have so much recorded music it would cease to have any value, he said.
Music, money and power were all tightly interlinked, he wrote, and had a fractious relationship stretching back through history.
Powerful people had often used music to try and control people. In the 9th Century, for example, the emperor Charlemagne had imposed by force the practice of Gregorian chant “to forge the cultural and political unity of his kingdom”. Much later, the arrival of capitalism and the pop charts gave moguls the chance to use music to extract large amounts of money from people. But at the same time, music can be used to subvert power, and undermine the status quo. Rock and roll in 1950s America, for example, helped to sweep away a raft of conservative social mores.
This tension led Attali to conclude that industry executives could not control the way we bought and sold music forever. As we became flooded with more music than we could ever listen to, he argued, the model would eventually collapse.
The article goes on to talk about the economically predictive nature of the music industry and how Pirate Bay has started distributing 3D printed objects. There’s some pessimism (not applicable to live musicians) that I don’t necessarily agree with, but this sort of future-thinking is always welcome brain food.