Access and value of music in the age of AI

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How it all started

A friend of mine asked me the other day about the common myth that Tango started somehow from brothels in Argentina. So I did a bit of digging and discovered a very interesting article that explains how such myths were created. I won’t repeat here what it says but I will just write one important thing for me. Back then, in the early times of Tango, access to music was not that easy. Actually, music was available to buy as sheet music. You were buying the sheet with the notes and then you had to know how to play it or hire somebody to play it for you.

Some months ago I visited the Gutenberg museum in Mainz. It is a truly inspiring museum as it does not only present the invention of Gutenberg but the impact it had in the world in all kinds of aspects of our lives, from education to arts, businesses, law, sciences, etc. Before typography was invented there was no easy access to knowledge and literature in general. Books were mostly handwritten and that meant a lot of effort, value, and very limited access to them. So whoever had access to it was considered a man of value!

Today’s state

Fast forward to today. You can read any book, article, or text in general you want in a matter of seconds or in the worst-case days (in case you order a book). You can also access music the same easy way. So access to music such as access to texts and general information is at our fingertips.

But where does this leave the value of all these artifacts? I don’t mean the price… I am talking about the value. How much do we appreciate today the music that was written back in the 40s when we can access it with a click of a button? How much do we pay attention to it? How much do we respect it? One of the old milongueros (Osvaldo) says it all in just a few seconds… I will summarize it as such… “These people (the musicians) gave their lives for this music… don’t shit on it!”. My feeling is that sometimes we forget all this and miss the pleasure that we can get from it.

What comes next?

Now let’s get to the future. Given that we already see AI creating songs I can imagine artists using this as a tool for quicker production of music. It’s much easier to write a prompt and get a number of potential tunes rather than having to actually invent and write the tune yourself. Of course, the tune will need more fine-tuning, arrangement details, and work till it gets to production but this makes the whole process much easier than now. Actually, this easiness of production for songs is already producing some interesting results in terms of the business models in the music industry. In Greece, for example, the artists in the genre of Trap manage to beat music labels and get publicity and access to audiences, because they broke the production chain usually used in music labels. Now, if I can get a tune based on my mood from a piece of software then anyone can see themselves as an artist creating their own custom-made music for the moment they like. Like writing a soundtrack for your life on the fly…. right at the moment that you experience something.

So what will this mean for the value of music? Will we still appreciate it as much? Will we still appreciate artists as much? Will the even bigger abundance of music create even bigger chaos in the music industry? And finally… what would be the impact on genres like Tango which are heavily based on old human-made manually played songs? Will we still enjoy them as much or will we find our own corner of the Tango sub-genre that expresses us better? Will such tools help new artists come up with new ideas that get more traction and create a new trend in Tango music like the trend of electro in earlier decades? Will communities and dancers get even more divided like the already existing stylistic divisions (e.g. milonguero, salon, nuevo, etc.)?

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango

Again, I don’t know the answers. I only guess that some very interesting developments are on our way in the coming years and obviously Tango will not be untouched and unaffected by them. Tonight’s Goodnight Tango is strangely enough from the electro-tango movement and I think expresses quite well the feeling of that unknown territories can cause. Dizziness…

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