In case you haven’t noticed, your computer’s turning into a TV and your TV is turning into a computer. Some technology observers think it could be as little as five years from now that the “convergence” of TV and movies and music and phones and the Internet is complete, ushering in an era of total connectivity and seamless sharing of media content across all platforms.
Of course, this is the view with the proverbial rose-colored glasses firmly glued into place on the bridge of one’s nose. (These glasses have small screens that look like a 36-inch panel to the wearer, and stereo in-ear speakers, of course.) But even at the more conservative end of the predictive spectrum, it is easy to see that big changes are afoot, even now, and that working musicians need to stay abreast of technological progress if they want to achieve any career progress.
The simplest and clearest example of this “digital convergence” is what is happening in cellphones. The top-of-the-line models are now mp3 players, video and still cameras, TVs (although the images are not broadcast on the TV frequencies, of course) and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). The important components for the working band are the ability to play videos, from a memory card or streamed across the network, and the mp3 capability; of course, there is also a growing “profit center” in custom ring tones, which are produced by both audio and MIDI.
Therefore, it’s no longer a “wrap” when the album tracks are back from the mastering studio. Now the CD-Audio files need to “ripped” into mp3 files, clips need to be prepared for the music-buying Web sites, low- and variable-bit-rate streams need to be prepared for transmission on phone networks, the music video needs to be “repurposed” for the same thing, and so on and so forth. This is the working band’s new to-do list for the digital era.
And still, the old challenges remain: promotion, placement, PR and all the rest. You still have to create a “need and desire” for your band’s music (that’s the marketing part) so that you can avail yourself of these delivery channels (and get to the sales part). So, the tried and true interest areas remain essential — not only do you (or your management, or both) need to work on the radio promotion, which includes college and independent stations along with the Clear Channel cartel, but you need to give film music directors, TV commercial producers, the Weather Channel people, local/regional advertisers and national advertising agencies a reason (a compelling one) to place your music in their own soon-to-be-digitized content.
One of the fastest growing markets for indie bands happens to be indie movies, as well as some major-studio productions. It costs a lot less for a music director on a low- to medium-budget flick to place a Beatles-ish song than a real Beatles tune. And there are enough genres of movies — action, adventure, crime, thrillers, sci-fi, romantic comedies, romantic non-comedies, etc. — to find a fit for any kind of music.
All of this comes down to doing the same thing bands have always done — promote themselves — but in a number of additional areas and to a lot of additional people. That’s why all the “contact books” and “music market” CDs list TV producers, commercial directors, film companies, coffee shop franchises, compilation services, college radio stations, movie festivals and even advertising agencies. You need to work every angle, like always, but there just a whole lot more angles than there used to be.
Now, wasn’t convergence supposed to end all this market proliferation? Weren’t we told that any single piece of properly digitized “content” — music, movie, novel, TV show, commercial, music video, what-have-you — would be able to stream and download and display and play on any of the new gadgets and gizmos?
Well, that day is not here yet, and may never be. That is the Holy Grail, of course: a single, infinitely flexible digital file format that could be used on everything from a music playing phone to a home movie theater system. Like any Holy Grail, though, it is more wishful thinking that probable discovery.
So, as we wait for The Convergence, what we actually have before us is a constantly shifting and undulating landscape that we must traverse on our way to the future. Right now, it means “repurposing” CD audio (and your music video, if you have one) for streaming, download, display and use on a number of different “platforms” and devices. And if you don’t feel up to the task, and you don’t have a designated techie in the band, you’ll need to get some help — or get online, and into some “learning communities,” to get yourself up to speed. Speedily, too.
It will pay off in the short and long run. You will have your music ready for whatever becomes available — “Hey, we want to use 30 seconds of your tune for a new commercial being beamed to cellphones” — and you will have gone a long way toward establishing your x, y, and z coordinates in cyberspace for the coming "convergence of all media,” whether it happens in your lifetime or not.
You do expect your music to survive you, right? Make sure it will.
Erik Jay is a writer, designer, and BMI composer/artist who lives in L.A. with one wife and two dogs. At his site, erikjay.com, you can take Door #1 for his editorial and design work, or Door #2 for original music.