Music as Software – A New Age?
It is undeniable that the digitalisation of music has changed the game forever – and mostly for good. Access is easier now than ever before, for both consumer and artist. However, artists are now to edit their albums after they have released them to the public. Strangely, this rise in digital editing has come at a point in a time where vinyl, the rawest music medium, is making such an unprecedented comeback.
The question is, are we going to lose what little spontaneity and, to an extent, authenticity is left in the way we consume music in this digital age?
To give some examples, both Kanye West and Drake have patched their recent albums, Drake’s Scorpion released in June 2018, with Kanye editing every single song and even adding an extra track (‘Frank’s Track’) on The Life of Pablo in 2016. I won’t go into detail about every change that they made, firstly because they changed so much it would take too long (you can find that information very easily), but also because I want to think about the impacts of the action, not so much the action itself. Many of these changes are not totally ground-breaking and could be easily missed to the untrained ear (an extra line here or a sample change there), but nonetheless the original product is changed.
The public’s initial reaction to when this was first done, predominantly with Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, was to compare this treatment of music to how software or games are updated – patching.
One aspect of this technology means that artists are able to respond to feedback or criticism from their fans, though whether this is a positive or negative outcome is completely subjective. Though artists clearly have their fans in mind when they produce their work, I personally wouldn’t want a piece of music changed because of anyone’s opinion but the artists’; I believe that music is for the artist just as much as it is for the consumer. As an artist (and as a person), it is never possible to please everyone, and if artists are using this technology to respond to feedback then the authenticity of the original piece of music slowly disappears.
However, Kanye tweeted that The Life of Pablo is a “living breathing changing creative expression” (I wish I could find the original tweet for this, but in classic Kanye style it has since been deleted). This would suggest that music as an art form is literally changing and is no longer a static piece of history. Alternatively, this is just code for ‘unfinished’, though if so is ‘unfinished’ necessarily a bad thing? I suppose we must ask whether we, as consumers, would rather be given a finished product, or would we rather an insight into the mind and the process behind the formation of the art itself – or will we have a choice?
Kanye is clearly a fan of this new revelation as he also edited his most recent album ye, most notably on his opening track ‘I Thought About Killing You’, adding the line, “Sorry, but I chose not to be no slave”. This updated version alludes to his controversial TMZ interview where he suggested that slavery was a choice. Kanye edited this song less than a week after its release, and is continuing to edit the album months after its initial release date. As stated, his albums are a changing reflection of his actions, and that is no clearer than in this example.
However, people and artists develop and change over time. I’m sure in everyone’s past there are things that they agreed with then that they would no longer agree with now. This does not mean that those past ideas were not formative even though they are no longer an accurate depiction of your views. Music is iconic because it is of its time; take a moment to imagine if The Beatles could have changed Revolver, or if Prince had changed Purple Rain, how different the music industry could be.
Clearly not every artist is exploiting this opportunity, but it is an emerging trend that has the potential to disrupt the music industry as we know it. Where now people value original presses of vinyl records, it seems that the original versions of these digital songs and albums may come to have that same nostalgia and status.
Written by Jess Williamson