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Editorial: The Digital Renaissance

The digital environment, with its unique ability for mass customization, holds great promise for the future of music and other creative arts.

Posted in News on May 16, 2011 by
Richard Conlon, BMI, Senior Vice President, Corporate Strategy, Communications & New Media

Nearly 20 years ago at the advent of digital entertainment, many of us dreamed about the new digital age in which knowledge and art would be freely accessible, streamed across the planet into all kinds of devices. In this new world, the celestial jukebox would give us access to all the music or audio-visual entertainment we could ever hope to experience. Services would break the shackles of linear 168-hour programming weeks with on-demand offerings and remove the programming gatekeepers who curated the content we all experienced. These services would, we believed, usher in a new world of creativity: a digital renaissance. (See Richard Conlon’s interview with TechCrunchTV during the San Francisco MusicTech Summit 2011.)

It has certainly been a long and rocky road in the marketplace, in the public policy sector and in the courts since those heady days. But, today, we believe that we are on the cusp of a digital renaissance in which the digital tools of creativity will supplement the traditional instruments — violins or guitars, typewriters, canvases and brushes or even the first drums played in caves. When the availability of these tools is amplified by a worldwide digital fabric of connectivity, global audiences of one become technically and artistically (if not economically) feasible. The digital environment, with its unique ability for mass customization, creates the potential for highly customized artistic expression in which the artist could create for one person a half a world away or for anyone wishing to experience their craft.

Since the early days of radio, the connectivity of the electronic media has fueled a special dream: to live one’s life creating. The digital world has increased the propensity of dreaming this dream exponentially and more people are interested in exploring their creative potential. Of course, not all creativity is professional or enduring art but the general population’s increased interest in the creative world is very encouraging. Peer-to-peer and digital piracy notwithstanding, it underscores an increased societal value for the arts. At BMI, we see this fact borne out by the number of aspiring songwriters who are becoming BMI affiliates. Last year alone, we affiliated nearly 45,000 of these newly minted aspirational creators.

This creative explosion is outstripping the growth of the global population. The facts are clear: BMI’s total affiliate base doubled from 1997 to 2010 and is currently pegged at nearly 500,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers. During this same time, the United States population grew by only 15%. What this means to us is that creativity on a per capita basis experienced six times the growth the population experienced — it is spreading like wildfire! We have more creative people making more creative works than ever before. During the 1997 to 2010 years, the number of creative works we represent grew by more than 300%.

We see this phenomenon in the wild global popularity of the talent shows such as American Idol. At BMI, we have seen this potential to nourish and excite the seeds of creativity. We have embraced the trend and are participating in two music-based television series: Platinum Hit, premiering on the Bravo cable network next month and Majors and Minors, premiering next fall on The Hub cable network.

Another factor impacting this renaissance is the emergence of social media. Artists are increasingly inviting their fans into their everyday worlds through Twitter, Facebook and other social media. These high-volume mundane interactions are increasing familiarity and creating a relationship — or the appearance of a relationship — that makes the fan think that they know the artist. This familiarity makes the potential to actually walk the same path as the artist more real to the fan. In a way, it is the embodiment of the electronic artist community much like the physical artist enclaves in the United States grew from Greenwich Village to Big Sur to Provincetown to Key West.

Today, we believe that the digital tools enabling creativity and the increasingly connected world with the potential for collaboration have sparked a renewed interest in and value for the arts — and, we believe, a renaissance of creativity.

Richard Conlon, BMI’s Senior Vice President, Corporate Strategy, Communications & New Media, will be participating in a panel discussion on “The Do’s & Don’ts of Licensing” at the CISAC World Copyright Summit, set for June 7-8 in Brussels, Belgium.