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Faculty Guest Post: We Should Listen to Emily White

Berklee music production and engineering professor Stephen Webber weighs in on the recent debate regarding music ownership, piracy, and the generation gap – and an educator’s role in the conversation.

Following the back-and-forth prompted by NPR intern Emily White’s concise blog post has filled me with a combination of delight and dismay. Delight, because Emily is providing us an opportunity to advance the conversation into the actual present; dismay because some of the response has been to continue the emotionally blinded, one sided finger-wagging that has done nothing to address workable solutions to the challenges new technology has put before us. 

I empathize with friends whose jobs and livelihoods have been adversely impacted during this difficult time of transition. However, fear-based responses do little but to prove Andrew G. Williams point that, “The ability to adapt to new realities is what distinguishes those who grow through adversity from those who are destroyed by it.”

In some ways I find Emily’s perspective indicative of the shift I have witnessed with my students at Berklee College of Music over the last 4 to 5 years (with the difference that Emily is “an avid music listener, concertgoer, and college radio DJ,” while most of my students are aspiring to a career in music).  Ten years ago, students were aware that the old model was burning down.  Current students have grown up with an entirely new perspective already in place.

In the past few months alone, many of my students and former students have raised $10,000 to $20,000 each on Kickstarter to fund their own projects.  The Berklee alumni duo Karmin leveraged millions of YouTube views into television appearances, a major-label deal, and a number one single on iTunes.

More of my students are making a go of it as independent recording and performing artists than ever before.  By leveraging social media contacts, YouTube geographical data and a savvy approach to point of purchase merchandise, they are not waiting for anyone to give them permission to create and share the art that burns in their soul to find expression.

It is likely the generation of students I was just describing will build an entirely new beast all by themselves, just like the baby boomers did a generation ago, when practically everyone working at rock record labels was in their 20s or early 30s.  Those of us in middle age have much to offer in the way of mentorship to this new generation.  The trauma of what many of us have been through in the last decade is going to be a challenge to get over, but doing so will make us better able to contribute to the future of this art form we hold so dear.

For an industry grappling with how to adapt to a new technological landscape, Emily is giving us good information.  We would do well to do less preaching at people like Emily, and to try to really hear them.


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1 Comment

  1. Milorad D. Djurich

    As per Professor White’s comment…

    As a Baby-Boomer parent of a curent student this topic truely strikes home.

    If I may, this topic has been discussed many times within the family. The “trauma” of which you write about is real. As parents, the financial obligations of collegiates and the implications of music ownership and piracy weigh heavy upon us as parents as well. Not to mention how it may impact the future of our kids.

    Your comment of “… building an entirely new beast” and the topic as a whole is over-due for a paradign shift, probably prophetic. Your “Cup is 1/2 full” mentality is comforting. Hopefully, your positive attitude gains momentum among those who you mentor, i.e. “hear” you as well.

    Afterall, my montra has always been, follow your passion… Someone’s gotta do it!

    Thanx for Your Post

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