Loving our Digital Selves

One thing the Americana music community shares with enthusiasts for New Orleans music is a belief in its intrinsic goodness, and a sense that the goodness should be enough. In 2008, Idolator.com took a hard shot at No Depression – then the magazine that defined Americana as much as any did – for that attitude, writing:

No Depression stands for a purity that allegedly existed in music made decades ago but that is–allegedly–sorely lacking today. The mag’s motto, “Surveying the Past, Present and Future of American Music,” seems misdirected, unless said “future” is premised on singer-songwriters playing heart-on-sleeve tunes in anachronistic musical styles on acoustic guitars. A better creed would be “The Journal Devoted to Steve Earle, His Associates, And Musicians He Would Likely Endorse.”

The comment was a little merciless, but the central thought had merit as ND seemed to view Americana music as a morally and spiritually superior alternative to the tainted commercial music marketplace. In New Orleans, we exist in a similar relationship with the mainstream: It’s rarely embraced us so we tend to be skeptical of it.

One thing that became clear at the Americana Music Association conference in Nashville last week is that the days of shunning the modern world and all its soiled trappings have to be over. Despite the nobility of music reflecting musicianship and whatever else you associate with it – heart, soul, “realness” – there’s no running from our digital selves. Panels this conference included “Ethics and Social Networking: Professional vs. Personal Persona,” “Curators, Gate Keepers and Trusted Sources,” “Business Models in Digital Media” and “Digital Delivery to Radio.”

The panels don’t mean that the shift is happening any more easily in the Americana community than it is in the New Orleans community. While one panelist spoke of having five Facebook pages, each for a different aspect of her personal or professional life, a woman confessed over lunch that she doesn’t use Twitter, and she spoke of Facebook in purely grudging terms.

Not only is a presence in the digital, online community a necessity because that’s where and how business is conducted, but because no one’s going to think creatively about how to work creatively in this marketplace while fighting it. In a panel on the reissue business – one as hard hit as any – Rounder Records’ Scott Billington spoke of minimizing costs by selling reissue compilations through Amazon.com’s Print-on-Demand service, and the label’s considering the idea of a digital box set, the first being a collection of music first recorded on New Orleans’ Ric and Ron R&B labels.

The recent technology developments are changing things as much as the development of recording technology did. Fighting it not only means backing the losing side, but it means choosing to let the conversation get away from you to such a degree that you may not be able to rejoin it.

  • Pltrhd

    There’s something of a straw man in this argument. Insisting on musical integrity and the ineffible quality of soul in one’s music is not being a luddite. Digital music can have heart just as much as analog can. The delivery system is neutral. The content is what matters. The snotty putdown of ND is typical of the kind of thoughtless criticism that pollutes our national dialogue from culture to politics. People are certainly entitled to their individual likes and dislikes but elevating those predjudices to the level of critical absolutism is the kind of thinking that guillotines were invented to correct. I don’t like Tea Party enthusiasts anymore than I like those who would argue that anything with a history is irrelevant. As for social media, it’s not a religion. I’ve found that Facebook is an invaluable communications resource that allows me to reach many people I don’t have access to otherwise. Twitter has its usefulness although personally it has yet to provide me with anything of value. That doesn’t mean I abhor it, or want to mount a campaign against it.