"Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are."

--Bertolt Brecht


Report: Canada's arts "may not have a choice" but to embrace digital media

From "Beyond The Curtain: How Digital Media is Reshaping Theatre"

The technological revolution that is sweeping through all aspects of our society is also impacting the performing arts. Digital media and technological innovations present both opportunities and challenges to our performance communities. On one hand they allow theatre, dance, opera and music the potential to reach new audiences on a variety of platforms, engaging a younger generation with the live performance experience. On the other hand, there are barriers to innovation. Most performing arts organizations face financial challenges. The box office plays a significant funding role so selling tickets to the live show is the top priority. There is little money left over for experimentation with digital media. Unions and guilds are under pressure to modify their collective agreements, but there is a debate on just how much those agreements should change. In addition, the model as to how performers and other creative professionals involved in a theatrical production will be paid has yet to be fully explored. Traditionalists and innovators have divergent views on just how quickly the theatre world should rush into the brave new digital world. We may not have a choice. Beyond Canada's borders theatre companies are taking advantage of opportunities provided by the digital age. Canadians can now watch the National Theatre Live, Live from the Met and Live from Lincoln Center at their local cinema, but apart from occasional exceptions, cannot enjoy the best of what Canadian performing arts has to offer. By its very nature theatre is a shared experience that relies on interaction between performers and the audience. Interaction, community and shared experiences are all themes that also underpin the world of digital media. To apply those themes to the world of theatre, which has managed to survive countless shifts over the centuries makes logical sense.


Commentary: Opera in the movie multiplex falls flat

Alexandra Coghlan, The Independent newspaper [UK], 12/4/12

Cinema, the cry goes up on all sides, is the future of opera. This is the technological crutch that can prop up an increasingly frail art-form. The figures seem to bear this out. The Financial Times recently estimated the Met's annual income from its screenings at $11 million. But as so many operatic heroes learn, riches always come at price. When we take this sprawling, generous art-form and flatten it into the confines of a cinema screen we rob it of its live excitement. We leave a demanding art-form at the mercy of second-rate sound-systems and flat acoustics that simply can't carry the weight of singers trained to fill huge halls without amplification. Opera companies claim their broadcasts will attract a new audience. A 2008 survey by OPERA America, however, identified just 5% of the audience for Met broadcasts had never been to live opera. [And] what happens when digital audiences routinely outnumber live ones? Surely the temptation will be to start catering to this new format, designing productions around what works best in the new medium. David Sabel at National Theatre Live recently referred to audiences for live-broadcast performances as "effectively a 'studio' audience" - a dangerous precedent echoed in the BBC Proms' acoustic favouring of radio listeners over those in the Royal Albert Hall. To those who say opera must move with the times, I respond that it absolutely must. So let's bring the innovations of cinema into the opera house itself. Rather than let technology dilute the essence of opera, let it enhance it, use it to grow the genre into something recognisably contemporary yet authentically operatic. Alongside this, we must revisit that neglected creature the opera-film. [This is] as far from the sanitised, compromised opera broadcasts as can be imagined, a genuine hybrid of art-forms that amplifies opera through cinema and cinema through opera. Isn't that what the digital age is all about?


Commentary: Digital streaming services are systematically bad for music

Damon Krukowski of [the bands Galaxie 500 and Damon & Naomi], Pitchfork.com, 5/14/12

I'm sure each generation of musicians feels they've lived through a time of tremendous change, but the shifts I've witnessed in my relatively short music career -- from morphing formats to dissolving business models -- do seem extraordinary. The ways in which musicians are screwed have changed qualitatively, from individualized swindles to systemic ones. And with those changes, a potential end-run around the industry's problems seems less and less possible, even for bands who have managed to hold on to 100% of their rights and royalties, as we have. To put this into perspective: by my calculation it would take songwriting royalties for roughly 312,000 plays on Pandora.com to earn us the profit of one-one -- LP sale. (On Spotify.com, one LP is equivalent to 47,680 plays.)  When I started making records, the model of economic exchange was exceedingly simple: make something, price it for more than it costs to manufacture, and sell it if you can. The model now seems closer to financial speculation. Pandora and Spotify are not selling goods; they are selling access. Sign on, and we'll all benefit. But here's the rub: Pandora and Spotify are not earning any income, either. In first quarter 2012, Pandora reported a net loss of more than $20 million. Spotify revealed a loss in 2011 of $56 million. Why are they in business at all?  They exist to attract speculative capital. In 2012, Pandora's executives sold $63 million of personal stock in the company. Or as Spotify's CEO Daniel Ek put it, "The question of when we'll be profitable actually feels irrelevant. Our focus is all on growth" Growth of the music business? I think not. Daniel Ek means growth of his company, i.e., its capitalization. Which is the closest I can come to understanding the fundamental change I've witnessed in the music industry. I have stopped looking to these business models to do anything for me financially as a musician. As for sharing our music without a business model of any kind, that's exactly how I got into this -- we called it punk rock. Which is why we are streaming all of our recordings, completely free, on the Bandcamp sites we set up for Galaxie 500 and Damon & Naomi. 

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