“Art begins in imitation and ends in innovation.”- Mason Cooley
Back in the day, people used to buy music. Waaaay back. Sheet music. If I told you that an artist sold 54 million copies of a single song in 1937, would you believe me? Well, this is a real thing, and it puts the notion of success and popularity into perspective.
There was a time when music was conceived, then notated, then interpreteted, then performed, and if it was really worth it, then recorded. Bing Crosby wrote a song called “Sweet Leilani” in ‘37, and everyone heard it. Because half the nation owned it on paper. They bought it, they went home and learned it, and when it was ready, they shared it.
The word ‘share’ has a different definition in this century. It implies a certain dichotomy between autonomy and community; that an individual has made or discovered something that he feels compelled to ‘share’ with the world, or strangers, or his friends. Back then, it happened in a living room. Not impulsively, but after consideration, dedication and finally presentation.
Beck has done something pretty cool. Instead of releasing an album, he went back to the basics. This summer, his newest music became available. As sheet music. No interpretation, no recordings, no cheating. This summer, it was announced that Beck’s new project Song Reader would be released in December 2012, featuring twenty songs as sheet music only, with full-color art for each song, in a hardcover carrying case. On www.songreader.net you can find the tunes performed by normal people, real musicians, and Mac Miller. YouTube is full of them, too.
The genius here is way more than a gimmicky retro homage to get people to create and be inspired. He has somehow given birth to a viral situation that will only generate more material and interpretation. It is a different kind of innovation; he is appealing to the new crop of consumers. In his ‘Loser’ heyday, people actually bought CDs. Now, he has still done most of the work, but he has invited the community to record the tunes themselves, which is appealing to this new user generated generation.
On the days of sheet music and it’s purpose of generating performance, Beck said, “That time is long gone, but the idea of it makes one wonder where that impulse went. As for these songs, they’re here to be brought to life—or at least to remind us that, not so long ago, a song was only a piece of paper until it was played by someone. Anyone. Even you.”