Why We Create Music: Finding a Story for the Future of Music
“I truly believe people are very afraid in this life.” –NYC filmmaker and composer Michael Marantz, explaining his motivation to inspire.
He’s referring to the fear of pursuing an unfamiliar instinct, or the fear of finding a story within yourself powerful enough to create unwanted turbulence. The pursuit of a foggy future in place of maintaining a comfortable present is the motif of most human quandaries, and it’s something Michael Marantz explores with charm, beauty and an uplifting combination of visuals, music and editing.
A particularly moving inspiration to Marantz, who suffered the threat of nearly everything when diagnosed with cancer at 21, is a quote from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement speech at Stanford: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Marantz now operates his filmmaking collective Already Alive on the foundation of Jobs’ candid idiom “already naked,” rephrased only for a friendlier business image. He is a cross-media storyteller who believes that finding and telling your own story can not only act as a vehicle for emotional connection, but also as a guide during all of life’s difficult moments (Check out his Ted Talk @ TedxUNPlaza).
His crew’s latest production, Why We Create Music, tells the story of the absolute importance of music and the individuals who create it. Fifteen musicians, ranging from Bill Withers to Aloe Blacc to Lady Antebellum, sit down with Marantz to discuss their labor of love, songwriting and composing. The short film is just over four minutes, a length covered entirely by score and bits of interview. Each featured artist was asked to contribute a musical or lyrical element to a base song that Marantz created, ultimately generating the collaborative soundtrack that plays over video footage of them in the process of writing it.
Their discussions form a collage affair with music: “Music is something we breathe. It feels like part of the world, something that’s always been there… It is universal language. The most important, highest form of human communication… Songwriting is about keeping an experience from disappearing.” They declare that behind every engaging lyric and composition there is a person who has made the struggle to create its beauty into a profession. Music producers pass on alternative careers for a job that sees 99% of income typically coming from 1% of their music.
The music that we natively rely on to dance or share our heavy thoughts with would not exist without them, and Why We Create Music serves as a tender, charismatic reminder of this.
Marantz knows the film is by no means a vehicle for massive shifts in consumer habits. It is not designed to eliminate file sharing or to take down the world of ill-compensating music streaming services. Nothing can do that in our ever-evolving culture of music. Instead, Marantz makes the film’s goal to plant a tiny grain of appreciation and thoughtfulness into our behavior- a little shoulder man that points to the $5 in your pocket while downloading that newly leaked torrent you’ve been ecstatically going on about.
On one side of today’s hyper-sharing world, musicians can see the fortune that is endless and free exposure available to them. This world operates around a digital network of seekers, sharers, consumers and distributers. It is more or less an actively free market- gone are the days of physical distribution and big capital necessity. Today, success rides more on networking skills, digital ingenuity and the sheer quality of music produced. One can take immense pride in the existence of a universally reachable website that contains original music. Sites like Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Youtube are forms of publishing that cast music free for consumption; your audience in this sense has an endless potential.
The problem native to this junction is the question everybody’s talking about- how do musicians get paid? Purchasing every album or song that we enjoy is simply not a realistic request when music is so readily available everywhere else. To think otherwise would be to think in the past, nostalgically in denial of today’s technology and its rapid forward evolution. Marantz has very practical opinions on the future of music distribution and compensation, as well as some key advice for emerging artists today:
Artistic branding is something to consider more now than ever before. Independent, unsigned musicians must work to secure attention, especially when monetary resources for traditional marketing are lacking. Collaborating with talent to make a release or a concert into something collective and even interactive is what Marantz suggests for rising artists. The process- the story– is what makes a profession enjoyable, anyway. So share it by creating things together, while (bonus!) multiplying your rate of exposure.
Combining an album purchase with physical artwork, discount concert tickets and elaborate box sets are a few ways to generate income. Building an app that lets you experience the music in a new way- such as designing the music to fit your current activity or coordinating movements at a concert to a custom light show– could stimulate buzz and further digital collaborations. Music collectives that offer low cost subscription services are starting to appear too, promising exclusive access to new releases, shows, side projects and private content. Nicolas Jaar recently debuted his subscription-based serial label Other People, while Drip.fm mediates a membership between you and your favorite labels- you can even give subscriptions as gifts. An ideal Christmas surprise for music nerds.
The future of the music industry may be a bit foggy and unknown, but the freedom that our digital world allots is a vast breeding ground for new ideas. Find a story to tell through your music and make it into a self-reflective, interactive experience. After all, music is the most loved and universal form of communication and understanding. Our world’s passion for music is unparalleled, a beautifully remarkable strength and comfort felt by humans on every continent. A balance of appreciation, consumption and compensation is on its way to restoration, though in unknown territories, which is precisely why Marantz’s Why We Create Music is such an important dose of forgotten common sense. Now is the time to establish your morality as a listener- your story as it relates to music- so that wherever the industry finds itself in 2, 5 and 10 years, we can maintain an active appreciation that guides our future interactions with music in all its available spaces and happy places.