New Beck "Album"...Gimmick or Genius?

Friday, August 10, 2012| by Will Chen

As you may have already heard, Beck is releasing his new "album" as sheet music (read more here). Its been a topic at several forums I visit and a great many see this as a visionary move, something I don't quite understand. It seems increasingly that in creative fields, especially in music, that vintage fetishism has run amok. As guitarists we often see this first hand when certain instruments suddenly sky rocket in value when they reach a certain age/rarity. A prime example is CBS era Fenders which around a decade ago were considered inferior instruments but have seen a huge spike in pricing in the collectors market. Did the instruments get better or was it simply the market for older instruments dried up and as such the next oldest became the vintage de jour?

In the world of music distribution, there has been a Renaissance in vinyl. The market born from DJs both in the hip hop/rap world used to scratch and the dance club scene due to ease of sync (and seeking out rare/out of print tracks to add to their repertoire) has spread to indie bands where it's low cost and hip factor to the audiophiles who argue records have a higher fidelity than modern digital formats (maybe when it comes to low quality MP3, though science says otherwise concerning uncompressed audio, but I digress). Beck, in a move to out hip the hippest of hipster bands, has opted to go even further back in time for inspiration for this distribution. In the days before recorded music, publishing was the music industry and sheet music was the single. This was driven by the age of parlor music, a time in which music wasn't generally appreciated by audiences paying admission to watch performers but rather people performed music in there homes for the enjoyment of their families and friends. This concept must seem absolutely alien to the youth of today for which the majority have extremely little musical training and for whom the enjoyment of music is largely an exercise in isolation via headphones.

So is Beck's move genius or gimmick? Well, that's for time to tell. Certainly it appears a gimmick which will earn him a significant amount of free press prior to its release, but if it results in a shared musical experience which organically grows over time as interpretations of the work end up inspiring the Beck's performance it may start a new trend. Of course, the biggest question at hand is whether there are enough fans of Beck's music who can read music for the later to materialize.

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