Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apples and Oranges

After witnessing some coverage of the annual Apple Inc. launch I couldn't help but be stunned. A company who sells gadgets and gizmos has been held up so high by North American society that even news corporations shamelessly cover their event with previews, speculations, summary articles, as well as even 'live blogs'. Apple's branding has become so successful that many people my age see themselves as part of a tribe. Whether or not they are up to date with the equipment, I'm sure many of us have had that jokey conversation when, at a table loaded with smart-phone users, someone pulls out the apple product to cat-calls.

Marketing these days is becoming so pervasive that it is hard not think to define ourselves by what we buy, rather than who we are. Just yesterday I was on the train to Liestal and saw a billboard ask "who are you?" asserting that we would 'find ourselves' by what we bought at their store. Marketing is everywhere and it's getting sneakier the more we learn to ignore it, and branding has the potential to have a powerful grip over the way we act. Just look at the Apple announcement as an example.

Are you a dog person, or a cat person? An Apple user, or a PC user?
Apple makes the front page of many news services today
Rituals can be powerful and those who might have wanted their fix could certainly have gotten theirs at the launch yesterday in Cupertino, California. Hardcore techies, reporters, and other choir members were made witness to quite the spectacle. U2 performed and CEO Tim Cook, holding the traditional role of the 'priest', displayed the miracles of his new technology to the onlookers. Curiously, the late Steve Jobs, whom we've all seen on the face plastered on books and other news articles since his death, has taken on the role of a quasi-deity. Just read this headline. This ritual, however fantastic it may seem, has a rather insidious goal. Where traditional religions encourage charity, spirituality, the rejection of materialism; Apple's paradigm sees these inverted with materialism and self-gratification taking top positions. Different here from tradition is that Apple's devices not only position themselves as to make you happy, they continue to build themselves into how you manage your life. It has replaced your phone, calendar, it's now reaching into your wallet, and let's not speak about how devices like these have changed social behaviour. It's all worrying to me as a performer.

It isn't so much the power of the brand which worries me the most, it's the fact that the catalyst for Apple's success came with a device purported to make music easier to carry, as well as to access (as long as you had the money to pay for it, of course): the ipod. Since its introduction in 2001, digital music downloads through services like itunes, have continued to take larger portions of the market and it's inconceivable today for a musician not to release their albums digitally. More importantly, itunes' popular business model - setting most songs at $0.99 a track - helped quantify the value of a performance to the average listener.

Music is something everyone likes, and no matter what your favorite genre is the musicians who make a career to entertain, to challenge, to move you must do so by performing for a live audience. A recording may be an excellent business card, a good way of telling whether you a certain musician or the music they perform, but don't let the current market culture tell you that you are what you own. The very nature of performance stands antithetical to Apple's branding, as a performance only exists in the moment. Once that moment has ended, it's gone never to return. Unlike a digital download. Troubling here that a corporation has managed to have so much impact on a culture all the while creating the perception of being a champion of music.

What I mean to say here today is, essentially, don't let the glamour of technology let you substitute it for experiences which might, in fact, help you discover who you are. Don't be fooled by those billboards telling you that you are what you buy; it's your collective experiences, your values, your deeds which define you. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).