A few days ago I was returning with my sister Lindsay Mofford and our friend Stefan Rhys from the full length screening of “Che” at the Nuart theater. The two of them couldn’t see how director Steven Soderbergh could allow the studios to release the film in two parts instead of the four+ hour version that we had just throughly enjoyed. I argued that they seemed like two different films, both in filmmaking style and tone. They were even shot at different aspect ratios. Soderbergh may have always planned them as two different films. The conversation continued with discussions of classic great films, both Lindsay and Stefan had recently seen Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film “Network” again on Netflix. We talked about Paddy Chayefsky‘s great screenplay, including the fight between Diana (Faye Dunaway) to Max (William Holden) and her apology, “I’m sorry I impugned your cockmanship.” We all agreed, “Such a great line.” They just don’t make them like that anymore. Well, OK, Sidney Lumet and Steven Soderbergh are still making great movies.
I’ve been reading a lot about the past recently, not just 2008 (which is to be expected with the New Year), but even further back. The Sunday, December 28, New York Times was filled with articles about how things are changing so rapidly, mostly because of digital technology and the Internet. In Michael Kimmelman’s article, “Imperfect, Yet Magical” he writes about Polaroid’s decision to stop manufacturing the film for their instant cameras. Digital cameras did them in, even though some amazing art, including the work of David Hockney, has been created with those white-bordered prints. As to be expected, many are protesting by signing petitions at SavePolaroid.com. Others are happy to see its demise, Polaroid film never being a great thing for the environment.
I signed the petition, but how many things can we really hope to save in this changing world. On the very next page of the newspaper was an article by David Streitfeld about the destruction of book publishing. Turns out it isn’t because of lack of interest in books, it’s because book lovers are finding cheaper ways to read and buy books on the Internet. To quote, “more books are available for less effort and less money than ever before.” He not only mentions Amazon.com but introduced me to ViaLibri.net, a book search engine of 20,000 booksellers around the world, ready to uncover your next read.
Reading about how the Internet is the demise of book publishing reminds me of all the discussions, including here on this blog and at our Nashville office Unconventional South, of how downloading music has ruined the recording companies. In 2008, one Billion songs were purchased online, while CD sales fell nearly twenty percent. The music industry is scrambling to cope with this change. In the Arts and Leisure section of the same New York Times, Jon Pareles writes in his article, “Songs from the Heart of a Marketing Plan” that record labels are now creating “360” deals with artists, in which they share in concert tickets and merchandise sales. The biggest new source of income for musical artists is in licensing fees for commercials, movie and television soundtracks and video games. The concern, of course, is that in the past, the record labels job was selling the music and the artist, licensers have no interest beyond the immediate sales effect of a certain song. So the shift goes from recording songs from the heart to making music that marketers can use. Didn’t Neil Young warn us all many years ago that this was where things were headed in “This Note’s for You?”
If it requires marketing and branding to get your music heard, is that so bad? Music has always had a role in marketing. Most successful musicians believe that licensing does build interest in the music that can pay off with record sales. The key is staying true to your art while taking advantage of the new opportunities. In the Music section of that same December 28 issue of the Times, Vivien Schweitzer writes in her article, “Aliens are attacking. Cue the Strings.” that music scores whether rock, rap or classical are becoming an integral part of video games. It seems as the game industry matures, they’re getting better at storytelling. Steve Schnur of Electronic Arts (EA) is quoted as saying, “music is the reason for the emotional response that games never had 10 to 20 years ago.” We certainly found that to be true when producing the live portions of “Need for Speed:Undercover.” In prep, the discussions on music were considered just as important as visual content. According to the article, television and film producers want more ambient music, while software companies want strong statements. However, the biggest challenge for the composer is switching from linear to the interactive of video games, the music has to reflect different possible outcomes within each part of the game.
Listen, I still love the sound of an LP over a CD or digital recording. I don’t mind getting up ever 25 minutes to turn over the record, that’s why I still own three thousand records. I also have close to that many CD’s. However, we need to embrace the fact that new media has changed the industry, not only music, but other creative endeavors. Because I also love listening to new bands on Pandora, Ourstage and MySpace.
The changing industry is even having an effect on syndicated cartoonists. According to Leslie Berlin in her New York Times article (same date, quite an issue), “The Comics are Feeling the Pain of Print,” cartoonist are feeling the same bite as musical artists. Newspapers are declining. Cartoonists are using the web to sell books, calendars, stuffed dolls to compensate. Sites like Comics.com and Webcomics Nation present many of the same strips found syndicated in newspapers, plus some new ones only available on the web. Another site, GoComics.com even has a version for the iPhone. Like most things on the Internet, the comic sites didn’t have much success with subscription fees, but marketing banners seem bring in some income.
In 1976, when the film “Network” was released, news as entertainment seemed like a far-fetched fantasy. Things have changed, but in many ways things remain the same. Many of the issues documented in the terrific Gus Van Zant film release “Milk” are being fought today in California with Prop. 8 and elsewhere in this country. I gathered my information the old fashioned way, I read the Sunday New York Times, not on the Internet, it was delivered. But I put it in my Blog, you can still read the articles online. In 2009, we don’t have to leave everything behind to move forward, we just need to figure out how to make all this new technology work to our own artistic and financial advantage. So take those fading Polaroids, maybe scan them and create a website. Take your music and find a new way to market it. Write your novel or make your film and self distribute it. Use the web for success, that’s my resolution. There are no good old yesterdays, just present day.