Report: FutureEverything panel on the Future of Music


When thinking of ‘the future of music’, many people consider the economic aspects only, imagining scrapped business models and a revolutionized system of distribution. The conference hosted by Netaudio London at Future Everything in Manchester has just shown that there is much more to it, involving unexpected sides of science – for example, the behaviour of neurons! – new forms of collaboration between artists, and innovative ways to share information and relate to content, just made possible by the digital era.

As David Rogerson of Sound and Music says in his brief introduction, while going over the work behind this conference – work that involved an on-line survey, video interviews, and today’s panel discussion – ‘the research explored what was going on with music now, and what effect digital media, particularly the Internet, had on it’ and one of the most striking aspects was that no one of the people interviewed for this project mentioned ‘piracy and how this is killing music’.

Therefore, it was clear from the outset that the panel would have focused on new opportunities rather than on fear of change, which has dominated the debate over the destiny of all the media industries – particularly music – over the last few years, also overcoming the too frequent problem of ‘futurology’ – in other words, foreseeing the unforeseeable – which could have been the threat posed by such a broad title.

John Matthias introduces us to his research about rhythm patterns and the behavior of neurons. Particularly, ‘undetermined’ systems of rhythm as opposed to ‘random’. One such system of things that have that behavior are neurons, and John’s exploration is concerning the rhythm of the nervous system. It is therefore surprising to find out that a jazz masterpiece such as John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ can turn into a pulsing rhythm based on the reaction of our neurons.

Caroline Heron focuses on the importance of the relationship between arts and technology under a ‘collaborative’ side: the project she’s involved in with OpenMute can be defined as a ‘social network for arts’ in which art RFO’s (Regularly Funded Organizations) get together to share artistic contents and resource materials with each other and the audiences.

Alex McLean provides an ‘anthropological’ perspective and explains us how the future will give us the missing ring of a chain starting with movement and going through imagery, videographics, phonetics, abstraction and computation. Networks, in his view, represent said link which connects computation to movement again.

It is finally Thorsten Sideboard who brings in the topic of digital distribution and how things changed because of it – providing quite a confident and optimistic view about it and underlining the importance of being the ‘first mover’ with his Highpoint Lowlife label first, and then with his experience as a content manager at

It is also very important, he says, that blogs dedicated to the discovery of new music are becoming labels on their own, often launching and supporting their new products and artists. It is not a ‘top-down’ process any more, artists are much more in touch with their fans than before and people are more open and independent in the way they approach music consumption.

A passionate and attentive audience comes up with questions, many of them regarding issues related to what will happen over the next few years. ‘There’s so many open avenues’, says Sideboard; one thing’s for sure: ‘physical sales have gone down, and when you look for new business models you have to think about the way you discover new music yourself’. It might be difficult to find the right way to make money out of it, but there are many positive signs and the Internet is definitely an amazing technology which makes it easier for everyone to make and discover music.

‘There are new languages and new ways of making music’, adds Alex McLean – ‘not replacing the old ones but complementing them and interacting with them’. Lots of new languages stepping back from the mechanics of the actual movement of music and describing it instead, using computer language. A lot more can actually be done under this standpoint, because computer languages are not good at describing music and can really be improved. ‘I see a lot of movement in how to describe music in order to generate it and to look for new ways of controlling rhythmic form and melody’. John Matthias goes further and paints a fascinating picture made of instruments that learn from performers and players.

‘New technologies are very stimulating’, concludes Andi Studer – ‘having an impact on my creative life as a practitioner, consumer, and as a professional working alongside creative people’. ‘They also cause a lot of fragmentation, because everyone is actually stimulated by different things’.

Overall, a diverse panel offering different perspectives, some of them often overlooked and unexplored, but with a common point, which has emerged pretty clearly: ‘Have no fear, we are your friends’, say the digital technologies to those in the music sector at all levels. Be it for business models, or for production and collaboration among artists, networks bring music to another level, marking a new era which doesn’t necessarily coincide with all the concerns over piracy and intellectual property theft raised by the major players in the market for too long now – maybe since the advent of the Compact Cassette .

Luca Schiavoni, 24 May 2010

Luca Schiavoni wrote a detailed report of the ‘Future of Music’ panel that we presented at FutureEverything on 13 May 2013.