There are a slew of inventions and innovations that have led us to the current state of the music industry, but if we had to simplify it down to two, they would be Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s development of the earliest recording device, the phonautograph, in 1857, and over a century later the introduction of the internet, following the standardization of the Internet Protocol Suite in 1982. These two technological advancements brought widespread accessibility to music, creating a larger platform for expression.
However, as Scott de Martinville’s invention has, in time, become a mere historical reference point, the internet is still developing and changing, which means the world is still learning to develop and change with it. For musicians, this means adapting to the challenges that online accessibility brings. Some musicians embrace the internet’s ability to heedlessly consume, while others aggressively protest it. Beck, on the other hand, through the release of his latest project, Song Reader, has chosen to do both.
Song Reader is Beck’s take on the traditional song book. There is really nothing new about this method of musical notation, except for the fact that none of the songs in the book have been previously recorded. That part, he says, is up to us, the listeners. By releasing his latest album only in the form of notation, Beck takes us back to a time before the luxury of the phonautograph, when listeners were either required to listen to music live or play it on their own. But Song Reader is more than neo-luddism. It also takes full advantage of the luxuries that the internet has provided us. On the project’s website, viewers are invited to join a mailing list that will enable them to submit and listen to home recordings sent in from Beck fans everywhere.
By way of old-fashioned media, Beck seems to be proposing a global collaboration project that only the internet could facilitate. Thus, protest and embrace.
He’s also ensuring that the internet doesn’t deprive him of his next paycheck. You can pre-order the songbook here. Unfortunately, signed editions are all sold out.