News Story

The Future of Music

October 21, 2013—The future of music is anything but certain. For artists, promoters, and record label executives, the task of finding sustainable business models looms large. And even though technology is connecting fans and musicians in more ways than ever, it’s also turning the traditional modes of music consumption upside down.

On October 28 and 29, the Future of Music Summit at Georgetown will try to address some of these pressing issues. The summit is unique among academic conferences in that it brings together policymakers, technologists, legal scholars, academics, and musicians to chip away at some of the big questions facing the industry.

“The summit sets the groundwork for a balanced approach to sustaining the arts, especially music and film, and promoting social justice in the digital age,” said Anna Celenza, who is the Thomas E. Caestecker Professor of Music and has been involved in the summit since 2006. “This is an approach that reflects the interests of all stakeholders, not just the powerful few.”

This year’s conference, which is co-sponsored by the Future of Music Coalition, features among others Rep. John Conyers, Jr.; Bob Boilen, host of NPR’s All Songs Considered; Alec Ounsworth, guitarist of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah; and Wayne Kramer, guitarist of MC5 and co-founder of Jail Guitar Doors USA, a nonprofit that provides musical instruments and education to the prison population.

It makes sense, says Georgetown College Associate Dean Bernie Cook, that a summit addressing music, policy and social justice would happen at Georgetown. Not only is the university serious about public policy, he says, but programs like music and film and media studies have been “ascendant” in recent years.

“The areas of our curriculum that are most solidly connected with the Future of Music Coalition have expanded. The context for the summit here at Georgetown has grown,” Cook said.

The summit promises to cover a wide swath of the music industry. Three major issues will be dealt with in detail—copyright, innovation, and advocacy. Topics within those major areas include how proposed changes to copyright law may impact musicians; the ins and outs of digital business models and revenue generation; why public policy matters to local cultural communities around the globe; and how musicians are advancing positive social change.

That last subject might not be something music consumers spend a lot of time thinking about. But it’s an area that is frequently on Assistant Professor of Music Ben Harbert’s mind. Harbert, a musician and filmmaker, will be screening his film, Follow Me Down: Portraits of Louisiana Prison Musicians, on Friday, October 25, 2013, before the summit. The project, which Harbert calls a “concert film” made in collaboration with the inmates, looks at music being made in three Louisiana prisons.

Through his work, Harbert addresses issues of incarceration and shows inmates in a more human light. For him, it’s important to demonstrate how social justice work can be sustainable for artists and their causes.

“There are plenty of unsustainable models for artists to engage in social justice. You can get really famous and use your fame to draw attention to something,” Harbert said. “But fame is so fleeting.”

As such, he says, he wants to examine alternative ways that arts can engage the public in a deeper conversation. One of the artists doing that is Wayne Kramer. Since co-founding Jail Guitar Doors USA, Kramer has visited prisons all over the country to introduce inmates to the transformative power of music and to highlight issues in the nation’s prison system.

On October 26, Kramer, who was incarcerated in a federal penitentiary in the late 1970s on drug charges, will lead a master class for students that will touch not only on performance techniques, but also the role of media in public policy debates and the current state of arts education.

During his visit, Kramer will also take his unique brand of advocacy to Washington lawmakers.

“The fact is,” Kramer said, “I will spend three times as long on Capitol Hill this trip as I will be on stage with an electric guitar doing parallel work, with the knowledge that one undertaking is just as important as the other.”

Insight into that type of grassroots activism is what Harbert hopes students and other conference-goers get out of the summit. Both Harbert and Cook think the summit will help students take what they’re learning about the history of music and the arts in the classroom and apply that to contemporary issues.

“We want students to think about different forms of cultural creation,” Cook said. “And exposure to these policy debates helps create a deeper understanding of what’s at stake.”

—Lauren Ober

Future of Music Promo from CNDLS on Vimeo.

Related Information

Visit the Future of Music Coalition website to register for the summit. There will also be additional events at Georgetown the week before the summit.

  • October 23, 2013, 8 p.m. EDT: Associate Dean Bernie Cook will host an online screening of The Internet Must Go (2013) with the film’s director Gena Konstantinakos and special guests.
  • October 25, 2013, 7:30 p.m.: Assistant Professor of Music Ben Harbert will host a screening of his film Follow Me Down in the New South Film Screening Classroom.
  • October 26, 2013, 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.: Georgetown’s Music Program will host Performing Social Justice in the Age of Modern Media, a conference and master class with Wayne Kramer.