Saturday, November 12, 2011
How to see the music industry in a different light
The connection between the sale of EMI to Universal Music and a 14th century Arab historian and philosopher may not be immediately obvious, but please stay with me. According to Ibn Khaldūn, who lived from 1332 to 1406, the fate of the population of North Africa and the Middle East is determined by the tension between nomads and sedentaries. The unchanging desert areas are the territory of wandering nomads who are forced by harsh conditions to be independent, brave and finely attuned to their environment. As excess population which cannot be supported by the desert accumulates there is migration to the cities which are built in more fertile areas.
The city is the territory of the sedentaries with an infrastructure geared to growth by supporting the arts, sciences and commerce. But the city is also where culture and society begin to decay and in the final part of the cycle the decaying city is eventually overwhelmed by more adaptable predatory nomads. Ibn Khaldūn concluded that the political destiny of North Africa and the Middle East is governed by this recurring cycle of states and empires being founded in the desert and declining in the city.
Now replace tribes with record companies and apply the same cycle to the music industry. EMI was, many years ago, a nomadic group of independent and brave people who were finely tuned to their environment. But then came the migration to the city, in more ways than one. With it came the inevitable decline at the hand of predatory and adaptable nomads in the form of new technology and distribution methods. And the only escape route was to be absorbed by an even larger city state called Universal Music, which is also a sedentary organisation in an advanced state of decay and vulnerable to nomadic predators.
Ibn Khaldūn's theory of nomads versus sedentaries does not just apply to record companies. It also applies to orchestras, conductors, broadcasters, and the media. Regular readers will know I am not a great fan of sedentaries and most of the names that feature here, such as Jordi Savall, Pablo Casals, Jonathan Harvey, Titi Robin, David Munrow, the Britten Sinfonia and Philippa Schuyler, are nomads. That is because I am all too familiar with the path that leads from desert to city from my time working for EMI. So try thinking in terms of nomads and sedentaries. Because I guarantee it will make you see the music industry in a different light.
With acknowledgement to Titus Burckhardt's Fez, City of Islam. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.