How can you ruin music?

According to the Guardian, Krystian Zimerman decried Youtube as destroying music. He was reacting to someone recording one of his concerts on a mobile phone – here’s the report.

I’ve mixed feelings about this. Mainly I have reservations about this because Youtube is full of absolutely exceptional music, and not all of it, or even much of it, is recorded on a mobile phone. I take the view that recording something on a mobile phone and sticking it up on Youtube is of questionable manners. But that’s a specific problem. The truth is Youtube acts almost like a world radio station on demand. I’ve bought a lot of music thanks to Youtube, and some of it is classical. A lot of the really good classical stuff on Youtube comes from television broadcasts. I don’t think you’d argue that Youtube is killing music if we are talking about well recorded television broadcasts. The Berliner Philharmonik has a fairly decent channel on Youtube, for example, and you can find some rather interesting, and previously difficult to find things there, like, for example, Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts.

But you don’t ruin music by putting it up on a website. I don’t know if you can ruin music because to some extent, it is a living breathing thing. You can maybe change the paradigms of the music business – massively – but this is not unique to Youtube. At the heart of it, we’re not really talking about music there, but the ability to raise money from music.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the measure of successful music was large sales of sheet music. No one much cared about recording. The business moved and adapted to recording as that disrupted the existing music industry. Even now, the digital piano market is hugely disrupting the analogue (for want of a better description) market and putting piano tuners out of business right left and centre. The business winds up evolving and changing. Music itself, however, goes on. We still play Schumann, we still play Chopin, some of us on CD, some of us on pianos, some of us streamed from Last.FM or some other radio station.

Arguably, it’s not so much killing music to record something on a mobile phone. It is, however, deeply impolite.

I’d prefer that people were reminded of that, rather than being lectured about how they are killing music. Music has been around for a very long time, a bit like life itself, it survives and adapts. Manners, on the other hand….