Back in December Beck released a new album titled Song Reader, which was neither CD nor digital release but a collection of sheet-music written, not performed, by the prolific artist. The idea had even The Atlantic wondering if it wasn't "… Cop-Out, Radical Art, or Both?", and was spawned from a question Beck asked himself after receiving the sheet music for one of his first albums: "What if I wrote songs specifically for people to learn off of a page?" What happened, aside from a Tumblr and an amazing concert in London with Franz Ferdinand, was a popular artist acknowledging the internet's role not just in giving us music, but teaching us it as well.
Whether you're learning the chords to "Hotel California" or how to tune your mandolin, the internet is a repository of knowledge providing any aspiring Springsteen an opportunity to realize their potential. But how, exactly, has the internet changed the way we are taught music?
1. You can get a lesson on any instrument, at any time, for free
Hop on YouTube and search "lessons" and see what shows up. Better yet, go to chordify or ultimateguitar and choose the song you'd like to learn. Instead of wasting time learning to play a G-chord (there's a YouTube video for that, though) and developing a necessary skill-set, aspiring musicians can learn the songs and techniques they want, at their pace. There's no need to study up on rock when all you want to play is jazz, and though basic fundamentals are required to play music, how someone ends up there is now their choice to make. They can create their own curriculum so to speak, which leads me to …
2. We all have access to large pools of music, allowing for more exposure to artists in line with your tastes
I actually had a record player when I was younger, and had only the Beach Boys' "Kocomo" to listen to (not complaining). Other than that, I remember my parents listening to the Eagles and popular radio host Delilah. Had I been a more musically inclined person, my initial influences would have been limited solely to what I could get my hands on and the romantic soft-rock I involuntarily listened to.
Not the case anymore. You've honed your skills, can strum enough to want a challenge, but don't want to spend the cash necessary to have a viable library of music you can refer to when looking for your desired sound. Before the internet you were out of luck, but with programs like Spotify, Rhapsody, and Pandora (among others), you have access to huge libraries of music for free or a moderate price.
These services may not teach you music, but the artist behind Pitchfork's #1 Track of 2012, Grimes, attributes her unique sensibilities to the exposure these services provide, telling Pitchfork that "The music of my childhood was really diverse because I had access to everything."
3. If we hear a song we like but have never heard of, we can immediately find out the track title and artist
Of course, that vast landscape of music is useless if you don't know where to begin. You could wander aimlessly from genre to genre — hoping to hear that one song you listened to on the radio, or heard at a friend's house, like a shipwrecked survivor hopes for water — but now if something strikes the right note you just hit Shazam, or sick the SoundHound on the tune and, voila, you've got your next source of inspiration identified and catalogued.
4. You can find out what songs are actually saying and not have to make up words you can’t understand
Before knowing the title of Bush's "Glycerine" I always thought Gavin Rossdale was saying "glistening" when I listened. Even more egregious, it wasn't until I actually Googled the lyrics to Gin Blossom's "Hey Jealousy" that I finally understood, "You can see I'm in no shape for driving" when, for years, I thought Robin Wilson was singing, "You can see I'm no sheep or dragon". And I could keep going.
Shoddy hearing and crazy imaginations aside, the internet has allowed not only an opportunity to better understand how to play music, but also how to write it. Reading the lines and hearing how they're performed is an enlightening experience because A) you're not misunderstanding what you're hearing and B) you get an idea of how the physical arrangement of words relates to the structure of the song. For both fans and artists eager to learn more about music, this is an underrated gift of the Internet.
The music industry can blame the internet for its fall from grace, but doing so would ignore the undeniable benefits the industry has received, most notably in empowering the community. I can't tell you how many of my friends are aspiring musicians, from rappers to folk-singers to electronica alter-egos, and it speaks both to their talents but also the internet's effect in equipping savvy artists with the tools and knowledge they need.
Music, or at least my newsfeed, is certainly better off because of it.