The Two Cultures theory is an idea born from scientist C. P. Snow that criticizes the British educational system. His theory explains the clash between two opposing cultures — in his case, the arts and the sciences — and how their relationship was critical to adequate preparation for managing the modern world.
Snow was outraged that learning Greek or Latin overshadowed learning about the engineering and scientific advances that were so critical to winning World War II in the classroom. He argued that countries like the United States and Germany, which emphasized educating its students in both the sciences and arts, gained competitive advantages.
Since the coining of the theory, this idea has taken on a life of its own. Some would argue that the theory creates a forced dichotomy that in reality does not exist. I disagree. I have experienced this distinct binary within the music industry.
Personally, I have heard animosity from record label executives about the differing perspectives of running a music company. On one hand, label veterans understand how to locate and develop talent. On the other hand, an outsider with a business degree may think differently about how to operate an efficient business model. The argument as to which perspective is better — music veterans or business savvy outsiders — is really the discussion of which “culture” should carry more weight.
In a speech in 2010, Steve Jobs explained that part of his philosophical view for Apple was that “technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
Jobs would argue, as would I, that both perspectives must exist in tandem.
For a long time, a sophisticated scientific culture did not exist prominently in the music industry, if at all. However, a growing curiosity toward applying the sciences — or at least data — has begun to emerge. The recent success of analytic companies like Next Big Sound will help to define a second culture in music. More advanced technology and analysis should be embraced, rather than rejected, as streaming services have been previously. Streaming services have been attacked for their low royalty payouts and that still is a concern, but it shouldn’t dominate the perception of tech companies in music. They are doing a lot of good, too, by bringing data-oriented minds into the music world. Taylor Swift boycotting the streaming services makes for flashy headlines. Yet, Will Page, Spotify’s director of economics, is doing important work assessing the impact of music festivals on local economies. And that should not go overlooked.
South by Southwest, a music festival held in Austin, Texas, which has an artist lineup as diverse as its events, is a great example of how to intertwine these two cultures. The festival brings together hundreds of thousands of visitors for a weekend of music performances as well as technology and business conferences. At the most recent South by Southwest festival, economist Paul Krugman sat alongside other panelist discussing his notion of a new celebrity economy for artists — the idea that artists no longer make money from selling music, but from capitalizing on their celebrity branding through licensing, tours, etc. It’s an interesting point that creates a compelling picture for the future of music.
But this crossroads in Austin must ripple throughout the industry. Labels and their artists should be keenly aware of economists like Krugman and invested in the discussions occurring at conferences across the country. For the sake of the long-term vitality of the music industry, the musicians and those promoting their work should be encouraged to think about innovations in big data and appreciate their worth. And to their credit, some labels have been quite proactive in doing so. 300 Entertainment developing talented artists while building partnerships with tech companies paves the way for the rest of the music industry, and hopefully other industries, to follow suit.
Zach Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.