(Awkward disclaimer: This blog is formed of several ideas that were probably meant to be separate blogs, so it’s a little bit… rambling?)
A few years ago during my undergraduate degree (and it’s a little depressing that I can call that a few years ago) I got to do quite a lot of work on the history of recorded music. The beginning of the recording industry is fascinating for a whole lot of reasons, not least because of the trips that fledgling record companies sent their employees on in search of new music. Sound engineers such as Fred Gaisberg were sent out all over the world from the fledgling Gramophone Company to find new genres to record – the idea was to bring back music which could be sold to ethnic minorities within the United States. Sometimes the recorded music wasn’t very good as the engineers would have to try and find out who the best local musicians were, and if they couldn’t they would just take whoever they could get!
Nowadays, many people have accused mass media of homogenising music, particularly in the pop music world. Top 40 artists are often known and followed around the world, creating an industry where popular music is similar in many countries. Many academics worry about the effects of fusion music and influences upon certain musical cultures that might take over and eradicate the original traditions. (Philip V. Bohlman discusses this in the first chapter of his book – ‘World Music: A very short Introduction‘.)
However, there is a flip side to this. There is a mind boggling amount of music out on the internet for free, so while the music of many cultures might be homogenised, the originals are often preserved too. While shellac discs and wax cylinders might wear out, or take time, effort (and honestly space!) to preserve and maintain, .mp3s take up next to no space, and can be shared easily through Spotify, last.fm, YouTube etc. etc. etc…
This can and does create niche audiences and enthusiasts from all parts of the world for music from other cultures. I had lessons in traditional tabla while at University, and I’ve performed both in the straight up traditional style and in more fusion-type pieces. I didn’t learn this online, but it’s clear that plenty of people do – many teachers offer skype lessons which keep musical styles alive in a world that far from being ‘homogenised’, sometimes seems more diverse than ever.