LONDON (Reuters) - Grammy-winning musician Peter Gabriel believes the Internet has drowned users with too much choice, failed to democratize the pop industry as much as was hoped and eroded the quality of what people listen to.
The 58-year-old producer, former Genesis frontman, world music champion and digital technology pioneer is involved in two new ventures he hopes will address his concerns.
The first is The Filter (www.thefilter.com), which aims to produce a blueprint of an individual’s taste in music, movies, news and views by analyzing what the person buys online.
Users can recommend songs and films to each other, and, further down the line, may be able to customize their profiles by selecting particular directors, artists and critics.
The second is a venture with speaker makers Bowers & Wilkins that offers an exclusive album each month recorded at his Real World Studios and available online as an uncompressed file, which should ensure CD-standard quality.
Gabriel, who helps organize the WOMAD world music festival in Britain, this year from July 25 to 27, spoke to Reuters about his new projects.
Q: What is the main idea behind The Filter?
A: I think in a world in which we are drowning in choice and have access to everything, we are going to rely more and more on good filtering. I think one of the ways we are trying to do this a little differently is (to) integrate the best of expert systems — best of machine and best of man. There are living, breathing people whose tastes and guidance we trust whether they be friends, experts, musicians, film directors, critics, journalists.
We’re trying to integrate their parameters, if you like, with ‘you bought this therefore you might like this’. That is part of the mixer idea and it’s only in its first stage of implementation. Those people whose taste is available through The Filter, you can then allocate them to the mixer. That would be the aim ideally.
Q: Has the Internet been as much of a force for good in the music industry as you had hoped?
A: I think everyone thought that it was going to democratize the music business, but it’s done less of that than we would have hoped. I think if you have good filtering then that is a tool to really level the playing field. If people are starting to really like what you do, and that enthusiasm and that sort of rating is getting in there, then that will make you more visible and accessible so it would then be based on passion and enthusiasm rather than just on dollars of merchandising and advertising.
Q: Are the kind of musicians you typically support, most of whom are not household names, benefiting from the digital revolution in music?
A: Not as much as I would like yet, and as a lot of the artists are losing one of the central sources of their income, i.e. record sales, they need to become smarter in building their own database as a means of accessing their own fans and learning and getting the feedback from their fans.
That’s a channel through which they can sell other stuff. We do need to democratize the process of discovery.
Q: Another negative aspect of the Internet you identified is the poor quality of downloaded music many people listen to?
A: The iPod, for example, does have the capacity to hold ... what they call ‘Apple Lossless’ files, so it’s built in and available, but very few people use it and an MP3 has become the sort of new standard and it’s a giant step backwards. Whereas in television now most of us are getting used to wide screen or high definition, and that’s gone forwards in terms of quality, music has certainly gone back.
To get as small a number of digits taken up as possible something has to be sacrificed and it’s unfortunately the music.
... As good as CD, which I think should be the starting point. We’re just trying that out with B&W (Bowers & Wilkins) and we have a small number of acts (to record the albums) but it would be great if a few more musicians would get involved and try and put stuff out in formats other than MP3.
Q: Will you be playing at the Nelson Mandela tribute concert in London on June 27?
A: I’m not going to play at this one. I’ve done four of the Mandela shows now and my wife is due a baby at this time so I didn’t want to have a chance of missing that by being in rehearsal or playing. But I will be, I think, going to a private dinner for his birthday party.