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Beck’s Sheet Music Album: Cutting Edge or Revived Relic?

by on August 13, 2012

When does something as old a medium as sheet music qualify as “innovation”? You be the judge:

Last week, Beck announced that his next album isn’t going to be an album the way we think of it, insofar as he has no plans to actually record the songs he’s written. No, instead, he’s going to release the twenty songs as sheet music in a “song reader,” a book of sheet music to be published in December by McSweeney’s. The idea is that, as the post at Beck’s website says, “bringing them to life depends on you.” They’ll be posting readers’ renditions of the songs, plus some from a few ringers, at the McSweeney’s website.

Okay, so there’s that. And then there was, following that, a post at Forbes.com (it should be noted here that the post was NOT a formal Forbes article; Forbes.com includes independently produced blog posts, and this was one) by an advertising guy named Will Burns (founder/CEO of Ideasicle) called Beck’s sheet music “an idea that is so good, so fresh, so amazing that I: 1. Become immediately proud to be human. 2. Stand up to let the energy of the idea fill my body. 3. Tell everyone I know about it.” Burns called the idea “an innovation” and ticked off reasons why that’s so, including that it’s an “invitation” for fans to generate their own takes, that the mere release of the music will motivate people to share their own attempts to make the music (and will therefore lead to extensive, ongoing promotion), that there’ll be a deep curiosity among the audience to hear what these songs sound like with no “wrong answers” regarding interpretation,” and that it can’t be pirated because it hasn’t been digitized. Of course, it CAN be digitized, easily so, unless you can’t work a scanner. And, oh, yeah, Burns thinks you’ll clamor for tickets to Beck’s shows so you can hear him do the songs himself.

Today, Burns posted a follow-up, and in it he acknowledges that the response to his enthusiasm was not uniformly positive. Several responses said, in effect, that there’s nothing innovative about issuing sheet music. Burns’ retort is that the innovation is that Beck didn’t record the music, and in refraining from doing so lit a “viral fire.”

Well, then, here’s your debate: Is releasing an “album” as sheet music innovative or not? Does it matter that it’s an “old medium” if it’s something people just don’t do in 2012? Are you intrigued by an album of music that you have to perform yourself — and would you be interested in buying the sheet music and giving it a go? Or are you disinterested in working for your entertainment? And in 2012, is Beck still a relevant artist or a guy your older siblings used to like? (And if the latter, would you feel differently about it if it was an artist about whom you cared more?) The project is undoubtedly a throwback to the 1890s and sitting around the family piano playing the latest tunes, but it’s also a clever publicity move and there’s something interesting about the idea of letting everyone take a crack at making a better or definitive version of each cut. So, your vote in the comments: Brilliant or meh? Are you interested or not?