Julian Lawrence Gargiulo
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Julian's Column - Mostly Classical

The Flight of the iPhone

by Julian Gargiulo


The flight of the iPhone

If it hadn't happened to me I would never have believed it. I was taking my baby Nikita for a walk in her stroller on Paris' Rive Droit while talking on my iPhone (using headphones) and discussing the future of CDs in the current music market. It was a sunny day in Paris (rare), Nikita was sleeping peacefully (even more rare) and I was just thinking how astoundingly beautiful a place Paris can be, when suddenly the line fell. Reaching down for my phone I found that the headphones were no longer connected. Strange. Instead they were just hanging there, lonely and dejected. After a moment of confusion it suddenly dawned on me that someone had managed to steal my phone, mid-conversation! I know France is famous for many things. Poets. Philosophers. Japanese tourists. The occasional croissant. But thieves? I must say I was impressed. If I ever manage to track the guy down I'm not sure whether to smack him or congratulate him. But certainly there will be lots of questions: "How? Do you teach somewhere? Perhaps a master class in advanced mugging?" (as I type this right now I'm half expecting my Mac Air to disappear underneath my fingers)

Back to the survey on CDs

I've been thinking about where it's all headed for CDs for a while, but find myself particularly interested now, as I prepare to record yet another (this will be my eighth), for the first time with all original music. Perhaps the biggest push to writing this article came after a recent concert I did at the Southern Adventist University in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Though perhaps not a place you would immediately associate with classical music I was happy to be performing in their Steinway Series, especially after hearing that the famed Russian pianist Yefim Bronfman had performed there previously.

It's all about your demographic

Over 300 students crammed into Akerman Auditorium (which only seats 258) and last minute we added on-stage seating to accommodate the extras. I welcome the prospect of playing for any group of people but it is a special treat when the crowd is predominantly made up of 18-22 year olds. As with any other performance, I brought CDs to sell at intermission and after the show. The degree of enthusiasm and involvement during the concert, not to mention the standing ovation at the end, made me think my CD sales would be good. I hadn't figured on my demographic. These kids look at CDs more like a curiosity piece than an actual object for purchase. Not unlike when in a museum you marvel over the ability of prehistoric man to survive with primitive cooking utensils. "See", holding a copy of my latest CD in her hand and explaining to her friend, "I've heard these are how people used to get music, 15 songs at a time." After all, it was 2001 when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod, "1000 songs in your pocket". Needless to say, sales were bad. So what is the next step after CDs? Does one put music on a USB key and sell that? (would certainly make autographing more challenging)

What music people are saying

I talked to a couple of my good friends in music industry, and this is what they responded to the question, "What next after CDs?"

"Probably something virtual, such as a capsule that will project images and sound as a hologram." (Boris Slutsky, pianist and Chairman of the Piano Faculty at Peabody Conservatory)

"It will probably be digital downloads, for a small price or a donation, perhaps a high quality video recording of the show itself that is, if things don't change much." (Octavio Vazquez, composer and nominee for the Spanish Academy Awards)

"Now that it's digital, and no physical medium is required, I think we are at the zero point for whatever "medium" recordings are stored on. Next up should be an emphasis on real high-quality audio, not watered-down, highly-compressed and compromised mp3s. There are whole generations who only know music through two-dollar earbuds and bass-heavy headphones, or even just their smartphone speaker." (Joe Burgstaller, trumpet player and ex lead trumpet for the Canadian Brass)

In conclusion

Well, it sounds like a resounding win for digital/virtual. Nonetheless, against my better judgement I will go ahead and record this CD anyway. There is certainly something nostalgic in this move. Call me old-fashioned but I still think people want to leave a performance with something to take home. Something that looks like something. Something you can hold in your hands. Something you can sign. And for those of you who don't have a CD player, just think of it as a really expensive coaster. Bottoms up!

Addendum

Just in case you happen to be reading this, my dear Parisian thief, your nimble act has inspired a new piano piece (Flight of the iPhone) which not only will be featured on my new CD but was recently premiered at Carnegie Hall. Merci.