by Craig Anderton
Marshall McLuhan was right: the world has become wired into a global village. The internet in particular is a great leveler — it’s just as likely that a letter from Sweden will show up in my email in box as a letter from Connecticut. And musically, more influences are converging from a variety of sources. African music, which has had such a positive effect on American pop music, is being repaid with the American technology of synthesis and project recording. Artists like Peter Gabriel, Sting, and Michael Jackson are not just celebrated in their countries of origin, but are international superstars.
With this wired world comes new opportunities, but I wonder if Americans will be taking full advantage of the options that are coming our way. Part of this is because, despite a few rough spots, the United States is a pretty remarkable country. Not only is it a technological and cultural leader, but compared to most parts of the world, it is remarkably free of the officially-sanctioned types of corruption that keep many “third world” countries from reaching their full potential — you don’t have to bribe a telephone company official to get a phone line installed expeditiously, nor worry that the governor of your state is getting a kickback from kidnappings. And while some dead people may still vote in Chicago, our elections are generally considered pretty honest.
Besides, just about anything you want is available in the US. We don’t look with jealousy at another country’s film industry because American films have carved a major role — one that continues to evolve — in the history of film. And if we like another country’s specialities, chances are we have enough immigrants from that country that those influences will show up here as well. Italians brought pizza, Africans taught us the blues, Chinese gave us vegetable stir fry, and so on.
As a result, we tend to be somewhat provincial compared to the rest of the world because we really don’t need to “step outside the door” to find what we want. While most Spaniards are familiar with the top US acts, very few of us have heard of Miguel Bose, whose adventurous music has far more in common with Peter Gabriel than Flamenco guitarists. And while the French pay close attention to what’s going on in the White House, most Americans are clueless about how the recent elections in France could put a severe crimp in the idea of a united Europe.
But does any of this really matter to us? It should if you’re looking for additional opportunities and ways to expand your business. In the past few years, I’ve made a concerted effort to get my articles published overseas, and have now appeared in Dutch, Swiss, English, Italian, Belgian, Mexican, French, and Japanese magazines. This has not just provided some extra income, but also opened me up to many new ideas because I end up looking at these magazines as well (okay, my Dutch and Japanese suck big-time, but it’s still possible to glean some useful ideas from the diagrams if nothing else).
I’ve also been working on doing seminars overseas. The language barrier can be a problem (except with French, which I speak), but I’m slowly but surely developing a network of people who can translate my transparency captions into other languages. Even though I often end up speaking in English (which is the de facto tech language anyway), at least foreign audiences can feel at home with what goes up on the screen.
If you have expertise that’s useful to Americans, odds are that expertise could be useful in other countries as well. It’s not so much that these other people need our help — the issue here is not cultural imperialism — but more that they’re open to new ideas. It’s easy to collaborate over the internet with MIDI files; perhaps you could use some rhythmic input from a Brazilian percussionist, who in turn might find your rootsy blues playing absolutely wonderful. Products like ADAT, which provide a standard way to exchange digital audio, can also be helpful in breaking down barriers.
We’re in the beginning stages of the global village, and the mechanisms to do these types of collaboration are still somewhat primitive. But we can expect the path of international exchange to become more well-trod in the years ahead, and now is the time to get your foot in the door. The rules are simple: respect other cultures by learning enough about their values so you don’t come across as an “ugly American,” and strive to make the process a two-way street. Exciting times lie ahead; start thinking globally, and you’ll be better prepared for the inevitable transition to a world where music, truly an international language, is not limited by political boundaries.