Music, Design & Technology: Redesigning the World with Music Producer Young Guru

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Photo by Shershah Atif/BU News Service

By Shershah Atif
BU News Service

It’s no secret that the advent of the Internet has transformed how people access and share creative, intellectual and artistic property. The effect of an unprecedented influx of information on the intersection between music, design and technology has not only flipped the traditional market of disseminating music records, but also provided a model for other industries in terms of how to compensate people in an open-source information age.

“The way the Internet was designed made it difficult for an artist to get compensated. How do we get rid of that structural idea that information is free?” said legendary audio engineer, record producer and DJ Gimel “Young Guru” Keaton while speaking at MIT as part of its “Hip Hop Speaker Series” titled “Design & Destruction.”

Young Guru, 41, worked with artists in Maryland and Washington, D.C., before moving to New York City in 1999 when Jay-Z signed him to Roc-A-Fella Records.

According to Young Guru, the Internet is great at taking power away from the record companies, but it has flooded the market with thousands of people who upload music every day. “The trick is to rise above all of that noise,” he said. “We’re in the information age and nobody is placing value on information.”

Asked how design can help change our interactions with the Internet, Young Guru suggested a fundamental redesign of the current copy and file system:

“When we accepted this form of the Internet, we didn’t figure out how to compensate people for their creations. In the Xanadu version of the Internet, there are no files and copies, which devalue the original. In that version, if you want a piece of information, you have to go to one place and source the original person for that thing,” he said.

In this model, information is a commodity that is bought and paid for, and by paying, people create a more equitable system. His argument also speaks to the future of listening to music through streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. He explained the challenges that musicians face in trying to profit from making their music accessible on streaming services.

“If I am Pharrell Williams, and “Happy” plays 2 million times on your phone, and I get a check for $2,000 dollars from Spotify, guess what? You [Spotify] are going to take “Happy” off of your system until we come up with an equitable deal to represent my 2 million listens. I cannot make a living like that,” he said.

The open-source Internet has negatively affected mid-level artists who are drowned out by the amount of noise, according to Young Guru. He emphasized the need for filters and aggregators in this age of ubiquitous information, saying they are necessary “to take the noise of the world, find the quality and post that content.” For him, what matters most in the near future will be how to introduce new artists who have not already been promoted. He predicts that just as the music industry and its job market have been transformed, the service industries will undergo a similar change.

“For example,” he said, “as soon as we get automatic cars, it’s going to knock out cabs, a huge mid-level industry. The pharmaceutical and oil industries are not immune to this either. But will the people who own these industries let go for the betterment of humanity? I don’t think so.”

Young Guru admitted that these concepts are difficult to explain to people because once society is locked into a particular approach to the internet, it is hard to get people to shift to a new method.

“Once you bring something negative into the world, how do you get rid of it?” he said. For him, ultimately “it comes down to philosophy and changing people’s perception about the way the world should be.”

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