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Music in the digital age: The good, the bad and the ugly

Technology is changing the music industry. For musicians, it's a thin line between love and hate.

Peter Frampton The Artist
Grammy winner Peter Frampton is a singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer. His 1976 album "Frampton Comes Alive!" was voted best album of the year by Rolling Stone magazine and helped him break through as an international star.
Peter Frampton
2 min read

Technology has integrated itself into every aspect of musicians' lives. It's been a fantastic aid to recording and to performing live. In the studio, the technology we've come up with over the years lets us record our songs with the rich, complex sounds everyone now takes for granted. Without technology, we wouldn't have synthesizers, talk boxes and the other musical tools we use to bend sound.

I've always loved tech, and have been using it since I first started recording when I was 14 years old. It's part of how I work.

But technology doesn't have to mean something new. The talk box was invented in the late 1930s, but I didn't know anything about it until I met Pete Drake while we were recording "All Things Must Pass" with George Harrison. Pete was the top pedal steel guitar player in Nashville, Tennessee. We were getting ready to play "If Not for You," and Pete sat in front of me, got this box out, put a tube in his mouth and his guitar started singing to me. My jaw dropped. I had to have one.

And as soon as I started talking with it, it drew in the audience.

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Peter Frampton performs in Los Angeles last year. Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Fast forward to today. When it's a live show, it's your moment -- you're there for the audience and you do the best possible show when you have the audience's full attention. We interact. But that relationship breaks when all the performer sees is the white light of people texting or filming you with their phones. Now, technology has become a barrier that takes people out of the music. It's not about the artist on stage anymore; it's about them being amateur cinematographers.

No performer likes it.

Technology has also had mixed impact on the lives of wannabe professional musicians. On one hand, it's easier than ever to record something on your computer or even a tablet, post it on YouTube and get an audience.

The hard part: earning a living now that everything is streamed. That's because a song needs to be streamed about 200 times before the artist and writer earn what they would have from one download. They can't rely on large recording labels to help because the high costs of producing and publicizing an album means companies will only concentrate on four or six artists a year.

I'm lucky. I can go out and play live and get money from catalog pieces because people still want to buy my older albums.

Rising artists don't have that fallback. Songwriters are working for minimum wage in grocery stores again, yet everyone needs them.

I love music and I love technology. Both have enriched my life and, I trust, the lives of my fans, too. I have no crystal ball into the future but my hope is that people will figure out the financial side of technology so that songwriters get paid their due.

That's my biggest hope.

*as told to CNET News Features Editor Rochelle Garner

Photo courtesy of Getty