We asked Josh Kun, associate professor of communication and journalism at the Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California and author of several books, to tell us about the future of music.
Boom: How will the music industry and artists adapt to declining record sales and online music?
Josh Kun: We are obviously living through a period of great transition; and like all transitions, this is a moment of tremendous possibility and tremendous risk. Artists and companies alike are finding a landscape loaded with glorious pros and perilous cons, neither of which manifest themselves in the same way for either party (certainly one effect is that artists have to start thinking like companies more than ever before). I hope that fewer and fewer people are merely adapting and reacting to a model that was bound to be busted, but instead are seeing this as an opportunity: the old foundation is cracked, shaky, and in many cases condemned, so let’s not try to repair it. Let’s cheer its teardown and then build something new that offers musicians and musical entrepreneurs a more just and ethical platform with which to work.
Boom: What might “songs in the key of L.A.” sound like in 2050?
Kun: K-pop sung in Mixtec from 6 Street. Cambodian punk covers of “Hotel California” from Long Beach. Instrumental Indian 8-chip tunes from Fullerton that sample vintage Rodney Bingenheimer KROQ broadcasts. Afghani hip hop from Laurel Canyon. Whatever they sound like, I hope they carry at least some of the spirit of Kendrick Lamar’s “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” which is more of a city prayer than a song.
Boom: You’ve written about the intimate relationship between music, identity, and race. How do you imagine different identities developing into the future, and what will they sound like?
Kun: As the national population continues to grow into its soon-to-be-realized majority African American, Latino/a, and Asian American demographics, I think it will be very interesting to see to what extent the new racial and ethnic lines are crossed and to what extent old hierarchies continue to be policed. The post-iPod, post-digital, post-millennial, post-twerk (or whatever they’ll be dubbed) generation of listeners will probably continue to approach music with an increasing lack of responsibility and accountability for its racial and ethnic contexts and histories. (What, if anything, do we download when we download? How deep is streaming’s stream?) The challenge will be celebrating and relishing the horizontality of musical listening and production—the thrilling cross-cultural and cross-genre everythingness of how we listen—while maintaining a critical ear for the lingering verticality, the histories of inequality and hierarchy and exploitation, that remain embedded in the sounds of the future.
Boom: How might music help to forge a more socially just future in California?
Kun: The pressure to forge a more socially just future should, of course, not be put on music. But music can (as it always has) act as a guide for how to think and live differently, how to envision new political futures and not repeat the mistakes of the past. The real pressure, though, is not on the musicians, but on all of us as listeners. What are we refusing to hear? What can we listen for? Los Angeles refused to hear the black music of South Central for decades, music that prophesied and predicted two sets of uprisings. Since at least the late nineteenth century, California has refused to listen to the songs of Mexican California—and now seven years after the landmark immigration marches of 2006, the state could do itself a big favor by listening to contemporary regional Mexican music—one of the state’s most profitable music industries where labor, immigration, biculturalism, drug trafficking, and working-class “American” dreaming are among the key building blocks of some of our most popular music.
Boom: What would you include in a time capsule for 2050?
Kun: A Los Tigres del Norte phone card purchased at a Korean market.