Editors’ Choice: Indie, Open, Free: The Fraught Ideologies of Ed-Tech

I grew up in a middle-class American household, and I studied classical music. I took private lessons from seventh grade on. I owned my own instrument from eighth grade on. I upgraded to a professional-grade instrument at age 20 (with money saved from a paper route in junior high combined with part-time, minimum-wage income during high school and college). My parents paid for weekly lessons and enough of my needs (and wants) during the academic year that I did not need a part-time job in high school outside the summers, leaving me time to practice and compose. They paid for my youth orchestra tuition, college audition trips, etc.

When I wasn’t studying music, I was often playing around with the family computer. At age 6, my dad bought a Tandy TRS-80 4P, and my life as a hacker began, painstakingly typing in BASIC code from my 3-2-1 Contact magazines and making my own customizations to the programs. In middle school, my dad would go to weekend programming seminars and then give me the books when he got home, so I could teach myself database programming. The web entered the picture in college, where one of my work-study jobs was helping maintain the music conservatory website. And in graduate school, I had the time (and the funding) to teach myself a modern programming language for the purpose of doing computational statistics as part of my dissertation in music analysis.

There’s no mistaking the privileged background I come from. And yet, when I think about the current Western economy, I wonder if someone growing up with my background today could make it. In the context of the modern music industry, even the indie music scene, all those lessons and instruments I had would get me just about to the financial level of indie electronica ― the equivalent of a Mac, a mic, ProTools, and time/space to work. If I had to pay for studio time, edit and mix my own tracks, all the while collaborating with others, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue music.

But that’s where we are with indie rock today. The initial financial onus has shifted from the labels — scouting local music scenes for garage bands with The Sound — to the musicians, producing commercial-grade cuts themselves until they make their big break on the internet.

Web development is in a similar position, as DIY-friendly tools like WordPress, jQuery, and the LAMP stack are in decreasing demand among employers.

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