We millennials, with our "Apple Music" and our "mp3"s (please insert baby boomer sarcastic air quotes as you read), we don't know we're born. It's easy to forget that recorded music has been on quite a journey since its conception, from vinyl to tape to CD to, well, digital intangibility, but a that's the story a new documentary TV series and feature-length film—due to air on the BBC in the UK and on PBS in the US—seeks to remind us.
American Epic will explore early music recording processes, and will recreate some of those processes on film, with a number of our best-known musicians from across the generic spectrum. Elton John will team up with Jack White (who, via his label Third Man Records, has frequently experimented with publishing and recording formats himself), Nas, Willie Nelson, and others to breathe new life into the recording processes that eventually birthed the way we consume music today. All of the recordings will be available alongside archival music from the 1920s and 30s, via a 100-song soundtrack.
Generally, it's not the worst idea for us look back at the legacy of recorded music—even though the music industry's seeing a major shift from power sitting in the laps of the labels at the centre of the recording industry. Live shows and social media (I guess) are becoming new frontiers for music, but for most of us that emotional connection still comes from the piece of music that you can play and replay until you're so sick of a song that you play it just one more time. Whether that was a warped tape or dusty record, or just someone smashing replay on a smartphone plugged into the AUX cord today, the sentiment stands. American Epic will air in the US on PBS on May 16, May 23, and May 30, and an accompanying film will air on June 6. Dates for the BBC's airing of the series are still yet to be confirmed.
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