Last fall, the publishing industry met the music world in a cheerfully anachronistic way when Beck, a darling of literary indie-rock aficionados, released Song Reader, an album in the form of sheet music. No downloadable tracks, no limited-edition vinyl, just a big book of notes. The album was published by McSweeney’s and was supplemented with a crowd-sourced website, where fans uploaded their own interpretations of Beck’s songs. Within weeks the site had amassed a kaleidoscopic array of performances—including polished, even animated, videos. Song Reader became a favorite of the staffs at NPR, NewYorker.com, and Kurt Andersen’s Studio 360, where the host and a handful of editors and producers performed a version of “Saint Dude.” Even USAToday’s Pop Candy blog asked, in a somewhat cheeky headline, “Have You Played It Yet?” Far from an old-timey, craft-movement stunt, Song Reader was embraced by both critics and consumers as a legitimate attempt to publish music that people could play—an invitation to musicians, amateur and professional, to interpret the works and share their musical gifts, promising or mediocre. For some of us concerned about the fate of sheet music, Song Reader also served as a litmus test of sorts: How many music fans (at least among the sample Beck attracts) still read, or know someone who reads, Western music notation, notes and chords placed on a five-line staff with clefs, rests, and time signatures?
more from Adam Baer at VQR here.