Asking the Right Questions about Music’s Future

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    We are experiencing a radical transition in the way recorded music relates to culture, and music entrepreneurs face a serious challenge within that transition:  people seem willing to pay for books, movies and games, so what’s up with music why all the resistance? Here’s one possible answer.


    Ah, The Good old Days (Circa 2024)

    The labels are history, so say the blogs. Music is more popular than ever, so say the metrics. But, with the right to “share” dominating the debate are we asking the wrong questions about what this really means for music’s place in our culture?

    When I was in college people were proud of their LP collections. LPs were works of art in-and-of-themselves. Artists took advantage of the 12″ canvas to extend their vision and fans also found practical uses for the jackets: shelf liners, wallpaper and of course, cleaning weed. The point is (or was) that the tactile relationship to the LP itself had a bonding effect to the music and bolstered its social significance.

    This was the industry that many music executives battling front lines in theRIAA/ISP war today fell in love with; one that was about affecting culture in a positive way with a tangible product.

    These days, record collections exist on a flash drive. You can’t really clean pot on a flash drive.  And that is the vortex of the dwindling public respect for music.

    MP3 PLAYER HATERS

    Certain tech companies (and yes, unfortunately I think we do have to include Apple) are pushing this downgrade in status because it suits the selling of “freemium” Internet-based services or mobile devices. To them pop music is a lure, the free toy at the bottom of their cereal box. They think labels should forget about selling the steak and instead sell the sizzle. (Although when pressed for a clear answer on what the “sizzle” is techies start ranting about consumer’s rights.)

    Fire all the lazy support staff at labels, cut back on releases, reduce advances, reduce budgets and sell a file of ones and zeros in a cheap, easy to share format, say the technocrats.

    They call this “progress.”

    For those who have been in the music business since the 1980s this is a tough pill to swallow. Many were attracted to the relatively low-pay and long-hours for reasons that may no longer be relevant.  Some have become curmudgeons, bitching about the good-old-days. Some of them blog too often. Some not enough.

    Is it possible that music is ready to take its place with other art-forms that have become the tapestry of life’s aesthetic: like Rembrandt postage stamps or Picasso bathroom-mats? I have no doubt that there was a fine-art connoisseur who ranted the first time he saw Sistine Chapel bathroom tile. No one listened. Commerce marched on.

     

    IS THERE VALUE FOR COPYRIGHTS IN A COPY-LEFT WORLD?

    I start to wonder if the folks at Disney had the right idea when they convinced Congress to extend copyright to 95 years. Perhaps they know something about the public domain that we ordinary folks do not. Just look at what the public is capable of  when they don’t have to acquire permission from authors for derivative works:  we get things like XXX Mickey and Minnie, or Abe Lincoln fighting vampires.

    If we let pop music dissolve into the abyss of public domain, how long until we one day see an adult movie staring the Beatles, or a Jim Morrison lawn jockey that plays “Light My Fire”; a Janis Joplin anti-hangover pill; Bono‘s Bartender Companion with favorite drinks of the Sinn Féin; a Bob Dylan calendar that each day has a thoughtful reminder from a different religion.

    Perhaps this is inevitable and surly the freetards are praying for this because to them it means the demise of music as a “gatekeeper industry.” (There’s a whole other 1000 word piece in that absurdity.)

    But, while our laws grant the right for such things, does

    this mean we as a society should expedite their arrival?

    For all these new farcical products we can thank companies who devalue commercial music; companies that are not run by people who have worked with musicians for over half a century, financing their dreams and indulging their inspirations.

    And of course I am talking about labels, publishers and the Performing Rights Societies. Remember them? The entities that the freemium merchants tells us to hate? And why, because “the industry” are the ones (the only ones) who gamble big on the development of the artist/songwriters 365 days a year and they are the battling against music becoming freetard propaganda.

     

    THE REAL ENEMIES of MUSIC’S FUTURE

    The main stream music biz has taken quite a beating in the press (and from me) since 2001. They’ve been accused of not understanding the needs of the market, clinging to “old models”  and thumbing their nose at changing technology. Most of these criticisms have come from tech companies and their influence over the press which means of course, that it’s not as black and white as these critics would have us believe. (In fact it’s not even close to true. For what really happened with labels and Naspter/Silicon Valley in 1999 go here.)

    Reality: labels and publishers are opportunistic capitalists, for sure. But they are also fighting to preserve something wonderful about popular music: its ability to play an important role in our culture.

    Can any of the forward-thinking freemium tech-heads explain to me why devaluing that is good for the consumer? Is the disconnect from culture worth the trade-off for the “right” to free music?

    So, who are the future of music’s real enemies? The populist view would say it’s those that are keeping it bottled up in expensive rights. Think that’s true?  Because the logic above forces me through the looking glass a bit.

    Are the real enemies of music’s future the record and publishing companies: residing at one of the lowest points in the economical food-chain of US commerce, while trying to maintain music’s value as a cultural pavilion? Are the enemies those that do not want see music become free toy at the bottom of the freemium cereal box?

    Because I for one would like to think that this art-form will still have cultural significance in the next 50 years. One that will be monetarily sustainable like it was for the last 50 years. I personally believe firmly that it can be so.

    If you’re with me, raise your hand.

     

    Moses Avalon

     

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      32 Responses to “Asking the Right Questions about Music’s Future”

      1. Brent Harvey says:

        My hand is raised….

        Hope all is well Moses. Nice piece. Keep ‘em coming.

      2. JJ Biener says:

        Mo, I was thinking about this just recently. I was reading a comment on Music Think Tank and the guys was bragging about how he had stolen 1200 albums last year and bought 460. While I didn’t actually believe his claim, I thought about the implications of what he wrote. In order to acquire 1600+ albums in the course of a year, he would have to download more than 4 per day, every day without taking a day off. Assuming for the moment that the guy is absolutely obsessed with music and listens constantly, he could only listen to each maybe 3 or 4 times.

        I grew up in the same era you did. When I bought a new album and I was lucky if I could buy even one or two a month, I listened to each one over and over for weeks to really absorb the music. That music is still with me 35 years later. It is a part of who I am. Is someone who downloads 1600 albums a year going to remember anything he hears today in a week or a month let alone 35 years from now? I don’t think so. Something is definitely being lost, and those who are losing it don’t even know it exists.

      3. I read a headline that other day from Music Think Tank and the title of the article was something about the evils of copyright. That just irritated me right off the top. I contribute to kickstart programs for musicians. When I find out about someone new that I haven’t hear of before, I buy their stuff. I pay for services and things that improve the quality of my life and some little nodbocker no talent who wants to avail him or herself of the creative works of an artist who’s contributing to life,art and society and trying to survive financially, just pisses me off to no end. I don’t even know if that sentence structure was good, I’m just really fed up!

      4. Alvin Harrison (NOLA) says:

        Great article. I definitely share your views. How can copyright value be restored? What a question.

      5. Sean says:

        GREAT article!

      6. Rand Bliss says:

        Both my hands are raised…and feet.

        Thank the Gods there’s still loyalist flag waving knights in armor like Moses that not only keep the faith, but promulgate and enlighten everyone willing to listen to the facts.

        Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Without music, life would be a mistake…. I would only believe in a God who knew how to dance.”

        What hope do we have if this generation continues to lose respect for music as an art form, and the artists who contribute but are continually robbed of their right to profit from their work?

        It’s also created a downward spiral of mediocrity when the necessary risk-taking of older, better times leading to better music is now sacrificed by budgeting out anything new and possibly worthwhile just to clone the latest lukewarm hit. It’s similar to how lazy Hollywood has become.

        How can those of us traditionalists keeping the faith help to spread this awareness like Moses? You say you want a revolution…

        The Times They Are A-Changin’

      7. Moses, your thoughts and comments continue to take my breath away and ignite the passion that fuels creativity. Those of us who support great art and artists alike understand that their survival will drive cultural significance for generations to come. I’m with you Moses…both hands up!

      8. Robert Berardi says:

        Great article Moses. Not only is it true that consumers no longer covet a tangible LP, CD, etc, they have little use for ownership at all. I teach high school in NYC, and the kids don’t bother with MP3s, free or not. Too much work. Instead, they type in the song they want to hear on Spotify, and the song plays. Interested in hearing your opinion on this legal but dubious trend; if you’ve already blogged on it, please direct me to it.

      9. Perry Pansieri says:

        Mo, I really do not know where this culture is heading. I believe that by educating the public from young to old is the only way to make waves in order to promote the rights and the future of our pop music culture.

        I also believe that the cream will rise to the top. I mean, who are the people advocating that copy rights are infringing on the future of music? Are they the great musicians of our times? Are they the big name recording artists of our times? Are they all the hard working industry people? I doubt it. How about we push the techies to invest in recording sessions and have them handle all of the promotion for the music industry? Fat chance that’s going to happen.

      10. David Parker says:

        Hi Moses,
        Great piece. I commented the other day on Paul’s blog that I believe the “power” that has devalued music are the VCs who have and continue to finance bad business models strictly based on extremely low value key assets, i.e. music. This started with iTunes concept of forcing all music labels, major and independent, to accept the $0.99 single tier and related album price tiers. Apple also made the wholesale split of 70/30 (copyright owner/iTunes) pretty much standard for most tech web services. This “split” has been basic business practice for wholesalers for many years in the music industry (think back to physical distributors – WEA, UNI, Handleman, etc.)
        But back to the VCs. VCs keep the bad business models going until (or not ever) there is “scale” i.e. enough mole hills to make a mountain. Most traditional businesses do not have the VC money to wait that long. They have to use legitimate means to establish their business model. But with the big money, they have and still can legally stall the majors lawsuits long enough to allow freemium to take hold. And in the words of the Jimmy Fallon baby commercial “Who doesn’t like cash back (or say “free”)”.
        The question as you say, is what do the people who are truly working the music business (as opposed to providing tech services for music or just distribution on the internet) to do? An example of the magnitude of this difficult problem is the recent statement (not quoted exactly) from David Geffen, “I’d rather kill myself before I would get in the music business today.” I have no answers. Hopefully you do. But we’re not going to live or work forever. . .

      11. Mark Fisher says:

        Lots of great questions. I look forward to your answers.

      12. Dan Blackburn says:

        My hand is raised. A very good piece, Moses.

      13. Great article. Your statement about how people are willing to pay for everything but music hits the problem on the head. My hand is raised, waaaay up, and it’s in a fist. What we musicians. songwriters and artists do is as difficult as any other job and often more so because of the creative aspect. And, I’d argue that it is also as necessary.
        Bottom line: Stealing music (in any form) is as wrong as stealing anything else.
        Let’s not let this anarchy continue.

      14. martin thomas says:

        Smart and provocative, Moses.
        There are some kids around here (Pittsburgh) with internet campaigns trying to get investors for their next recording sessions. They are offering different packages based on the contribution. Some of the things they offer are, a party at your house (where they play), copies of the cd, tee shirts, invites to VIP parties, the list goes on…
        Maybe some of the answers are local. If people band together they can create the “Motown” or “Brill building”.

      15. Matthias says:

        Mo, the line including Apple got me and so I got to add some fuel to that fire: I would go so far to say tgat Apple right now is the biggest reason why things have gone wrong. If Napster was the ugly headraiser (freakshow baby) than Apple could easily play the good shepard. With the ipod, the itunes store, the DRM debate, the iPhone and so on theyve always just used the problem child “the music biz” like a false prophet uses bad time to sell deception disguised as hope. They always only wanted to sell their products, not music. IMHO the way the itunes store sells music is completely wrong and Im sorry to see that tgats the way it is and there seems to be no way back (but hopefully through and out). Chees. Matt

      16. Erik Saari says:

        Hands up up real high! Great piece!

      17. Jay Spears says:

        I’m finishing up producing my 3rd CD, and I make sure the artwork, text, and packaging are as inspirational as the music. I want to publish a product, like a beautiful book with a magnificent story inside. Can’t help it, it’s the creative urge I have. But I’m not printing more than a couple of hundred this time around.

      18. Jason Miles says:

        As usual Moses your observations are spot on! Here is the new video from Global Noize-Dreams-It is very relevant to everything that is being discussed here and is pretty riviting-We spent 3 months on this-Thanks for this forum Moses

        http://bit.ly/RCQ6l6

        Peace, Jason

      19. Jerry Heck says:

        I beg to differ!

      20. My hand is raised! Let’s value the hard work of musicians and those who work in the industry.

      21. Both hands up here on the West Side, Mo! Reading JJ Bieners` comment about the guy who downloaded thousands of MP3s` kind of reminds me of when VCRs` first hit big. I remember some people told me that they did so much taping they never had time to actually watch everything they recorded. Not too far off from what some do now w/ downloading….

      22. Lucian Clewell says:

        Hand is raised! Thank you again, Mo.

      23. Ok, I need to know if I’m singing in the woods alone. I just spent several hours sorting through articles written by people I find arrogant, offensive and totally in love with themselves. I’ve sorted through waist high crap about free stuff and how copyright is ruining everything, yada yada, yada.
        What I actually seem to see is techies and pseudo intellectuals arguing over technology, restricting multiple platform usage and a lot of things I’m not sure I care about.
        In the long run I would like it if you purchase my music in whatever form you like, be it a download or a hard copy cd or some newfangled thing I don’t know about yet. Now, I’m happy you purchased my music. If you copy it so you can play it on your Iphone or Ipad or computer or whatever I’m not flipping out because your purchased it. I like it when you can listen to it anywhere. In the olden days you would have purchased my album and maybe played it at a friends house, took it to a party and played it for other people and if they liked it they went and bought a copy for themselves. My bottom line is it’s not free and not given away and not disrespected by some mogul who wants to use my content on his platform for his own gain and not mine or yours. Am I totally naive on this? This to me is the real fight on piracy and it’s got to be fought by and for the artist not some hypocritical mogul who couldn’t sing “Hang on Sloopy” on his best day.

        • Moses Avalon says:

          Singing in the woods? No, you are not. Pissing in the wind? Maybe.

        • JJ Biener says:

          What you are seeing is a bunch of techies and pseudo-intellectuals who are trying to justify stealing the work of others and making it their own. You are seeing massive corporate interests trying to make money off your work without paying you for it.

          You are neither naive nor hypocritical. You understand who owns your work, and you won’t be distracted from that simple fact by the demagoguery of people who either will not or can not create on their own.

          You need to speak your truth as often and to as many people you can. You need to support those who are trying to get new laws passed to protect artists and those who are working to cut the funding out from under the pirates. Be an activist. Speak out. Defend what is yours.

      24. Ok that’s encouraging. I talked with my IT guy today to get his perspective and I told him about all the things I read and that it was never “musician talk” It was how to bill customers so they pay for multiple platforms. Corporate greed, I suppose dictates that we have to buy a copy on the computer and license it for our laptop and then do something so we can listen to it on our phone and in the car and that just strikes me as wrong. If I buy music I’d like to listen to it on my own devices wherever I am and I got the sense that’s more what the shirts are fighting for. Artists seem like collateral damage. I’m for defending and speaking out and now I have to find the correct use for the semicolon….thanks for that Moe! lol

      25. Gary Kochakji says:

        I’m trying to wrap my head around the effect that cloud technology will have on a music. I’m a trying to figure out where this is going.

      26. Neel says:

        My favorite blog post yet. My hand is raised.

        It made me think of what an odd one I am.

        I am a musician and have done it full time in the record deal days with all the usual tour and MTV things…

        I am a tech guy too. I went to school for Computer Science/Programming before I signed on to play music full time. And I work in the tech world now too along with music and understand exactly how the tech side of it works (the nuts and bolts, I lack the greed).

        And get this… I do not have an iPhone (even though I can design one) and in fact have iNothing. I HATE Apple (not Apple Records, I love them. I respect THAT Apple). But that is my own blog for another day…

        I do not listen to MP3′s unless I have to when we trade song ideas between studios. And even then we want .wav files at least. I mean… I do have standards. Didn’t I say I was a tech guy? I also understand what an MP3 encoder does to my music file.

        What I am getting at is this comes down to pure greed and a generation that wants and expects everything for free. I am 49, a child of record (LP) collections (I just added on to mine). Like others my age I miss the adventure, pure fun of opening that new album (even though I do still have that fun, I just have to make it happen).

        Thanks Mo for posting this stuff. This one got me really fired up.

        Thanks to all that had such great responses in support. Thank goodness I am not alone. I did feel lonely.

        • Matthias says:

          Great comment, Neel. Very honest. Good to see ppl who still think for themselves. Lots of folks these days, especially when it comes to anything techy and new often remind me of zombies with their arms stretched out to grab the new cool.

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