Asking the Right Questions about Music’s Future
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.
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.