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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

 

The Value Of Music (And Changing The World)

Lily Allen

A small but growing wave of internet chatter is developing around Lily Allen's recent MySpace blog rant on file sharing, and her thesis (echoed by many other artists on their own blogs, like Patrick Wolf and Darren Hayes) that it's killing music. Electroqueer weighed in today with some thoughts as well. All are excellent reads, so check them out.

Lily's nationalist anger, Patrick's self-centered whine and Darren's political perspective all have value...and all of them, at least in my opinion, completely miss the point. For the music industry to try to ban file sharing now would be a futile, useless exercise, and not just because hackers and technology will find a way around any barriers they choose to erect.

A fundamental reality: music, like information, yearns to be free. It is played in subways and on street corners for free, it is on our radios for free, it is performed in bars for free, and in most cities, there are free concerts of some kind nightly. In my teen years, we taped things off radio for free and made mixtapes, which we then gave friends without cost. In my twenties, we began to burn those mixtapes on CDs. Then, of course, we all encountered the swap culture of Napster, an enormous shot over the bow of the music industry. That was ten years ago...a lifetime, especially when you consider that music is most often bought by people not much older than that.

Is it right to steal music? Of course not. It's not right to steal anything. But the war that the music industry has lost here isn't a moral one. Rather, it's a public relations disaster. Through their neglect, ineptitude and naivete, they are now faced with a generation that has never perceived VALUE in music. For them, music has always been free, or nearly so. And when the subject of actually paying for music comes up, they look in their recession-burdened pockets and see no money...while the music industry promotes the impression (real or not) that pop stars are incredibly rich multi-millionaires. Why on God's green earth SHOULD these young kids pay, so those rich people can get richer? It's hard to make a compelling case to a broke teenager that they should incur more debt, just so Diddy can buy more diamonds.

Is that fair to artists? No. But it's the reality of how badly they've managed their industry's profile, and how little responsibility they're willing to place on their own labels for this downturn.

They are other problems, too...especially in the area of content delivery. Most teenagers don't have credit cards...and with the sad end of record stores and retail outlets, the only real way to now purchase music is online, which requires credit. What option do kids have? Should they wait until they're 18 to buy Jay-Z's new album? Youth isn't known for being patient. And for a generation more techologically savvy than any in history, the ease and availability of torrents and Rapidshare is too seductive to ignore.

And when you really think about it...why should they? The music industry is, after all, complicit in the file sharing phenomenon they claim to detest. As XO's Middle Eight bemoaned a few days ago on Twitter, it is now standard industry practice to "leak" a new single, giving the song away on artists' websites or elsewhere, to promote an upcoming release. This practice, however, only reinforces the culture of free music. MySpace, generally regarded as a great way to promote artists, has music players on each web page...which anyone with a basic understanding of Google searches can hack using free, easily available programs. And, of course, the industry knows this is true. They just don't know what to do about it.

Is there a light for the music industry, at the end of the file-sharing tunnel? Maybe. They should take heart in the fact that concert and touring revenues have remained high, perhaps because it's an experience people CAN'T download. Learn that lesson.

And, frankly, some quality control wouldn't be a bad thing, either. When the best music you've got to offer people is cynical, amateurish, market-tested bullshit like Lady Gaga, the Pussycat Dolls, and poorly-conceived retro acts like Whitney Houston and Madonna, you can't really blame people for not buying it.

The music industry should also get over their quaint, ridiculous provincialism. Releasing albums at different times, in different countries, is insanely stupid in the internet age. (Why did Kylie Minogue's last album, X, perform so badly in America? Because it had already been released in other countries SEVEN MONTHS earlier, by which time American fans had bought it on import, downloaded it from 7 Digital, or yes, illegally downloaded it. I expect the same thing to happen to The Gossip's new disc, Music For Men, when it gets it's physical U.S. release in a couple of weeks...because everyone I know who wanted it downloaded or bought the import months ago.)

It gets worse. For me, a lover of bands who don't get U.S. releases -- I'm talking Prefab Sprout, Deacon Blue, Swing Out Sister, Matt Bianco, local acts like Tigercity, or great new acts in Europe and Australia like Napoleon, P'Nau, Shazam, Sneaky Sound System, Fibes Oh Fibes, etc. -- I go broke on imports, and almost never buy records in my home country.

But I'm of an older generation, one that likes ownership of things...I still want the physical CD in my hand. (I did buy Lily Allen's CD, which I think is the best of the year so far. Sorry Patrick and Darren, I've heard your work, and I'm not a fan.) For younger people, however, the desire for physical product is giving way to a new era, one where consumption will not require ownership. They don't want liner notes or album art, they want streaming across multiple platforms. They don't want shelves of CDs in their living room, they want digital MP3s.

But there is one tremendously great bright side for the music industry, and it is this: people still love music. The art form is more culturally ingrained in daily life today than any time since the 1960's...just watch the ocean of people on your morning commute, all of whom are plugged into iPods.

In the end, the music industry can continue to blame young people for file sharing, and try to bully and scare them into not doing it anymore. But the reality is, it's far too late for that. It's time to find a new business model, one that recognizes the fundamental truth of the21st-century world: music now, for better or worse, is not an album, but a lifestyle.

As Prefab Sprout put it recently (so beautifully and so brilliantly), let's change the world with music.
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4 Comments:

Blogger Vance said...

Wow. So nicely put! Bravo and here here. (Or should it be hear hear?)

9/16/09, 1:00 PM  
Blogger Roni said...

Just read on Digg-Music industry wants performance compensation from iTunes


Watched a movie trailer on youtube about today young people and their new busines ideas.
This business documentary named '' The YES Movie''

www.TheYESmovie.com(by Louis Lautman)

9/18/09, 9:41 AM  
Blogger manoj said...


Indie

This is the first time I’ve read about this. I keep learning new things everyday!

9/18/09, 11:15 AM  
Blogger Raj said...

Very good article ModFab. I love how you really explored the perception of music from youngsters here. Being older, it never even occurred to me that youngsters may not even have a debit or credit card. Good read - really enjoyed it.

10/3/09, 1:20 PM  

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