i love music. i always will. it saved my life, and i bet i’m not the only one who can say that.
what is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. at some point it became the business of selling cds in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. but that’s not bad news for music, and it’s certainly not bad news for musicians. indeed, with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists.
april 28, 2003
i really do feel like i’ve just watched the beginning of the future of the music industry–from here on out, everything changes. not that it wasn’t changing already, i imagine it could have a huge effect on conventional music sales, but given how long it’s taken cassettes to fade away, it could be a little while. people will want to have their music in a portable format, and not everybody has ipods and cd burners right now.
what I’m far more interested in is the eventual paradigm shift this will entail in the way music is made. as of today, the album, the cornerstone of the music industry, is obsolete. people will buy songs they want, and not songs they don’t. but there are plenty of artists whose albums i would just buy in their entirety when they come out. but then, there are those artists that i buy an album for a handful of songs, only to find more i like the more i play the album. how will that work? will people be as likely to buy ‘the other songs’ on an album? or will this end up meaning artists are less likely to come up with as many new songs when their bread and butter comes from a few hits? rather than working for however long to put together enough songs for a cd, artists can just release individual songs as soon as they’re finished. this could have the effect of letting songs that otherwise would be lost on an album have their day in the sun. it could put an end to the pattern of an artist releasing an album, a handful of singles coming out, and then radio stations playing those singles repeatedly until the next album comes out.
record companies have their paws and whiskers everywhere. they have channels of persuasion, antennae in every house – these are mtv, most radio, bad parties, etc. the companies are smart, they tell you what to listen to, and then sell it to you for an extortionary price. that’s business. the record companies won’t last forever, thanks to the internet and the hordes of people unjustly condemned for simply sharing music among themselves. what’ll go with them? mtv, their main channel. and children and teenagers will see that there is something else. once they have a choice, once they see that there are other things out there, cookie-cutter pop stars will not be needed anymore.
in a more futuristic sense, the major record label’s stronghold on what kind of music gets heard by the people will be broken. music has become an institutionalised industry that churns out musical product. the music industry restricts copying and other uses of music in order to maximise profit, but this comes at a great cost, that of abridging the spread of creativity. this will change. it is now possible for performers to spread their musical message directly to fans via high-technology, thus enriching the artist and the music world in all possible ways.
music is about creative and passionate ideas. not product.
the current model of the music industry is antiquated and obsolete and can’t survive in its present form. creative commons, an internet non-profit, has articulated a surprising and radical view of what this might look like by advocating the freedom of creative work, which can be altered, used, shared and even commercially used by others. artists can choose to publish their work among six main licenses that can allow for example their music to be shared and used freely for other projects as long as they are given attribution as the original creator. musicians are making use of these licenses to disseminate their music and build creative dialogues with their fans and other artists. consider the file-sharing debacle that continues to plague the music industry. artists are already finding their music shared for free online, outside their control. rather than attempt to kill music piracy, as the riaa is trying to do, it might be better to embrace sharing and develop something appropriate for the post-napster world.
jonathan coulton, has demonstrated that such a model is possible, if not preferable, for emerging acts. all of coulton’s music is released under creative commons licenses. while you can buy any of his cds in its fancy packaging (with that license), almost all of his music is available to download, free of charge, from his website. people reward his creative output by buying his discs even when they don’t have to. coulton never has to sell out: as long as people continue to love his music, he can reach an ever-growing audience through creative commons sharing. that’s the artistic value of ‘sharing’.
i think music and industry makes a bad combination. i think it’s obvious that creative expressions such as music has a value and a function much deeper than any industry or market minded person can comprehend. some things just shouldn’t be monetized. you can’t really own sounds more than you can own the air you breathe. it’s just a privilege to be able to experience music at all, in all its wondrous beauty, and you simply can’t own the experience.
a free culture has been our past, but it will only be our future if we change the path we are on right now. a free culture is not a culture without property; it is not a culture in which artists don’t get paid. a culture without property, or in which creators can’t get paid, is anarchy, not freedom. anarchy is not what i advance here. instead, the free culture that i defend is a balance between anarchy and control. a free culture, like a free market, is filled with property. it is filled with rules of property and contract that get enforced by the state. not just as a free market is perverted if its property becomes feudal, so too can a free culture be queered by extremism in the property rights that define it. what is what i fear about our culture today.
a simple idea blinds us, and under the cover of darkness, much happens that most of us would reject if any of us looked. so uncritically do we accept the idea of property in ideas that we don’t even notice how monstrous it is to deny ideas to a people who are dying without them. so uncritically do we accept the idea of property in culture that we don’t even question when the control of that property removes our ability, as a people, to develop our culture democratically. blindness becomes our common sense. and the challenge for anyone who would reclaim the right to cultivate our culture is to find a way to make this common sense open its eyes. so far, common sense sleeps. there is no revolt. common sense does not yet see what there could be to revolt about.
we can carry a free culture into the twenty-first century, without artists losing and without the potential of digital technology being destroyed. common sense must revolt. it must act to free culture. soon, if this potential is ever to be realized.