Okay, so, firstly, go and read this now. I posted it on Facebook a month or so back and it did the rounds on digg so you might have seen it already, or you might have opened, seen how insanely long it was, and not bothered. That would have been a mistake. Seriously, make yourself a cup of tea, print it out if you like, but read it before continuing.
I just read it for the third time and it's just as full of energy as it was on the first read. It's a stunning, rambling tirade on the state of the music industry and it's absolutely the best thing I've read on a very complex, difficult matter with no clear resolution in sight. And you can even feel the conflict even in the author- he doesn't want a world where artists don't get paid for their music, but recognizes that it's inevitable. This is important. I watched a debate between Charles Firth and Cory Doctorow at the Melbourne Writer's Festival earlier this year, and the most important point to come out of it is that it doesn't matter if you agree with file-sharing or piracy or DRM. It's going to happen. CDs have been replaced by mp3s, and the morality or even legality of it really doesn't matter at this stage. It's done. You can get indignant about it, which doesn't solve anything, or you can recognize the new reality and get to work on making that into a business model. Either way, the age of the rock star bathing in champagne is over, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Several things have happened since this article was written that further bolster its essential point. If you think his characterization of the clueless music exec was a bit cliche, check out this one-part jaw-dropping two-parts hilarious interview with the CEO of Universal Music Group, the most powerful music licenser in the world. For an industry that goes on about the fans feeling entitled to free music, he sure seems entitled about charging the fuck out of you. Here's an excellent parody of the interview that, like all great satire, is barely a parody at all, just a retelling. And that's the problem. The labels are clueless money machines. They are rackets, and we're the patsies. Or at least, we were. And you know, you may well say, a lot of the bands I like, my favourite bands, bands that have really changed my life, Radiohead and U2 and Muse and NIN, I would never have heard of them if they hadn't been popularized by the labels. This is true. But we really don't need them anymore. The fragmentation of popular culture means that we can get in direct communication with music we like, not just take what is shoved down our throats.
Yes, this means a certain kind of artist can no longer exist- but it creates the potential for whole tiers of artists who have never had any exposure to get some. The last three new artists I've seen were all local, Melbourne bands who I saw live. I've bought music from all of them. None of them are rich, but they are doing what they love. I know certain people, perhaps the majority of artists, are only in a band because of the promise, the hope, that they might one day get signed and become rich. Yes, the odds of that happening are only slightly better than winning the lottery, but still, take that hope away, and maybe they'll stop trying. Well, yes, some will. Others can't stop. They just love making music and will do it regardless of how it rewards them financially- those are the best musicians. And there's still a fuckload of money in the music industry- it's just getting distributed more evenly, and that is pissing the labels off.
Three albums have been released recently that have impacted on this issue and got me thinking about it more. They are:
...and I'll be talking about each of these over the next three days.