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01 November 2009 @ 08:36 am
The Spirit of Radio  
I just read a BoingBoing article entitled "Heavy illegal downloaders buy more music", and felt compelled to respond. I'm copypasting my response here.

The particular passage that prompted my participation was in the final paragraph, where someone defending file sharing is quoted as saying:

"The people who file-share are the ones who are interested in music," said Mark Mulligan of Forrester Research. "They use file-sharing as a discovery mechanism. We have a generation of young people who don't have any concept of music as a paid-for commodity," he continued. "You need to have it at a price point you won't notice."

Even Mr. Mulligan doesn't quite get it, when he says things like "We have a generation of young people who don't have any concept of music as a paid-for commodity". It still presents the Net Generation as somehow lacking, somehow qualitatively different in their ethos than those who came before.

My generation and my father's generation didn't think of music as a "paid-for commodity", either. All you needed was a radio. If you had a good-quality stereo with a tape deck, and a station with a reliable request line, poof! It was yours. The Net improved the quality, reliability, selection and simplicity of the process, but that's it.

And who went to that kind of trouble in the Eight-Track era?

People who really loved music, and also bought a lot of it.

Free music and free downloads, like free radio, are primarily "discovery tools", and always have been. They're the best advertising any musician could ask for.

When Napster first arrived on the scene in the '90s, I said, "this is the 21st century version of radio." When the record companies freaked out about it, and about MP3.com, it wasn't because of their products getting distributed for free, no matter what they said. It was because independent bands without big label contracts were getting just as much exposure as the indentured servants that the labels had put so much marketing machinery behind. People were getting music that wasn't being vetted by the Priests of the Temple of Syrinx.

That's the big threat to the music industry, and all this talk about "piracy" is just smoke and mirrors.

Tombfyretombfyre on November 1st, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)
Yep, that's what I've figured it was all about since day one. They're just concerned about it cutting into their profits, and messing up their own opinions on who's good and who's not. Its one of the many reasons I'm glad downloading music is legal up here. ^^ The courts told the RIAA and all that to screw off.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on November 1st, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
Unsurprisingly, I have fairly strong feelings about this subject. One of the biggest is that Internet exposure isn't any better for small artists are the more traditional system of label patronage. Most small artists stay precisely that, even if ten thousand people hit their MySpace page. Success comes only when a particular piece of media starts to get circulated in the right Internet circles, like BoingBoing. And, indeed, I find Internet circles, these days, to be more homogenous in musical tastes than in my pre-Internet days. I believe the Internet facilitates a lot of groupthink because the ease of linking sites, videos and the like, but I think that most of it goes back to a tiny number of Internet decision makers. Suddenly, we're all Jonathan Coulton fans! But how did that happen? He got slashdotted for Code Monkey.

What this does do is take a lot of middle men – the labels – out of the process. Many of these decision makers do it for free. But, if you want to make a living off of being an artist, it's an absolute disaster. The Internet has allowed niche markets to become homogenized. As communities go virtual, they tend to centralize their consumption so they can talk to each other about what they like, and it's happening on a bigger scale. People no longer talk about the bands they've heard at the coffee shop or local pub, but that YouTube video they've seen, and in groups numbering in the hundreds or thousands, and the groups are talking to each other, than your friends in the coffee shop.

I believe we're finding that the Internet is going to lead to a great centralization of taste. More and more people will be producing art, but in the end we'll have fewer actual artists that are appreciated by wider and wider audiences. Which is an unsustainable business model, which is part of the reason the labels are so boggled, they're going to fail just like newspapers are going to fail, it's inevitable, but I am far from sure that this will actually be better in terms of artistic diversity and creation.
Tube: curioustoob on November 2nd, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
So you don't believe in the principle of the long tail?
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on November 3rd, 2009 12:04 am (UTC)
I believe in it, but I don't think it very much matters to most artists. It's not that the long tail doesn't exist. I, myself, have sold upwards of a dozen copies of a screenplay adaptation of HP Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward! As a member of that long tail . . . it's not really what keeps a person motivated, either in terms of professional interest or in terms of money, to keep doing art.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on November 3rd, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
I also don't think it matters very much to most audiences. Sure, we might download and try a bunch of stuff - but we will tend to centralize our tastes in a tiny group of artists. We may take in more artists, but we tend to talk about things together, which means we tend to talk about a tiny group of artists.
Your Obedient Serpent: Warning: Cognitive Hazardathelind on November 3rd, 2009 04:25 pm (UTC)
The Internet is why we can't have nice things.
Hafochafoc on November 1st, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
Exactly so. The music companies, like publishing companies, are about control and profits. If you can deal with the artists directly, they might have to quit this gig and do something USEFUL instead. If they can.
Araquan Skytraceraraquan on November 1st, 2009 09:32 pm (UTC)
*waggles his off-air recordings from the '80s and '90s* Yup. That was my initial method of acquiring music, when I was very young. Later on when I got the money and transport to go to the retailers and buy CDs of my own, I made a concerted effort to get a lot of those particular things I'd recorded earlier. My taping has to have made the RIAA at least a couple hundred dollars, and I'm not a big purchaser of music compared to many.
ArchTeryxarchteryx on November 1st, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC)
What can I say that hasn't already been said, other then:

1) I agree with you wholeheartedly, and,
2) You get serious bonus points for the RUSH reference. :>
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on November 2nd, 2009 06:01 am (UTC)
TWO Rush references, thank you. =)
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!fengi on November 2nd, 2009 04:51 am (UTC)
The info age generation has been trained to expect free *content*, but it's quite willing to pay for the access and equipment needed to get that "free" content. And all that money goes to massive corporations and middlemen companies and sites. Not paying artists is central to the business plan.

The "free" music taped from radio wasn't either radio stations paid licensing fees and audio recording material cost something as well. Except for the licenses, none of this money even had a chance of going to the artists - who were already getting ripped off by the record industry.

It's interesting how the idea of free content hit big around the time technology made it possible for bands to self-produce at professional levels on the cheap, and thus own the means of production and sell the product itself on it's own. Big names have gotten away with this, but the industry is finding ways to keep most of the money to itself.

Free evangelists cite touring and merchandise as ways musicians can make money. Except both involve financial hurdles (and in the case of merchandise, additional artistic skills) at just the break even level. Making money means dealing with another bunch of gatekeepers at decent venues which are increasingly consolidating into powerful groups. The LiveNation-Ticketmaster merger may yet go through, creating a near monopoly

It makes me think the corporate beast just shifted the money once artists got to close to it.

A side note: Napster was one of those dot coms which made money from investors without ever turning a profit or having a viable profit plan. Even in its legal version, I don't know if any money has been made from the product itself, just buying and selling the brand - which was made by not paying artists. There's a lot of vaporware out there making money, and even less of that is going to the people who produce the concrete work.