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On File-Sharing: Are You Smarter Than A 12th Grader?

I.  Students Chime In

Back in February, I stumbled across an essay written by a twelfth grader named Kamal Dhillon.  In it, he argues that file sharing may be illegal, but it is not ethically wrong.  The essay had been entered into the Glassen Ethics Competition and Dhillon won.  Out of eighty entrants in the contest, the essay that won the one thousand dollar prize and got republished in The Winnipeg Free Press, argued that yes, copyright infringement can be morally justified.  Though the views that Dhillon expresses in the essay and the sheer intellectual resilience that he displays in it are not characteristic of his entire age group’s attitude towards file sharing, nor does his understanding of the issues seem to reflect that of most twelfth graders, it got me thinking.  What happens when fans are not stupid anymore?  What happens when there are high school students who happen to have a firmer grasp on the file sharing debate than some of the executives and artists who get quoted in the headlines?

I mean, they are smarter than a twelfth grader—right?  Most likely not, I am afraid.  Readers of blogs like Music Think Tank and TechDirt, who live to learn about and make sense of the impact of technology on the recording industry and have observed how file sharing has reshaped our cultural lives—i.e. you—are in fact, smarter than a twelfth grader.  But, what about these out-of-touch executives, commonly relegated to “struggling dinosaurs,” whose only exit from this industry entails mass extinction of their kind and the destruction of the music empires they created?  What about all those artists in recent years who have made off-the-cuff comments about file sharing, only to be criticized for their complete disconnect from the arguments?  Better, how do Dhillon’s arguments stack up against some of the viewpoints that have been gaining traction in recent weeks?

The other day, audio engineer Jon Sheldrick sent in his thoughtful post “Why You Should Pay for Music;” it has been republished on The Huffington Post and Music Think Tank.  In it, he argues that rather than “scaring people into buying music,” he advocates “a culture in which people actually want to spend money on music, because they understand the positive repercussions it has on the medium of recorded music, and the lives of the artists that produce it.”  In contrast, Dhillon believes that society “has benefited overall from file sharing.”  He, in a sense, argues that it is not that we do not need people to become active participants in their cultural lives, but that they should also be able to deconstruct the obfuscation of reality and the arguments that surround file sharing.  He is realistic in his observation that millions of people engage in the act of downloading music and find the arguments against it to be “unfair, inconstant, and irrational.”  How does Sheldrick fair?

II.  The Value of Music

“The problem,” he argues, “is that many people just don’t value music in a meaningful way.”  This is the first of many instances where I happen to disagree with Sheldrick.  See, he makes the point that people value music “in the sense that they enjoy it, and love rocking out on their iPod.”  However, “they don’t value it in the sense that they will willingly fork over $1 for a song,” enabling the artist to keep producing music.  This argument is misguided; it fails to ask the more meaningful question.  Is it that people do not value music?  Or, is it that music has become in some way disconnected from its value?

Though it would take a whole other essay to establish the basis for that argument, it goes something like this:  With the rise of corporatism in the record industry throughout the 1980s and 90s, executives disconnected themselves from what used to matter the most:  the music.  As the business evolved from the long-term career-building view that artist development allowed to the short-term hit-making machine that mass-media provided, they grew dependent on a business scheme that was never intended to serve fans as actual people who had a personal connection to their culture.  Rather, the workings of the CD-Release Complex reduced fans to a mere collective of consumers.  They were free to make meaning together—through top-down artist brands and their music—as long as they did so as identity seeking individuals. The artist “brand” replaced peer-to-peer human relationships with an abstract, corporate-created one, and functioned as the fan’s belief system; it employed mythologies, sacred rituals, and iconography that served as a substitute for the features of a real artist.  This corporatization continued on to local radio stations and record stores and reduced the natural progression of music culture; it oversimplified the process by which real culture develops and evolves. 

In a few decades, the music culture in which people participated became tilted toward the priorities and behaviors of the multi-national corporations and media conglomerates that were responsible for its planning.  In the process, our culture became dismantled and replaced with simulations of culture—big-box retail outlets, commercial radio stations, and MTV—and as the record industry skewed itself towards their needs, the harder it became for real culture to thrive.  The further people got from the process through which music is created and culture formed, the more disconnected they became from the value of it.   And the more music culture became detached from its origins and exchanged for a corporate simulation of one—an existence meant solely to promote behavior that improves the profits of the corporations manufacturing it—the more that music became disconnected from its value and the material processes of its creation.  By 1999, the height of the record industry, it was a nearly $15 billion a year business.  At this point, most people’s relationships to the artists that they loved were mediated merely through corporations.  Fans grew dependant on artist brands for self-presentation; consumption became participation in their cultural lives, their path to individualism. These paths, however, only separated and disconnected them further.

More than a decade later, we still identify with and are even more fascinated by the plight of these abstract corporations in the digital age than we are with the flesh-and-blood artists that they represent, now why do you think that is?  Do you really think it is because “people don’t value music in a meaningful way” or are things a little more complicated?  I would argue that they are more convoluted than Sheldrick leads us to believe.  Has music become devalued to some degree, due to the social epidemic of file sharing and those born-digital who have embraced it?  Sure.  But, they have become disconnected too. 

III.     Misunderstanding Complex Events

Next, Sheldrick shares his experience of what is was like to download music illegally in high school, and then as a recording engineer a few years later, witness first hand the effects that the social epidemic of file sharing had on the very industry that he was attempting to enter.  There were artists with sizeable fan bases questioning whether or not they could afford to record another album—even though there was obvious demand; musicians no longer able to afford paying recording engineers; and studios, big and small, all over New York City were shutting their doors.  All of this, Sheldrick writes, “was a direct result of people not paying for music.”  Okay, stop.  First off, the problem with Sheldrick’s perspective here is that sometimes recording engineers like him forget just how vast the chasm is between them and real people

Yes, it would be beneficial if more people had experiences like Sheldrick—such experiences are illuminating—but it is important to remember that it is real people, not recording engineers, who determine the fate of our culture. They may have the same experiences, but see them very differently.  The reason for this, as I argued above, is that, sure, such experiences would help remind listeners of the significance and value of music.  However, in reminding them, we are admitting something important to our understanding of this debate and the shortcomings of Sheldrick’s argument—not only is there an apparent disconnect between listeners and the value of music, but that the inherent value of music has, in some way, become disconnected from the music itself.  Undoubtedly, over the course of the era of recorded music—approximately the last hundred years—people, in becoming more passive participants in their cultural lives, lost their connection to artists and to the labor that creates music.  For some people, if not most, their participation begins and ends at consumption; they are not as sensitive to the material process of art’s creation as Sheldrick, nor do they have a vested interest in maintaining the barriers of music consumption and keeping them as high as possible.  This is, perhaps, why the rift between real people and music industry professionals in general is so prevalent, because they are not committed to solving a particular problem, like financing and distributing recorded music.  Therefore, when something like file sharing comes along and disrupts the process through which those operations occur, as well as, the business model of the record industry, it is important to remember that people are not committed to preserving the music consumption hurdles in order to keep the record industry’s solution viable.  And, since it is people, not professionals, who determine the fate of our culture, we must foresee the web as an opportunity to reconnect them to the process through which music is made.  That way, they have their direct experience of the labor that goes into creating music, and not just someone telling them about it.

In addition to this, Sheldrick falls into the cognition trap called “causefusion.”  In Blunder, historian Zachary Shore argues that this trap pertains to “any misunderstanding about the causes of complex events;” it “leads us to oversimplify, often at our own peril.”  Tell me Sheldrick, were these things that you witnessed a direct result of file sharing or were there other things happening?  In my humble opinion—beyond the social epidemic of file sharing—it is more useful to consider the rise of the networked audience and the personalized music experience; the death of the CD-Release Complex and the fall of mass marketing; the fracturing of the media landscape into niches; the end of the format replacement cycle; the explosion of alternate and immersive entertainment options; the converging of top-down corporate media with the bottom-up participatory culture of the Internet; the evolution of social music; and the “broken” condition of the traditional music consumption system.  Likely, these technological and societal shifts had much more to do with the tragedies that Sheldrick witnessed and file sharing played minor—if any—role.

After this, Sheldrick changes the topic of his argument and expresses his view on how recorded music “provides a listening experience that is unique and rewarding in its own right, and listeners should strive to preserve that.”  Is this possible?  I mean, can listeners strive to preserve the loss of the concerted sonic experience?  Romantic notions such as this tend to forget that listeners do not program the mediums through which they play music.  Therefore, the biases of the medium that they are susceptible to also are not under their control.  Though many audiophiles likely thought about boycotting the wide-scale adoption of the iPod, the average person’s listening habits do change and they are not precisely “in control” of that.  Mediums are biased; they promote different ranges of social behavior.  If you want to live in the woods with your 45’s and listen to them on your record player, do it, but it is hard to say it is up to listeners to preserve the experience. In an ironic twist, Sheldrick follows this logic by making an assertion that aligns directly with thoughts that I have been exploring in recent months.  He argues that fans need to buy their music, learn how to listen more closely and savor it, that by purchasing music and going through the process to obtain it—the waiting, the anticipation, and getting to finally own it—they will inherently enjoy the music more.  Exactly.  But, there is a problem with getting to a place where you can actually savor your music—you have to buy it first.  If the arguments that I have made about the paradoxes of choice overload in culture are correct, then it is getting harder and harder for fans to decide what music to buy every day, their ability to savor their music is overtaken by the effect of overwhelming choice.

IV.    The Morality Issue

“At the end of the day, it’s really a moral argument,” Sheldrick concludes.  He concedes though, that in the music world, much like life in general, that “the moral road is not always the easiest route to take.”  To understand the limitations of this argument, let us return again to the views Kamal Dhillon expressed in his winning essay, “Not Wrong, Just Illegal.”  He writes that, “in many areas the world over, the action of uploading and downloading copyrighted material is illegal and people know this.  Yet, they still download music without paying anyways.”  Why then, are so many people choosing to simply ignore the copyright laws?  “Part of the reason is that people question whether the law that forbids sharing of such material online is morally justified,” he answers.  On the topic of the morality of file sharing, he rather convincingly argues that, “The fact that something is illegal doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily immoral.”  He argues, that on a global scale “young people are questioning the merit of the laws that forbid them to share material.”  They think that copyright laws are unjust and know they are easy to break without getting caught.  Just as important, he asserts, is that most young people regard the act of sharing their music with others as morally acceptable.  So, is it really a moral argument?  “You’re talking about a non-violent activity largely in the privacy of your own home, or bedroom or dorm room, in search of great music that turns you on—that is inherently a joyful, if potentially addictive, activity,” music critic Greg Kot told me in an interview.  “It’s also completely organic: The Internet, above all, is a tool for sending and receiving files. That music files would be part of that culture is only natural.”  In the Copyright Wars, legal scholar William Patry has argued that the only reason the subject of morality comes up, in terms of the file sharing debates is that people use it “as as a way to cover up the inability to justify expansion of rights on economic grounds.”

“Indeed,” Mike Masnick of TechDirt adds to the discourse. “Since copyright is intended as an economic right, the argument over copyright needs to focus on the economic issues…a properly calibrated system is one where there’s the greatest overall economic good and everyone has the greatest opportunity to benefit…”  At that point, he rightfully asks, “[Where’s] the morality question at all?”  There is not one.  Those who claim morality in an economics discussion on copyright use it as a crutch because they cannot support their position.  Masnick, then, firmly states, “There is no moral issue at all.”  In other words, it is not that the moral road is a difficult route to take, as Sheldrick wrote, it is that, in debating the issue of file sharing, it is a route that should not be taken at all.  Under scrutiny the argument just does not hold up.  Masnick believes that those who use the morality foundation to support their arguments are wrong on two major points.  “First,” he says, “is the idea that it means creators of content can’t make any money.”  When, in fact, he argues, “nothing can be further from the truth.”  Then, he argues that the second point revolves around the idea “that there’s a right to make money.” He maintains his position that this line of logic is completely false because economics is not a moral issue; it does not care about anyone’s ‘right’ to make money from his or her creative output.  Therefore, neither should you.  Andrew Dubber of New Music Strategies has summed up this argument quite well.  He writes, “Making music is not (usually) a job of work. It is a creative act. You don’t have the RIGHT to make money from your music. You only have the opportunity. If you make music speculatively—that is, you create it in the hopes of making money from it, then you are a music entrepreneur.  As such, entrepreneurship rules apply.”  Even though many artists invest a good deal of energy, effort and expense in their creative ideas, they will probably make no money.  The thing that most people forget is that nobody owes them the money just because they put the work in.  Being a successful entrepreneur means that artists have to meet people’s needs and wants in a way that allows them to make money.  Not by, as Dubber puts it, “making things that people will not pay for, insisting that they should, and then complaining that their morals are to blame.” He then poses this question, “Even if it was true that all the people you wish to target with your art are immoral thieves…why would you insist on trying to change their behavior as part of your business strategy?”  After all, Mark Earls wrote an entire book on this topic called Herd, its lesson: “Mass behavior is hard to change.”

To be clear, my intention here is not to suggest that Jon Sheldrick is not smarter than a twelfth grader—not at all.  He has written a very well thought out essay and it deserves the attention that it has garnered.  However, we need to take a moment and recognize the implications of a culture where a twelfth grader is capable of understanding and expressing the arguments that surround file sharing.  Chances are—out of the eighty entries in the ethics competition—someone made arguments that were similar to the points that Sheldrick argued, but they did not win.  When presented with an essay like Sheldrick’s, as good as it is, someone like Dhillon is capable of finding his way through the maze of the issues and asking the follow up question that makes Sheldrick’s argument drop like a house of cards.  He likely does not know about Masnick, Patry, or Dubber, but the information is out there.  Fans are not stupid.  Yes, file sharing might be illegal, but to them, it is not wrong. Therefore, making these outdated pleas—that focus around arguments that have, by and large, been debunked by leading experts—about why fans should pay for music is not going to resonate with these kids.  You tell the right crowd that file sharing is a moral argument and they are going to think you are an idiot.  Not only that, but responses to file sharing like this, they do not seek any imaginative nor creative insights.  They do not help people understand the issues better.  All they do is make other artists and employees in the cultural industries feel better—about themselves.  Instead, of taking what could be a great opportunity to clarify the issues that surround this social behavior and helping the general public comprehend reality, I would contend that all Sheldrick has done is confused them further, turning the discourse into that of post-lunch student chatter.

Kyle Bylin — Editor of Hypebot and Music Think Tank — (@kbylin) — Get In Touch
Edited by: Jamie Johnson

Reader Comments (82)

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around all the information and assertions you packed into this article, Kyle, but you bring up some amazing points.

Gonna have to read it again...back soon!


July 14 | Unregistered CommenterJason Parker

I realize the file sharing discussion is still relevant to some, but I'd rather focus on a discussion of the implications of unlimited music. It's no longer something people have to save up for. Via file sharing, streaming, and legitimately free downloads, most people have access to more music than they can possibility listen to. When there is a glut of music, the perception of it changes.

It has been sometimes argued that most of it doesn't interest most people; in other words, the amount of great music is relatively limited. But I'm not sure I buy that. For one thing, we have over 100 years of popular music to draw upon, so even if you limit yourself to the very best, that's a lot of jazz, blues, show tunes, ballads, rock, folk, etc. to listen to. And there are a lot of talented new bands out there. Colorado, for example, has enough worthy bands to fill out at least three different local multi-day music festivals. In other words, within 60 miles of my home, there are hundreds of bands people think are worth promoting.

And now we have apps that let non-musicians create original music of their own. So there is even more music available to everyone.

I don't perceive it's an issue of how we get our music anymore. Now it's an issue of unlimited music.

Fantastic essay Kyle. You have such a good grasp on the changes that have occured and can put them all in perspective.

It's a lot more informative than my response to Sheldrick's article which was "you gotta be kidding me!".

July 14 | Unregistered CommenterChris West

'arguments that have, by and large, been debunked by leading experts' Kyle, which leading experts? Experts in supposition and theory? Or experts in practise?

Morality in economics? The interweb exists within the human states and they are largely capitalistic. The hints of socialism aren't strong enough to provide a moral argument.

Whether the industry is largely made up of Warner & Sony & Universal or smaller companies run by artists it's still all about competition. Even if the language is couched in that peculiar netweb etiquette (no spam? Why? Who says?) it's still just polite dog eat dog.

And under those circumstances the argument reduces to what is effective as opposed to what is right. (perhaps the same argument for the etiquette?)

It (the argument) also has to acknowledge whatever crazy laws various countries have set up for whatever reasons, including the law of copyright, which still exists, in some form or other, in most of the big consuming countries and is sometimes acknowledged even in China where they have been cheerfully making 'pirate' cassettes of major western artists for years.

At the moment, what is effective is how whatever is selling, is selling. Trying to create a slightly nicer selling environment is like giving free coffee at your book store - someone, at some point, has to buy a book, otherwise the shop closes. The concept of 'added value' and giving away music in order to build up a list of possible gig attenders and google ad boosters is just one possible way that suits certain genres and certain people. It's not a complete alternative economic model. That remains capitalism, which is all about making stuff to sell and convincing people to buy it, or making stuff that people want and allowing them to buy it. If they've got the money.

Or tax the rich and flatten society to the point where all music becomes folk music and the arguments are about how to vote for and how much resources should be applied to the making of music.

Capitalists say that already happens - people vote with their money. Of course, if you already have a lot of money, that's a lot of votes. By buying a computer and an iPod and a fast internet connection you are already exhibiting the attitudes of a wealthy capitalist, compared to most of the rest of the world. And as Facebook 'likes' are unlikely to replace gold reserves just yet (now there's a thought) I think it's better to 'fess up and stop pretending.

We're not talking about a better world, we're arguing about selling music.

In which case, let's examine a young artist I'm working with who has grown up downloading free music. He wants to make some money with his music. He clearly sees the correlation between that and the 75 per cent free stuff he has on his iPod. He sees some pop artists having phenomenal success and if I tell him that huge profile has been bought at huge expense for most of these and, apart from a select few, the actual money they make would still probably be the same amount as an indie artist who retains all rights and has a relatively successful five years of touring and selling maybe three albums at around 30,000 max each. He can make a choice.

Different ways of selling music.

When the slightly more serious argument about the spread of wealth has been resolved then I think music consumption will naturally find its moral place. Until then, from the point of view of people who are struggling to make music and live, the most effective seller wins every time.

July 14 | Registered CommenterTim London


I applaud you for working so hard on this essay. It is PACKED with ideas. However, I think you, the kid and Sheldrick WAY overcomplicate the issue. To me, it's very, very simple: the Internet has made the theft of music ridiculously easy and without consequences, therefore, more people are stealing music.

Truly, go back several years, and the act of copying music illegally at best happened 50% faster than real time and for your efforts you ended up with a crap sounding cassette. Nowadays? Exactly.

Further, when you buy music you are only buying the right to listen to it, you do now own it. Therefore, it's not up to you whether you can share or not. But again, stealing is so easy, who cares?

One more point: to extrapolate from your points and the kid's would lead to a world in which music as intellectual property is not protected. That's a slippery slope, I think.


July 14 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Shattuck

One thing I don't see discussed much is the fact that if you can find a way to greatly increase the quantity of something, it shifts the economics of all the industries built around it. Those who are pro-file sharing see it as an infinite economic generator, and the only groups to suffer are the greedy big media companies.

However, once everyone can have an unlimited number of music files and ultimately can access to every piece of music ever recorded, then owning the files doesn't mean much. It changes the dynamics of collecting, the status of owning obscure sound recordings, the opportunity to sell obscure sound recordings, etc. Sound files have been reduced to something that has no monetary value, and that affects anyone who has invested time or money into sound files or had hoped to do so.

People are falling back on owning physical objects (e.g., vinyl, t-shirts), though I think that as the technology allows more people to make their own copies of those, the value of that may drop as well, particularly if the counterfeit objects become indistinguishable from the real ones.

So then we go to the in-person limitations. The "have lunch with famous people" model. The challenge with that is that it doesn't scale very well. The creative folks have limited time, so they can only have intimate meetings with a few people. The alternative is not-so-intimate meetings with lots of people. But as we have seen with the concert tour industry right now, fans won't pay unlimited amounts of money for this experience.

File sharing does have a domino effect, and it will negatively impact some industries.

Thanks for commenting, the kind words, and taking the time to read through this again. I am looking forward to hearing your follow up thoughts.

I think your right in thinking that the discussion overall is dated and that there are other more important issues that we could be talking about instead. This is more of a plea into merits of criticism and thinking more deeply about what you read than it is meant to be revamped discourse about file-sharing.

I think I would be interested in writing an essay about the implications of unlimited music, especially since I’ve just finished my last piece on choice overload. The subject matter would be a great extension of my work into that topic. Thus, I would be greatly interested in hearing more about your thoughts as they pertain to that issue. Because, like you suggest, it’s definably something that warrants discussion.

Love your blog by the way. You have such great threads that synthesize so much information.

@Chris West
Thank you very much; I am humbled by your remarks. *smiles* Someone had to had to come out and say these things, so I took the time, did some research, and figured out what I wanted to say. Word on the street is that Jon will be doing a follow-up to my criticism, so there will be more to come.

Experts, as in, everyone one I cite in the essay, whom, by all accounts, are smarter than I. I realize that’s a bit of a vague statement, but if you follow this closely; it’s pretty clear those expects exist. You bring up some excellent points. Sorry, but those assertions were outside of the scope of this essay. I have to say though; you’ve left me with much to chew on.

It would not be unlike me to over intellectualize an argument. I mean, this essay may have gotten a little carried away at 3k words. As well, thanks for applauding my effort; it was a work of passion. The core intent of this essay was to raise the level of accountability of people who put forth their ideas. No doubt, someone, given enough time, could critique this post and perhaps make me look foolish—they might—but rather than just clapping our hands everyone makes an emotional argument to pay for music, we need to engage in a deeper discourse. That’s what I want. I should note that I didn’t mean to imply a world in which there was no copy-protection at all—that’s beyond my ability to comfortably argue about.

Again with great insight. The 3D printing movement should prove to raise many questions in the coming years. Matt Mason has talked about the implications of that in length. It is a curious thing to think of what happens when other physical goods can too, be downloaded from the web. You have laid out that thinking very clearly—the progression of things and what happens when many scarcities that we take for granted—become abundant too. It adds onto the unlimited music argument quite well. Like I said, I’d be interested in talking about that at more length.

July 14 | Registered CommenterKyle Bylin

The kid's essay, and much of the related discussion, take it for granted that it is technically impossible to stop piracy. I would agree that it is impossible to stop it completely, but it is technically quite easy to detect large-scale file-sharing and identify those responsible. Piracy could be greatly reduced if Government enforcement agencies had the powers and resources to deal with it, and if the legal system worked more quickly. For example it is ludicrous that Pirate Bay is still operating. If legal enforcement is not improved, copyright defenders might ultimately take matters into their own hands. File-sharing is tailor-made for the distribution of viruses and malware, and it would not be technically difficult to infect music files with malware that would disable file-sharers' computers. No doubt if they did, the 'victims' would go squealing to the authorities, but they would not deserve any sympathy.

July 14 | Unregistered CommenterDavidB

A few thoughts.

To begin with, I don't think this kid's essay was particularly brilliant. What we need is nuance, and what Kamal offers instead is a tired restatement of the same old defenses we've heard since Napster--many of which time has proven to be, if not wholly false, oversimplified and non-applicable in a wide variety of cases. "The added exposure makes up for it." "Make your money from touring."

"Well, that's just the way it is now, ergo, it can't possibly be wrong."

I take special issue with this last statement, in the same way I take issue with those who seek to confine this particular conversation to a positivist box. True: as a theoretically objective science, economics is chiefly concerned with understanding the motivations and mechanics--the "how"s and "why"s--of human behavior. But investigating "how" or "why" does not necessarily, and should not, preclude an active investigation of "should."

Without absolving musicians of the responsibility to adapt, I would argue that the normative (or "the ethical," if you'd like to call it that) belongs in this debate; if not because it is fundamentally embedded in the language and literature of economics to begin with (consider, for example, the non-objectivity of the term "equilibrium"), then because it is altogether inextricable from our daily behavior for one simple reason: we who have traditionally been called consumers are by definition decision makers. And as decision makers, we must be willing to accept responsibility for the tangible consequences of our choices regardless of circumstance (if, that is...we "are not stupid").

It's true: a musician is no more entitled to profits than your average entrepreneur. But your average entrepreneur IS entitled to fair compensation from those whom have derived utility (this is key, and it's also why the sample and delete argument is a red herring) from their product. If in any other industry an innovative good was systematically produced at cost, then replicated and consumed for free ONLY because "it wasn't that hard to take," we wouldn't call it a lack of willingness to pay, let alone a revolution. We would call it a lack of necessary infrastructure at best, and at worst, market failure.

And I can not only concede, but agree that the content is out there, and it's costless to replicate and acquire; that sampling and sharing and word of mouth are generally good things; that the information age has reduced the barriers of entry to create music for the better; that once "the leak" occurs it's already too late, and DRM / draconian efforts to curb piracy after the fact are ineffective at best and chilling at worst; that the modern disconnect between individuals' enjoyment of art and their understanding of the labor that went into it is probably a direct consequence of industry--and partially musicians' responsibility to fix now that industry is...well, you know. (That segment in particular was a fine piece of cultural analysis, Kyle; kudos).

My point is simply that this cross can't be borne by musicians alone, and that the "easy access" argument ignores the very real repercussions of passivity and complicity. There are plenty of people for whom music still does really *mean* something, who *won't* purchase physical CDs, or throw 99 cents at an artist occasionally, or crowd source, or anything. At all. Because they don't have to. And that's the real crime, whether you want to call it mechanically unsustainable or ethically unjust: enjoying something--gathering meaning from it, integrating it into your life, your being--while refusing to do your part, whatever that part may be, to help it survive.

July 14 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Lim

Kyle, here's something I wrote on the lack of scarcities in music and other industries. It will point you in the direction of some of the writing on hypercompetition and the future of a society where abundance may be the norm in some areas. People do come up with new ideas, and then they are copied so quickly that there isn't scarcity for any meaningful length of time.

Hypercompetition, Scarcity, and the Economics of Music

Hey, Suzanne Lainson?

Where do you think that endless boutique of free stuff comes from and how long do you think that people with the amount of talent necessary to create, arrange, perform and record engaging music will invest their time and money into it?

Maybe you're cool with anything from Beethoven to REM to some spotty kid with a pirated copy on Cubase and a K-Mart keyboard, as long as its free.

I think you will be astounded at the amount of people who will be doing the primordial entitlement "WAH!" after everybody worth a damn has packed it in and gotten a day job and that the "heretofore disenfranchised pool of talent" turns out to be kids with some looped beats and the recording studio equivalent of a paint by numbers kit.

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner


Reality Check: artists love what they do. Every generation is full of genius types who will create away no matter what's going on around them. Your nightmare scenario of everyone with talent retiring is cheeseball soap operatics -- you don't even believe that, do you?

Also....I'm all about making strongly-worded statements at strangers online, trust me, but...Suzanne has put a lot more thought in than you give her credit for.

July 14 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

I think that one of the big questions that musicians seldom ask themselves is: "Do I want my music to be heard or do I want my music to be purchased?" Obviously until recently those two things were fundamentally related, but now they're not. So that means if you want to sell your music you need to look at who is buying music & abandon the rest. Which means not trying to gain popularity with sets making $20,000 & under a year (the youth market) & more trying to target people making $100,000 or more a year. I'm not saying I know how to contact that demographic, but it's part of what's going on.

There will always be young (& debatably dumb) people willing to give their art away for exposure. There will also always be people willing to exploit them.

I have been in the music, entertainment, performance production and recording industries for 34 years.

Ms. Lainson is in marketing.

You know... the people who make sure that the music on what's remaining of the radio that Cheap Channel hasn't chewed up and dumped on the berm - comes from focus groups. Focus groups.

Here's a reality check. I'm one of those genius types you have pulled out of the very thin air of colloquial speculation - and the times, I assure you, are a changing.

Nightmare scenario? My dear boy, quite to the contrary. I hope everybody does pack in in sooner than later as far as trying to maintain this idiotic model of buy one, steal 3,000 and the chipper and resilient masses buy some kazoos and a Mr. Microphone®. Musicians aren't as stupid as you think and frankly, neither are businessmen. Passion can take you a long way but if you wake up bent over the kitchen sink, you probably ain't gonna go out on that date, again.

Only an seriously clueless person devotes his life to weaving tapestries and then sitting by the side of the road and offering a cheery "hulloo" as people stop and take one home for free. SillyCon valley and it's it's endless stream of harrumphing "the way it is" pitchmen can, frankly, go pound sand. It's a neat trick, but it ain't the second coming. I mean, surely you don't even believe that yourself, do you? It's just simulacrums. Come back with your cutting edge smirk when you can download a washing machine. : )

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

Amazing how often arguments about morality in economics assume the intrinsic goodness of the late-capitalist model in which corporate "producers" are morally entitled to profits as a result of their production. In this model, it's considered "immoral" for consumers to opt for superior distribution models and price points that exist outside the system corporations have defined and controlled for the past 90 years. So instead of devoting time and resources to adapting to consumer preferences and demands, the music industry has spent millions defending the system it has created to limit access and maximize its own profits--and, when they're not threatening expensive legal action against those who have had the audacity to find other, easier, cheaper distribution channels, threatening that artists will take their toys and go home if their corporate enablers are forced to dismantle the system that has kept legions of middle managers, agents, executives, and A & R people in mansions and sports cars while starving artists doing creative, cutting-edge work. And they keep going to conferences and writing articles wondering why their industry is dying around them.

July 14 | Unregistered Commentermaddogm13

"Free" is a price point?

If I grab everything in your store an copy it and give it away, am I an anti-capitalist pig?

There's some entitlement issues going on but I don't see them coming from rock bands out slogging it in a van while they have two popular out.

It's a very simple moral argument. Don't take stuff that has a price tag on it and make 39048539048 copies for your 39048539048 closest friends. Has this actually become a point of ethics that demands debate, now? Seriously? You kids have fun, I'm gonna download a Big Mac®, make a few thousand copies and throw a party. Don't worry. I only downloaded the one. They won't miss it.

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

I have talented friends who make music. Some have made more money than others, but all the ones I work with are talented. The decline in CD sales has hit them all. It used to be a high margin business, particularly for unsigned artists who sold at shows. They would spend between $1000 and $20000 to record the album, another $1500 to get 1000 copies, and then they could recover expenses as soon as they sold the first pressing (which, for the artists I've worked with, usually came within a few months). Everything after that was profit, less the $1.50 it took to press the CD. So for someone who could get a CD manufactured for $1.50 and sell it for $15.00, that was the money to live on. One friend has 8 titles and, when I was working with her, I know she sold a minimum of 3000 per year just in a local market. That was $45,000 a year, which she didn't need to share with anyone. It was hers to live on. Then she made additional money from gigs, merch, etc.

But now, fewer fans are buying CDs, and a $10 price or less per CD is much more typical than $15 (though I know artists who still sell for that and get it). Overall there is less money coming in for artists, even if they are talented.

I've looked at the other options to supplement that income, and it just isn't there in the same way. For example, if you aren't selling CDs, you have less money to pay for your touring. And if you aren't generating cash, it is harder to find investors or lenders. You have to ask for fan funding or pay out of your own pocket.

Finally, after reading so many panel transcripts talking about how to make money in the music business, I decided everyone would be better off if we said, "There is no money in music. If you expect it, get out."

That doesn't mean I think music will stop. But maybe it will leave those who want to do it anyway. Or, more accurately, MUST do it, no matter if they don't make any money. I want to tell you how little money there is, and if you still want to do it, I applaud you.

And what has changed since last year when I started to tell people there is no money in music is that the iPhone/iPad applications to help anyone make music have exploded. There are some very clever smart programs and machines out there. So now we've got average people who can kill time generating some little song on their iPhones while they are sitting in the airport. That changes the dynamics of the fan relationship. We're giving everyone the tools to become rock stars and that's going to play havoc with the music business. It's going to be cool from the standpoint that everyone is going to feel creative, but it will mean people will be uploading stuff on YouTube and sending links to their friends and they are going to learn there's something rewarding in doing that, and that psychologically it feels more empowering than being the fan who follows a band around. The very things that got a lot of musicians into music are opening up for more people.

Do I like the fact that some of my musicians friends may have an even harder time to make a living at this? No, not at all. But I can't pretend the trends aren't happening.

I don't like the fact that musicians are losing CD sales because of current trends, but I don't see that it is worth fighting.

threatening that artists will take their toys and go home if their corporate enablers are forced to dismantle the system that has kept legions of middle managers, agents, executives, and A & R people in mansions and sports cars while starving artists doing creative, cutting-edge work.

I'm going to guess that you have never actually been within 300 ' of the actual recording industry?

Not a slight.

Just an empirical observation.

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

@maddogm13 Not everyone who produces works for a big corporation, especially not in today's climate. And I'd be hard pressed to consider "zero" a sustainable, let alone superior, price point for all parties involved.

July 14 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Lim

Wow, you are way over thinking this. People steal music because they can, plain and simple. If People could walk onto a car lot and steal a car they would but they can't . However stealing music is easy and that is why people do it. Stop over thinking this issue!

July 14 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I would say that "over": thinking issues is WHY you can't steal a car with impunity. Cause once upon a time, all you had to do was press a button or turn a crank and go and the doors didn't lock..

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

The UK's Music Week trade paper this week reports PRS For Music stating : "a piracy fee will better align the financial interests of ISPs with rights holders at a time when the two industries are at odds over who should bear the costs of illegal filesharing"

My guess is that the music industry will take the argument from the mouths of experts and us hoi poilloi and eventually sort the free music thing in their favour, even if it's just the first of a string of temporary sticking plasters

Perhaps while they investigate the new holographic delivery system.

Or the 'become the musician body suit'.

Or until we are all gathered round the old Joanna, singing the old songs again...

July 14 | Registered CommenterTim London

Here's a very recent illustration of how we already have more music than we can listen to. The author of the piece, and the commenters, are all music fans and even they aren't listening to the music they are downloading.

Play It Again, Please: Grappling with Repeated Album Listens in the iPod Age < PopMatters


Also, I'll add that I understand what was good about the major label system was the filtering process. Although there were many one-hit-wonders, it also brought us Dylan, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, etc.

But the acts that get signed now are not necessarily representative of the best music out there, just the most potentially commercial, so the filtering system has less relevance for many people. It still works to get some acts to the top, but the argument that these are better artists than the ones who are making music because they love it doesn't really hold up.

The acts that get "signed" now are representative of Disney's bottom line, focus groups and a hit and quit rollover "model" that returns the fast money.

If I spent my time taking slices of people's lives and turning them into jive-ass little "models" as if they were Sim People and regurgitating the projected returns like a cat puking up a mouse, I'd shove a gun in my mouth. .


Humanity is the point because all of this alleged Überbusiness, overwrought, posturing crap is supposed to SERVE us, not rule us. I've seen the sinner's circle. It's a marble orchard. Whatever you're telling me I MUST believe better cost more than a coffin for a good reason.

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

Winner's circle. Sorry.

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner


You're not even talking to me when you write shit like that -- you're venting to some techie cheerleader strawman that bears no relation to what I was...arf.

Our differences are just a matter of perspective, though, right? You've been in the business for 34 years and you know a bunch of people who are retiring from the business? Shocker. That's about as amazing as this: I'm not even 30 yet and I know a ton of people my age making more money off music every year.

I hope you enjoyed your ride? Peace out either way!

July 14 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

You're not even talking to me when you write shit like that -- you're venting to some techie cheerleader strawman that bears no relation to what I was...arf.>/i?

With all due respect, sonny Jim, who the **** said I was addressing you at all?

Your endless sense of self importance serves neither you, I or the music.

the bets thing about "internet" arguments is that it's easy to see who's selling leftover debate 101 posturing and who isn't.

Do you like music or do you just like looking astoundingly brilliant on the internets? Either way, you better hire somebody.

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

We forged the ground zero aspects and the spiritual, variably capitalistic aspects and artistic aspects of that which has been pronounced the American Louvre.

And a bunch of twats with marketing degrees came in and tried to run it through a nickel for six meat grinder and the metrics that such an excursion implies and now they have a bug up their asses because the back forty neegrahs want a cut of their own work.


We all die flat broke. What makes you CARE about that heart that beats on? Cause the music you're desperately trying to wipe your marketing resumè against is not gonna carry you home if you keep shi**ing where you eat, Raygun kidz. Seriously. It's supposed to come from passion, arrive with promotion, leave a stain, fade and allow for the next thing. Sh*t where you eat too long and the buffet smells funny.

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

Here's something that just came out and goes along with the idea that if fans expect music for free, the music business as we know it will be gone.

Tell-All Author Riffs on Music Industry in Crisis; Part 1 | Epicenter| "Goodman: This whole system of 'give me your music for free, and I’ll buy a T-shirt, and maybe I’ll buy a ticket' — that kind of thing, you are begging recordings to go away. All you’re saying to the artist is, 'See if you can find a way to sell me a ticket and a T-shirt without losing a ton of money on a recording you won’t make a dime on.'

Frankly, I think recordings are valuable. And since they’re valuable, we should find a way to value them. Otherwise, we’re going to lose them."


And he is right. The music business as we know it is going away. But people will keep making music, which is why the economics are so bad. No matter how little money people make in the process, there will be some who will create music and give it away just to get some attention. It doesn't pay the bills that way (and this is why I butt heads with people who tell musicians there are so many opportunities for them to make money), but it keeps music flowing. Fans know they don't have to pay anymore because it will be available for free. Not just the bad stuff, but pretty much everything.

And you have to factor in that there is a recession, so if you are a fan and you can get your music for free, then are you going to use what little cash you have to buy stuff to help the musicians or are you going to pay your bills or buy something that is important to you, but not music-related?

I think we should all piss and moan and a offer up a bag of great WalMart drama to justify whatever box of cookies we took home in lieu of payment and our singular exclusion to and our irrefutable argument in support of taking home that which is easier to steal than to pay for.

I'll make sammiches.


Stop waxing righteous. You look like like fools.

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

no, dear.

The music business as we know it is being gutted, sh*t upon and looted by focus group malarkey farmers who desperately hope that their last inaccurate, bag of focus group returns will kiss whatever ass needs to be kissed until they can pull a pose that will convince the people who can still hear that T H E Y lost the plot.

You've been flogging your narrow agenda at the gate of Jerusalem and it's biting you on the ass faster than your awareness metrics should allow.

Church has a funny way of kicking poseurs to the kerb,

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

You've been flogging your narrow agenda at the gate of Jerusalem and it's biting you on the ass faster than your awareness metrics should allow.

You take issue with the idea that technology has transformed the music business and we haven't seen the end of it? Look what ProTools and Auto-Tune did. Look at what MP3 compression and cheap storage have done. Look at what YouTube is doing with video. The next stage I see coming are with iPhone/iPad apps.

Yes, I suppose if that's my agenda, then I'll stick with it.

You seem to be angry, but I'm not sure at whom or what.

Of course I do. So angry!!11 : )

I have used ProTools, Nuendo, and about 4 other audio editors, AutoTune and it's smarter big brother,Melodyne.

Would you like to know what essential aspect of your nickel for six "LUDDITE OR CUTTING EDGE!" argument is missing?

Cause I watched the whole point® of what your sellign colla[pse into it's own greed. And the I have nurtured the thing things that survived it.

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

Mot at all, m'lady.

I take issue with the fact that technology has lured the music business into it's bedroom, conned it into taking off it's panties and taken snaps of it's hoo hoo that it freely distributes to any party with 45¢ in it's pocket.

This probably eludes you since, in marketing, any profitable construct is a positive construct.

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

Things. Sorry.

Can't type for sh*t.

July 14 | Unregistered Commenterbunner


Regarding your comment that when fans can make music on their own cheap devices they will see less value in other music.

I totally disagree with this point. Learning about, and engaging in, the process of making music INCREASES your interest in the artistic nuances of music making which in turn INCREASES your appreciation of other peoples music.

Since I decided 2 years ago that I was going to take my music hobby more seriously, and try to write and record some songs, I have listened to more new artists, purchasaed more music and been to more gigs than I did in the whole previous decade of my life. (I'm 34)

Exposure to the process of creating music has only increased my awe and appreciation of those who do it well.

July 14 | Unregistered CommenterSam_K


This probably eludes you since, in marketing, any profitable construct is a positive construct.

But I'm not talking about marketing. I'm saying there is nothing to market right now. Musicians are giving away their music and fans aren't spending. There's a worldwide recession and a lot of people are losing their jobs and their homes. What I am saying is that playing and making music helps people feel better, so for generations they have been singing in churches, and with neighbors and friends. That's where it is headed again. Rather than being told, "We'll make the music and you'll listen to it and buy it," now some people are looking for ways to get those music creation tools in everyone's hands. Technology is making music creation simpler, just as point-and-click cameras and then digital cameras transformed photography. Now lots of people can take good photos, even if they have never done it before.

You seem to be angry at everyone (fans, music business people, file sharers) so it is a little hard to follow what you are saying, other than the fact that you are angry.


Yes, wanting to learn more about music and buying more music does happen for some people, but the people who decide it is more fun to go to karaoke than to go listen to live music are participating in music themselves without spending money to learn a lot about music. I was reading about some of the YouTube videos that have gone viral, like the one of the kid getting his finger bitten and the other one of the kid after the dentist, and in both cases the families that uploaded those have made some substantial money from advertising, licensing, etc. In neither case did they shoot the videos for public consumption. They had set the viewing to private and then found they couldn't share them with enough family and friends so they set them to public, after which the videos took off. They got attention from videos that didn't take any talent to shoot. That's what the Internet has done -- given a lot of people with minimal skills an outlet. I don't think either one of those videographers now feels the need to learn how to shoot a feature film. And yet they have had real success. They might upgrade their equipment, but I don't think they are purchasing the work of other filmmakers to learn the craft.

Technology fills in the gaps for what used to take years of training.

If there is a point to what I am saying, it is that technology has disrupted music, and, for that matter, many of the creative professions. There's crowdsourcing, which is driving down the price of jobs. There's digital copying which makes it hard to keep your content from being reproduced for free. There are even more people creating, so we're seeing more music, art, video, etc. than we can possibly consume.

If I look for a bright side, it is that people are seeing themselves as creative, which has value. In terms of the economics, I see the pie getting sliced into much smaller pieces for most creators. It's like telling kids, "Hey, I'm going to show you how to record a song, film a video, write a story, etc. Of course, you'll probably make more money as a plumber, but I'll give you the tools to express yourself, which you can do even if you are a plumber."

I think the idea of the death of the professional artist class is probably sad, but true. It's like factory work. It was a good job that plenty of people enjoyed, but eventually our society (or government) decided these jobs were not valuable & now plenty of folks who had a job for years are rest to zero in middle age. Where I live tons of computer folks are faced with the same problem because there's too many programmers & not enough jobs, so now you occasionally see programmers working as pizza delivery guys or in the grocery store. Much like the tech guys, eventually we need money for food regardless of what we feel our time is worth or what our jobs should be. But also like the tech guys, some of them do have appropriate jobs. How do they have them? Because of who they know or their ability to communicate well with others or their actual job skills. So there are your things to work on to have a chance to have a job in your field (music), though it might not lead you to the exact job you want (being a musician).

As angry as @burner comes across, I find myself agreeing with him to a point. And honestly, I think it's also a point that Kyle was trying to make in the original piece (Kyle, correct me if I'm wrong).

My take-away from Kyle's post is that indeed the monetary value of music has been all but decimated over the last few decades, starting with the major label monopoly over what was played on the radio and released/marketed to the pubic and ending with the current situation of any and every song being available for free. This downward spiral has left us in new territory, where the old models no longer have any validity and new models are only now starting to appear (and just as quickly disappear). We can argue the ethics of this until we're blue in the face, but that's not the ultimate concern.

My concern is how to make a connection with people who might like my music and make them see the value in it. This means that I have to find people who might be pre-disposed to like the kind of music I make and then figure out how to make a connection with them. This can and does happen solely based on the music itself. But more often I find that it happens based on people knowing more about me than a song. In the old days a label and a marketing firm would tell us what they think we wanted to hear about a Britney Spears or a U2 or a Lady Gaga. Nowadays we have the power to connect directly to our fans and actually let them know us. Once they know us they are more likely to understand what we do and how their support, or lack thereof, effects us.

I started blogging a year ago because musician friends kept asking me how it is I can make a living as a musician. I figured I'd start talking about what I'm doing and how and why. I did NOT start blogging to sell my music. But I have sold more music in the last year than in all of my previous years combined. Why? Because people have gotten to know me. They have gotten to see what I do, how I do it, and have come to appreciate some aspect about me that makes them more willing to give me their money in exchange for my music. They have also helped me finance my records and tours.

I've written before that the modern-day musician really needs to learn how to be their own marketing department, PR firm, webmaster, booking agent, tour manager, etc. All these things can help us be more self-sufficient. But what I am realizing more and more each day is that most of all the modern musician needs to be a communicator. That's what the music is about anyway, right? That's my ultimate goal, anyway - to communicate something about myself, my world view, my life to my listeners. What the internet has done is given us all more and more ways to communicate and connect with people, and that's what has helped me sell my music.


July 15 | Unregistered CommenterJason Parker

A quick look tells us that millions of dollars are still being made by artists and the business that sells their music. It might be in decline but it's far from dead, this music beast.

PLEASE - look at how things are now and address the reality.

Jason ('...people knowing more about me than about a song...') - that's fine, a version of old fashioned light entertainment based around personality, for the kind of people who used to buy Ethel Merman records. I suppose it's a branch of the music business... show business, perhaps.

Suzanne ('The next stage I see coming are with iPhone/iPad apps') - Suzanne, you've been rocking this horse for a while yet and still to show how this is any different from someone learning an instrument enough to knock out a version of Gloria.

We're still in a phase where a lot of youngsters appreciate lo-fi, for gods sake, where music is made to sound 'badly produced' on purpose, so the access to cheap technology won't sound revolutionary to this generation. And who has the time to create enough music for themselves to make even a day's worth of listening? That's if you are the type to enjoy that kind of masturbatory experience. Fiddling about with Tonepad while you wait for your bus is the equivalent of picking a scab in creativity satisfaction.

Bunner, I don't know what fabulous feelgood parallel era you inhabited during your 35 years but as long as I can remember there have been focus groups, marketing, disneyfication, tinkering and bribery in the music business. It's been INCREDIBLY corrupt, both artistically and lawfully, with some of the worst fuckwits the artists themselves, from Status Quo and Queen prepared to play to all white audiences in Apartheid South Africa in the 80s, right back to Alan Freed and numerous DJs getting songwriting credits in exchange for radio play.

Musicians tend to be a huge let down when it comes to genuine, rebel credentials, normally quite happy to tag along after whoever waves a bundle of fivers in their face.

Adding a moral dimension to this debate has been amusing but ultimately pointless; as Tipper Gore found out when she increased the sales of various rap and metal artists with her clever little sticker, business will find a way to carry on doing business, damn its dollar sign eyes...

July 15 | Registered CommenterTim London

I think the idea of the death of the professional artist class is probably sad, but true. It's like factory work. It was a good job that plenty of people enjoyed, butI think the idea of the death of the professional artist class is probably sad, but true. It's like factory work. It was a good job that plenty of people enjoyed, but eventually our society (or government) decided these jobs were not valuable.

That, or.. you know, they decided that their work is valuable, but since they CAN steal it... WHAT THE HECK. Sure is sad, though...

eventually our society (or government) decided these jobs were not valuable? So, music has no value? Then why do people STEAL IT? I don't see a bunch of dumpsters full of old CDs and LPs and buggy whips.


Did you READ this as you wrote it? I'm "angry"? Is that how accurate, unflinching and unapologetic is perceived, now? If so, please, yes, put me in the angry column, but I'm not going to write myopic twaddle like THIS.

July 15 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

Technology fills in the gaps for what used to take years of training.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm no, I'm pretty sure that if you suck, you still suck when you use a computerto do it. 35 years? I've been around as bit longer than that.

As for marketing "disneyfication", personally, I agree with Bill Hicks take on it. You know what else there used to be? DeeJays and popularity measured in sales metrics, engaging radio run by human beings and not focus groups that send a sewer pipe into 400 transmitters. "Hey, let's staple pop music to every ****ing this we sell and whore it out until it's meaningless! BIG MONEY!" Please don't sell me some rose coloured utopia that never was. You'd be amazed at what dignity can do for the social landscape. : )

If you'll excuse me, I need a shower.

July 15 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

Musicians tend to be a huge let down when it comes to genuine, rebel credentials, normally quite happy to tag along after whoever waves a bundle of fivers in their face.

Hehehehehe, yeah, what a bunch of bastards, eh?

All "I need to eat" and "gosh, I have this mortgage".

Personally, I look to the bleeding edge lifestyles and live hard, die young lifestyle of the marketing business denizens for inspiration. : )

July 15 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

Look, you can always convince yourself in your mind that you are doing the right thing. It's called rationalizing. You can make up endless clever arguments, and tell yourself that recording engineers, or Jews, or Muslims, are not "real people" and are therefore not to be taken seriously. The problem is that, no matter how far you lose yourself in high-minded intellectual discourse, it all remains a figment of your imagination, a bunch of mental entanglements.

The truth of the matter is very simple, people fail to see the economic system around the creation and distribution of music. There is absolutely no difference between physical and intangible products, both are perceived by the five senses, and are only concepts in the mind. To delude yourself into thinking that one product is worth more than another because you can touch it with your fingers is falling back to the evolutionary level of a monkey.

The problem is that people experience music consumption with the human perceptive system, and evaluate their experience using the reward systems in the brain, both of which are genetically determined. If you optimize the vertical integration and usability of file-stealing technology, i.e. it "just works", people will love it. Especially if they do not have to pay for it. It's not rocket science.

What is counterintuitive is to perceive the economic system behind the creation and distribution of music that sustains the livelihood of ordinary middle-class people. It has to be learned.

To argue that the internet is inherently democratic is ridiculous, because that has always been a propaganda lie. First it was propagated by the military think tanks, to motivate civilian scientists to work for "dual-use" technological goals, and later when the internet was privatized and handed over to the computer and communications industries, by those entities.

What you all are doing is maintaining a loss leader for the computer and communications industries that these guys do not have to pay for, and deluding yourself that you are working for the better of mankind, the great Digital Revolution, while literally thousands of professional creative people, people who, despite the pathological business culture in this industry, worked very hard for their entire lives to improve their craft and creativity to enhance YOUR lives, are being forced out of work.


July 15 | Unregistered CommenterRollo

One point I would make about the ethical question is that CDs, downloads, DVDs, software, etc, are sold to the public under the clear and well-understood condition that they are not to be reproduced without permission. When people buy them, they accept that condition, either explicitly (e.g. by clicking an 'I accept' button), or tacitly, by the act of purchase. If they then copy them without permission, they are breaking an agreement they have freely entered into. If that isn't 'unethical', what is?

July 15 | Unregistered CommenterDavidB

Nuh UH!

Music is just something a computer does!!


I just wish they'd make it work better. I mean, you have to, like type in the WHOLE SONG NAME and then click it! *tch* Gahhhhhhd!

July 15 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

If I look for a bright side, it is that people are seeing themselves as creative, which has value. In terms of the economics, I see the pie getting sliced into much smaller pieces for most creators. It's like telling kids, "Hey, I'm going to show you how to record a song, film a video, write a story, etc. Of course, you'll probably make more money as a plumber, but I'll give you the tools to express yourself, which you can do even if you are a plumber."

Well, gosh hon, that's awfully considerate of you.

I can't wait to get a download of the "Music by and for Plumbers" album.

I heard it's mostly just people hitting stuff with bits of steel pipe, but there's like, 54 tracks of it and it's been autotuned and snapped to a grid so you can probably shake your ass to it.

I mean, don't get me wrong. I can see where 20 years of corporate weenies being told that THEY ARE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE could go to their heads and proffer the notion that they are now the arbiters and the dispensers of all value. It sure as hell worked when we started pointing at a bunch of hired hands in huge bray buildings and pronounced them the government. Hasn't improved things much, though. Has it, Cinderella?

July 15 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

I got an idea. Paint everything in your home white. Everything. walls, furniture, rugs, window glass. Solid white. Like THX1138 white.

Burn all of your books, CDs, DVDs. Toss out your TeeVee.

No artwork. No snazzy shapes for products or their containers. No labels. Everything is is either FOOD or WATER and it's all in identical cartons. You get a box of disposable smocks, white, delivered to your door once a week.

Congratulations. You did it. Art no has no value. Comfy, isn't it? Art keeps you sane, kids. And it's cheaper than whatever Soma big pharma is flogging this week. You can live in a world where you need to eat a handful of pills to function because you've been told that you must serve business and business need never serve you... I dunno. I just ain't feeling it. I heard something once that you don't know what you got til it's gone. I think somebody wrote it down.

July 15 | Unregistered Commenterbunner

The iPod/iPad applications are in the same progression as the point-and-click cameras or xtranormal for YouTube.

Anyone who has spent years learning to play doesn't want to hear that fans might become more interested in playing with the machines than paying a professional, but it has been happening. The same with recording music. Sure, a guy in the studio with years of training and expensive equipment probably will make you sound better, but if you learn you can do it in your bedroom with equipment you bought yourself, you do it. If the tools are there, people use them.

The fact is making a decent sound out of a guitar is harder than picking up an application that turns out a song in 1 minute. So if people haven't been jumping to join garage bands, it's because that form of music is harder than an application.

Suzanne, where is your evidence for the assertion that people are '...more interested in playing with the machines than paying a professional, but it has been happening' please?

Until there are apps that also create beautiful individual voices and that write lyrics that are close even to Bowie's cut ups, let alone a personal statement like, oh, i don't know, choose any one from the Ballad Of How I Found a Mammoth and Killed It back in the halcyon days of 10000BC to a Justin Beiber song, then it's not going to happen.

It's been possible to make karaoke versions of songs for many years but I'm sure it's only those with extra perverse tastes who would listen to their own versions endlessly over the originals.

Even... even if it happened, there would still be some people who are better at using these apps than others and they would find a way to get heard and your 'anyone can do it' revolution would trickle out as quickly as the Furbies revolution did.

Composing a shot on a point and click is not like writing a song, even if we wax lyrical about the song-like qualities of a Diane Arbus photo. It's a moment, captured, a single image. A song can be an image, or a series of images, a description of feelings or feelings captured. It's sound and words and moment and fashion and treble pain and sexy bass.

I'd like an app that can do that...

July 15 | Registered CommenterTim London

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