The Musicians POV: Occupy Artist Rights, Part 3–The attack of the homework eating dogs

[Part 3 of a 3-part post “Occupy Artist Rights”]

By Chris Whitten

Finally we come to a couple of ‘dog ate my homework’ type excuses.

• Not Every Illegal Download Is a Lost Sale.

Duh…. yeah! That’s right, but it’s amazing how regularly this is brought up in the debate as if it’s the killer argument, the Achilles heel of the professional musician. Never mind the high probability that many illegal downloads represent many lost sales. It’s really not believable to claim all pirated music is binned without being listened to, or if it is listened to and appreciated, the downloader goes on to pay for it. Clearly a reasonable amount of music is pirated because the pirate wants to enjoy the music but isn’t prepared to pay for it. Isn’t prepared to actually support the persons creating the music.

More than three years into a GFC, with Europe facing financial meltdown, 40% youth unemployment in Spain, rock music’s biggest market the USA looking down the barrel of a double dip recession, and most Aussie musicians driving in the slow lane of a three speed economy, you bet every single lost sale counts.

• I Can’t Afford Music

I can’t afford to eat at Aria. Life’s a beeeyach. Obtaining music isn’t a right, it’s one of life’s pleasures. And while we’re talking about life’s pleasures, a take away coffee costs $3 to $4, and lasts as long as it takes to drink. A song costs $2.99 from iTunes, and provides entertainment for years. With the popularity of fast broadband and large data plans, it’s quite obvious many of the same people who claim they can’t afford music, somehow can afford a computer, a Blackberry or iPhone and a $60 a month ADSL2 plan. I think what they mean to say is “I can’t afford music because my entertainment priorities lie elsewhere….. and music is available free”

Music piracy is a wholly negative culture. It takes out, but puts nothing back.  When I was a teenager we had a similar view of the mainstream music industry. It was tired, complacent and wasn’t making the records we wanted to hear. Towards the end of the 1970’s like-minded people started forming their own bands, they wrote their own music, promoted their own gigs, made their own records and started their own indie labels. It really did blow the establishment apart…. at least for a few years. Why is it that action for positive change has been replaced by simply robbing music from music makers? I can’t say I understand the excuse that pirates download music because most music is rubbish. Surely some young person somewhere is thinking they’d rather make some amazing new music of their own and make a name for themself, rather than spend all night trawling through torrent sites downloading gigs of garbage.

The final pirate promise is that music will always be there.

Well you can’t really argue with that, but what kind of music will it be? Just as talented school athletes play a variety of sports and eventually decide to concentrate on one, young creative often draw, write and play an instrument to a reasonably high level. Given a choice, teenagers will usually opt to pursue a career where they feel valued, have a decent chance of success, and be rewarded for their hard work. Things are pretty gloomy right now in the music scene, but if we could restore income from record sales, I think we could reward our best and brightest to make great music in the future. With the industry in the doldrums or worse than its current state, the most talented creative minds will choose other avenues to express themselves, avenues that give them some hope of a decent living, put a roof over their head, and a pat on the back from respected peers for a job well done.

That would be the music fan’s loss.

Downloading music for free is a short term gain. The long term damage it’s doing to the broader music community and the message that sends to the grass roots, where the musicians of tomorrow emerge from, should be understood by anyone who enjoys new and exciting music. We need creative risk taking and innovation in music, or else millions of teenagers would still be listening to Doris Day and dancing The Twist. The history of pop music shows us creative risk taking and innovation is carried out in the bedrooms of Manchester, England, the garages of Seattle, the back room of a pub in Melbourne, not in the spotlight glare of a season of X Factor. The mainstream is supported by television and advertising, mainstream artists are offered guest spots on CSI: Miami, or a signature fragrance as part of a cosmetic sponsorship. These aren’t avenues of income a young band from Wagga Wagga can enjoy. So we need to financially support the musicians at the margin, for they are the future of good music.

The final ironic twist is I believe free music is a brief abberration. Everyone but the pirates understand that quality content comes at a price. The internet giants are the new record companies. While music sales have been hammered by illegal downloading, web companies have seized the opportunity to throw desperate musicians a bone in the form of some small income from iTunes, Spotify and the forthcoming ‘cloud’. Most of these services are embryonic, but once they gain some popularity it’ll be in the tech industry’s interests to finally stamp out easily available free music, while encouraging people to access music through paid for services like Spotify and iCloud.

The only difference is that many tech companies have demonstrated they are more ruthless than any record label ever was. Unlike record labels, tech companies aren’t interested in music specifically, the nurturing and development of new artists. They are primarily interested in making money through hardware sales like iPads, or online services like Google and Facebook. They want to supply the most popular, most desirable content, at the lowest price as a way to attract and hold on to loyal customers. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent high profile relaunch of Facebook was centred around the (legal) sharing of music and movies.

It’s in the interest of music fans to financially support the next generation of musicians. The internet corporations demonstrably aren’t, and musicians being normal people, they’ll drift away from music as the daily grind of making innovative music with no reward and no encouragement takesits toll.

Less edgy innovation, but more mainstream commercial pop – that’s the road we are on and that’s bad for music fans.

Rather than online anarchy, a mass exploitation by the many of the few, we the 99% of music consumers need to directly support the 1% of adventurous, young music makers, or we can’t really complain when we end up paying. But we won’t just be paying for our entertainment. We will also be paying in terms of the talent that goes unheard and the groundbreaking music that wont be made. And the ultimate irony is that this time it’s a computer company – not a specialist music company – determining what music we get.


See Part 1: “The New Boss is Worse Than the Old Boss

See Part 2: “A Few Misunderstandings

See complete post: “Occupy Artist Rights (Complete)”

One thought on “The Musicians POV: Occupy Artist Rights, Part 3–The attack of the homework eating dogs

  1. I’m dying to know how musicians can rectify this. Americans recently shouted down SOPA for fear of losing freedom of speech, so now that possibility is null and void. And honestly, this is an old, old issue, with an even more troubling fundamental of artists being undervalued–for as long as can be remembered in history.

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