To be sure, Bob Lefsetz isn’t the authoritative voice on anything. He’s a blowhard with strong opinions who occasionally fancies himself an expert. On the other hand, he has some substancial experience in music and from time to time, he stumbles across a valid point.
The truthfully, since the entire debacle began, David Lowery’s response to Emily White left a bad taste in my mouth. His response smacked of bitterness, desperation, and overall defensiveness. It rang in my ears like the screams of a dinosaur who sees extinction on the horizon and is lambasting the scared, shivering rodants who will in inherit the earth.
I read Emily White’s blog post. I thought it was a fluff piece more than anything. Here’s the young kid, an INTERN, using the forum of PUBLIC RADIO (one of the most slow formats to embrace change in technology) to posit that, since she’s young, she has a different music listening/buying experience than what most people over a certain age have had. I didn’t see it as a rallying cry to rip of the artists. In fact, it even made (passing) reference the the morally problematic nature of downloading. But mostly, you can sum up her article in the following excerpt:
"But I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience."
Every dinosaur, every desperate, sickly, angry bully I know in music is leaping on this and trying to throw these words in the face of young people like Emily and fellow musicians to try and shame culture into not embracing change. They are trying to shame kids into thinking the old models can still work “IF WE JUST TRY HARD ENOUGH” and declaring those who have embraced new models (especially ones that are far less lucrative for the artists) as turncoats and traitors to art.
And honestly, it’s SICKENS me. Because “stealing” music is nothing new.
Anyone remember “Home Taping is Killing Music…and it’s illegal!”? I don’t really: it was before my time. A 1980s campaign by BPI to shame consumers into not utilizing the newly prevalent cassette technology to copy and distribute music. Same rhetoric, same dire predictions.
And the funny thing? Even then, you had artists like Malcolm McLaren (whose band Bow Wow Wow featured a blanks side to that cassette single so the consumer could make their own mixes), Billy Bragg (who, on Workers Playtime featured a notice reading “Capitalism is killing music - pay no more than £4.99 for this record”), and the Dead Kennedys (“Home taping is killing record industry profits! We left this side blank so you can help.”) seeing through the bullshit and realizing that the bluff and bluster of it all was just dogma and rhetoric. And, good news folks! Music survived home taping! Just like TV and movies survived VHS.
From time immemorial, the value of art has been gloriously and terrifyingly fluid. That means that while some artists have always lived in luxury (whether you’re Haydn and you’re working through the classical patronage system or Amanda Palmer being supported through Kickstarter) others create brilliant, transcendent works and die in abject poverty. The thing that needs to be remembered (and that I’d inject into Leftez’ screed) is that IT’S PRETTY MUCH LUCK WHICHEVER HAPPENS TO YOU. It’s no blow to the quality of your art or how hard you worked (though getting rich USUALLY requires hard work). Either you connect with your revenue stream or you don’t. THAT’S HOW IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN AND SHALL FOREVER BE, YOU DUMMIES. The arts is a fluid, temperamental market.
Furthermore, the idea of ownership and licensing is TOTALLY NEW. A traveling minstrel in the middle ages might have heard a song written by some poor, uneducated peasant in a backwoods village, memorized it as best he can, then took the song and played it before the king to great acclaim. That poor peasant author would have gotten NOTHING and is now forgotten to the annuals of history. Such is life.
Then came the era of cheap, easy REPRODUCTION of art. This birthed the idea of authorship, following that, ownership. Prior to that, authorship/ownership was a dead end road: how can you “own” something that is intangible and every idiot with a lute can play? It’s just words and melody and ideas, how can one ever really buy and sell it?
Starting with the printing press and continuing to the 19th, 20th, and 21st century with phonographs, records, and mp3s, we have found a way to market the unmarketable. We (the consumers) were paying for the REPRODUCTIONS of art (publishing). The art itself (when it comes to music at least) will always exist purely in the author’s imagination, but with recordings, we can buy and sell and trade the MANIFESTATION of this imagination. We suddenly had access to the REPRESENTATION of art, and an industry was born!
But this industry is sustained by the difficulty of reproducing the representations. The industry (NOT the artists) flourished as the process of taping and reproducing art became more arcane and difficult and closed off to the average consumer and artist. Only record labels could put out record; they’re the only ones with the technology, the knowhow, and the capital to back it. And the artists needed the labels to help this disperse and distribute their music. At least, that’s what we as artists have been told. By the labels.
The average consumer is NOT an artist and thus needs artists to create art. They will pay for the creation of art (which is why crowdfunding is SUCH A GREAT MODEL and is, as AFP has shouted to the skies, “the future of music”) but they will only pay what they think is “fair.” There are many factors that go into what the average consumer thinks is “fair,” not the least of which is the fact we live in a capitalist society where having a “free market” means that innovations in technology and business models WILL ALWAYS DRIVE PRICES DOWN TO KEEP THE MARKET COMPETATIVE. We are seeing that in action now, as the market bounces back from the horrifying excesses
We are desperate, hungry fiends. Those who fear technology and the ramifications of the devaluation of art are doomed. We’ve already drank the kool aid and do not have the imagination to see the Brave New World that is to come.
It’s always been a fucking pyramid scheme and we (the artists) have always been drowning. But now the labels are whispering in our ears, trying to get us to turn on OUR AUDIENCE!
“They’re STEALING from you,” they say, “They’re taking bread out of your mouths and the mouths of their children! They’re taking YOUR MUSIC without paying for it!”
(Of course, what they don’t say is that the consumer wouldn’t really be paying YOU for it, they’d be paying the LABEL and the label would then decide what you are “owed” from the sale of “your” music.)
“Aren’t you ANGRY?” they say, “It’s immoral! These downloading kids are monsters! We need to litigate this for your own protection!”
Of course, the label doesn’t bother to mention the fact that THE KIDS ARE ACTUALLY LISTENING TO YOUR MUSIC. Which for any artist in any era has always been the greatest struggle: to be heard and valued. And frankly, the modern technological era is great for that! New forms of music, new unique artists, idiosyncratic genres, all different voices: downloading, the internet, spotify, and mp3s have dispersed and uplifted in a way that traditional media doesn’t.
The saddest and most poignant example given in David Lowery’s article is that of the dearly departed Vic Chesnutt. In the article, he briefly touches on Vic’s slow health decline and the fact he took his own life, dying in poverty. It’s a touching and tragic story, and for someone close to Chesnutt, it’s probably hard to not see a direct connection to Vic’s despair and pain and poverty and the dirty thieves who refused to pay him his due in life.
Truthfully, I found this particular example somewhat manipulative and flawed. It’s tragic Vic didn’t see and enjoy the monetary value of his music commensurate to it’s emotional value. But is the presumption that he absolutely would have if downloading hadn’t existed? Would he have even had a career at all if not for exchanging mixtapes between friends, even the wholesale downloading of his catalogue? Furthermore, I find it grotesque to even imply that a man who struggled with a lifetime of physical pain, substance abuse, lack of mobility, and the deep depression it all bore might not have taken his own life if we’d just paid him for his time.
As an artist, I hate to have to make such stark, uncompassionate declarations and lines in the sand. Do I lament that I wasn’t born 20 years ago? Do I lament that certain doors to success and money-making are now closed off to me? A bit. But it’s just not worth it. Because no artist has EVER, in the HISTORY OF ALL TIME AND SHIT ever been promised a good living. Artists create art because it’s compulsive. It’s part of your wiring. Some people you just sit in front of a guitar and they create something. They create because it’s deep in their souls, because they like it, because they WANT to, because they NEED to.
These people, like plumbers or architects or firemen, need to be protected. All people need and deserve protection. But as a society committed to the free market (which has allowed for many angels and demons) we must accept that certain imperatives are not nor ever will be moral ones.
Music will always exist. Music can never be killed. Art can never die. The MUSIC INDUSTRY can never die either, it can just be changed, pared down, made unrecognizable from what it was before. As long as we live in a capitalist society, someone will be paying for art (because CULTURE NEEDS ART). But thanks to technological innovators, we are evolving. We must be free to evolve. That freedom is painful and bought at the price of human lives (whether it’s lives actually lost or just lived in poverty and despair, it’s collateral).
But with it comes innovation! With it comes the magic of the new and the vital. With it comes opportunities for oddballs and freaks to have the chance to have long careers and to market their music to the niche audience that will actually care. As Lefsetz say, we need to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” We need to not catastrophize and internalize the concerns of the “music industry.” We (as artists) need to hear the voice of OUR NEW AUDIENCE (Hi Emily!) and not try and marginalize them and their values because they conflict with our status quo (or, probably more accurately, because they’re an easy scapegoat for the unending struggle with poverty every musician has dealt with since before time began).
Because they’ll turn around and marginalize US faster than you can say “Spotify.” So please. Don’t be a screaming dinosaur. Even if it means being a shivering, crawling rodent for awhile. At least they can evolve.
There are great points on both sides of the argument. Emily observes that she and her peers don’t and will never pay for albums, but they will pay for convenient access to music. Lowery lambastes her for robbing artists of their livelihood and calls the convenience requirement an excuse. Lefsetz, of course, blasts Lowery and tells him to stop whining and start making great music if he wants to earn money.
I think they all make some good points, but the best is this. You can’t shame an entire market into changing behavior. You can only offer a product people will pay for.
The infamously low payout rates from Spotify et al are a prickly problem that, I hope, will be solved as the market evolves. But the answer is not to shame people into buying from iTunes.
The full quote is “To be fighting file-sharing is akin to protesting dot matrix printers. File-trading is on its way out. Because it takes too much time to do it. And you don’t fight piracy with laws, but economic solutions. It doesn’t pay to steal if you can listen instantly on Spotify and its ilk.”
“I have put up children’s pride displays for most of the last 12, 14 years, and I have never ever received any feedback about whether or not that’s appropriate,” he said. “I feel like it’s pretty clear if you put that display up there, someone who comes up and complains about it is not going to have much sway with you. What are they going to say? If you’re a homophobe looking to pick a fight, you’re doing it in a downtown Toronto bookstore, honestly? I’ve done this in the suburbs of Toronto too, there are plenty of people who want to complain about funny things, but that’s not something that I’ve had complaints about.”—
Proud Kids, Proud Books: Little Island Picks Kids’ Comics for LGBT Pride
By Andrew Wheeler
Toronto’s Little Island Comics is a very special place. As the world’s first comic shop aimed exclusively at kids 12 and under it plays host to some of the most infectiously enthusiastic comic fans you’ll meet in any store — not just the children who love to visit, but the parents, teachers and librarians who are thrilled to take their kids there. Little Island is a very inclusive place, and last week they put up their first ever LGBT Pride display, titled “Proud Books, Proud Kids.”
It’s no surprise that Little Island is so queer-positive; the manager, Andrew Woodrow Butcher, is the husband of Christopher Butcher, manager of world-class comic store The Beguiling. The two stores are located just minutes away from each other on opposite sides of the same small city block in Toronto’s Annex neighborhood. The Beguiling is an industry institution, while Little Island has been around for less than a year, and this is the store’s first LGBT Pride Month. I sat down with Woodrow Butcher to discuss his pick of children’s books for the Pride display.
People Who Rock in Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes
The Dr. Freeze Looking Mother Fucker
The Vision (and to a lesser extent, Ultron)
Captain America (the only hero that sounds remotely like his big-screen counterpart)
Avengers: Earths Mightiest Heroes is officially fucking baller. It’s one of those shows that takes the lessons from All Ages material and infuses it with a mature storytelling sensibility. For what is essentially a children’s cartoon, it seems actually quite ubpatronizing..
And seriously, it did “Secret Invasion” in a way that actually made sense! It has Surtur in it! IT HAS BETA RAY BILL!!!
Not to mention it feels so much more comfortable with the idea of the shared universe. It’s heartwarming to see the show not have to sputter and stumble over trying to explain why That Amazing Spider-Guy and The Fantastic People are always out of town when the shit goes down (or worse, having to pretend like they’re the only superhumans in the world, a la 90s X-Men cartoon). Seeing the pillars of the Marvel Universe like Fantastic Four and Spider-Man appear and rub elbows with some of the more arcane Kirby Asgardian like The Executioner and the Kree Ronan the Accuser is just great. It feels less like “we sold this particular Marvel property to Sony” and more like “Oh shit! There’s like 80 years of awesome Avengers storylines we can choose from! We can cut out the bullshit and melodrama and just have it be the hints and we could get at LEAST five great seasons out of this show! Not only that, but The Avengers aren’t like this exclusive club (JLA) or separate universe (X-Men) unto itself. Everyone has been an Avenger! Mutants, Asgardians, Aliens, Geniuses, Monsters, and a few good old fashioned Bad Ass Mother Fuckers (Hawkeye, you cocky fuck). In a way, the Avengers are the Marvel Universe! Even the guys who have their own books (Wolverine, the Thing, Spider-Man) have had stories told about them as an Avenger.
“If we listened to our intellect we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical: “It’s gonna go wrong.” Or “She’s going to hurt me.” Or, “I’ve had a couple of bad love affairs, so therefore …” Well, that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.”—Ray Bradbury [Bradbury on Fresh Air] (via nprfreshair)