Saturday, May 15, 2010

Be quiet: We might be witnessing the end of an Industry

Writer Megan McArdle wrote an article named "the freeloaders", published in the May 2010 issue of The Atlantic. I've read the article and found it raising a couple of questions of great interest to me. McArle's article discusses the challenge of the record-industry and the ongoing piracy or "free-loading" trend.

Although Megan talks about intellectual property and about an industry set in a downward spiral, she ends the article with the following optimistic statement:
"When the printing press was invented, many monks mourned the decline of vellum and the loss of the illuminator’s art. They were right, of course—but they were even more wrong. Maybe something better is coming, even as the transition racks the nerves of writers and artists. As the old joke goes, we may be losing something on every unit—but perhaps we’ll make it up in volume. "

The blog disquiet writes about this article in the following way: "It purported to assess the impact of file-sharing on the music industry, but it framed the argument in a manner that (in my mind) contributed little to the important ongoing discussion about the nature of copyright in the Internet Age; instead, it simplistically equated the “music industry” with the record industry, and pointed an accusatory finger."

Disquet focuses on "Reflections on ambient/electronic music & conversations with the people who make it". In other words, we are speaking about creators of art. The same people who en masse are supposed to be mourning the ongoing file-sharing culture of the young generations. This is of course not so much the case, if we are not to believe that every artist shares the view of Metallica and the more successful acts who have rallied around the copyright lobby.

What is more interesting is that disquiet also pointed me towards another type of response beyond the medium of a blog-post. They rallied a number of composers who have written musical responses to the article and Jeremy Traum's accompanying illustration. It took the form of an album that can be downloaded and listened to via Listening at a glance, it is clearly not my cup of ambient (tea!), but nevertheless very ambitious and thought provoking.

My idea of music is contributory in nature. An ongoing process where listener and composer are part of the same creative subject. It appears to me that we are moving beyond the age of the record industry, which has put its wet blanket of conformity over the cultural sphere for a short period of time in the industrial society. It has also cemented the role of a strict division between band / composer / musician on the one hand, and listener / fan / consumer on the other. The distinction are being consciously blurred by artists such as those behind the Multiple Artist Ambient Project, which invites people to mix different ambient pieces together in whatever way the person so prefer.

This evolution is to my mind exiting for a number of reasons. First and foremost should we realize that the music as a sellable item is part of the industrial paradigm linked to consumer culture. It may or may not last. On a moral level I don't mind smaller or bigger artists attempting to sell their music on LP/CD/MP3 at all. The belief on the other hand that music culture equals with the success or lack of success of a specific business model advocated by record labels HQ:s in the past is naive.

There is music after the feared death of an industry, and there are reasons to assume that it is going to be better then what it has been. In the best of worlds it will not be as defined by what others tell you is the big thing right now, but part of a much richer and diverse eco-system of culture. Some people will probably never want to be part of a participatory cultural process, which is fine. Pop music will probably not die even if the industry dies, as long as people will continue to request simple pop songs there will probably be artists who are more then willing to create these songs.

The interested parties who want to keep the industry making large amounts of money have resorted to more and more drastic measures of lobbying for tighter laws which is said to be in the best interest of copyright holders. It has become an ongoing quest which has contributed to a shrinking regime of rights of integrity on the Internet. But there is light in the horizon. In the ongoing flux of the recording industry creative commons and other forms of participatory cultures are growing. With this in mind: we have every reason in the world to be exited!

1 comment:

Felicia Monique said...

Very thoughtful commentary! Your passion is evident.

I agree with -- "My idea of music is contributory in nature."

as well as the entire last paragraph.