Another Reason The Music Industry Won't Be Coming Back -- The History Of Music Is More About Participation Than Compensation
from the another-'piracy-apologist'-who-still-pays-for-all-his-music dept
As the debate over file sharing rages on, a number of voices have stepped up to offer their opinions on all sides of the issue. In a post titled "Paying for Music: My Two Cents (Pun Intended)," Danny Bowman (a software engineer at Funzio and developer for Brute Labs) presents the argument that this "not paying for music" is the result of two things: first, the familiar discussion of scarce vs. infinite goods and secondly, a huge increase in participation has both aided in driving down the price of music as well as bringing us more in line with our cultural past, when making music was something everyone did, rather than a select few.
The assumption that artists should be compensated with money for recording music is probably based on economic and technological factors in the 20th century, when the means to produce and distribute quality music were limited to "professionals." Recording equipment required experience and expertise to produce anything listenable. [G]etting recordings into the hands of a large audience required a lot of infrastructure.... When the production and distribution of music had such barriers to entry, recorded music had economic value and people were willing to pay for the music that made it through those barriers. Musicians were operating in an industry, producing something that only a limited set of people had the means to produce.But things have changed. With the barriers gone, anyone can get on the playing field.
Have you used music production software lately? It's really easy to make a professional sounding recording. And once you do, it's super easy to post the file online and then anyone in the world with an internet connection can hear it. In my mind, music production no longer has the barriers to entry that give it economic value. Amateurs are often making music that I like more than "professional" recordings. Heck, even I can make music that I like listening to more than a lot of "professional" recordings. In my view, recording music no longer carries economic value, so I generally don't feel the need to compensate musicians with money for their recordings.Despite claims to the contrary, the amount of music being produced isn't dropping. The supposed "lack of financial incentive" isn't discouraging thousands of "amateurs" from expressing themselves creatively. If you thought you were having trouble selling an album before, how are you going to do it now that everyone has an album of their own?
This high level of participation isn't a new thing. Having more creators than consumers used to be the norm, rather than an indicator of massive disruption. Over the course of human history, music shifted from something everybody performed towards a top-down distribution that separated the "professionals" from the "consumers." Bowman quotes This Is Your Brain on Music: A History of Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin.
Music is unusual among all human activities for both its ubiquity and its antiquity. No known human culture now or anytime in the recorded past lacked music. Some of the oldest physical artifacts found in human and protohuman excavation sites are musical instruments: bone flutes and animal skins stretched over tree stumps to make drums... Only relatively recently in our own culture, five hundred years or so ago, did a distinction arise that cut society in two, forming separate classes of music performers and music listeners. Throughout most of the world and for most of human history, music making was as natural an activity as breathing and walking, and everyone participated. Concert halls, dedicated to the performance of music, arose only in the last several centuries.To further illustrate this "performer-listener" phenomenon, Levitin talks about Jim Ferguson, a professor of anthropology, who performed fieldwork in the tiny country of Lesotho in Africa.
Jim patiently earned their trust until one day he was asked to join in one of their songs. [W]hen asked to sing with these Sotho villagers, Jim said in a soft voice, "I don't sing," and it was true: We had been in high school band together and although he was an excellent oboe player, he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. The villagers found his objection puzzling and inexplicable. The Sotho consider singing an ordinary, everyday activity performed by everyone, young and old, men and women, not an activity reserved for a special few.Music has been a participatory, non-exclusionary form of art for longer than it has been a gated community composed of a handful of beneficiaries. The timeframe in which music and commerce came together to make a handful of artists successful is much, much slimmer than even the era of "performers" and "audiences." Mick Jagger, of all people, recognized this fact despite being one of the largest beneficiaries of this anomaly:
Our culture, and indeed our very language, makes a distinction between a class of expert performers - the Arthur Rubinsteins, Ella Fitzgeralds, Paul McCartneys -- and the rest of us. The rest of us pay money to hear the experts entertain us. Jim knew that he wasn't much of a singer or dancer, and to him, a public display of singing and dancing implied he thought himself an expert. The villagers just stared at Jim and said, "What do you mean you don't sing?! You talk!" Jim told me later, "It was as odd to them as if I told them that I couldn't walk or dance, even though I have both my legs." Singing and dancing were a natural activity in everybody's lives, seamlessly integrated and involving everyone [...]
But I have a take on that - people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn't make any money out of records because record companies wouldn't pay you! They didn't pay anyone!Some, however, seem to feel that this brief window of commercial success is the way it always has been and the way it always should be, despite evidence to the contrary. As Bowman points out, artistic expression and capitalism are an uneasy mix.
Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.
So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn't.
I think another important point here is that these content industries have always involved an uneasy fusion of Art and Capitalism, and that given the choice, people want to lean towards Art. Put another way, people prefer to think of music as an expression of something emotional and visceral that just wants to get out into the world, not as an industry or a business or a vehicle to make money. When anti-piracy advocates talk about not paying musicians as a "social injustice," it simply doesn't hit home. You have to pick a side - is music to be treated as Art? If so, then expecting payment is just delusional. Is music then a business? If so, the more broadly accessible means of production and distribution have eliminated the economic value that made recording viable as an industry. Deal with it. We didn't like music being a business anyway.As long as file sharing and the music business are still being discussed as a matter of right and wrong, the real issue - economics - is ignored. And as long as this pertinent part of the equation is ignored, those arguing against the current reality will continue to miss the point, at their own expense.
The changes in business model are not caused by morals or ethics, but rather by economics. When you take Art and monetize its production and create an industry, and that industry is then faced with the realities of capitalism and supply and demand, don't act like there is social injustice at work. You can object to the capitalist system, but you can't argue that things should work the way they did when capitalism was going well for you.Many argue that today's world will be the death of any form of artistic expression that can be converted to ones and zeroes, but what they're really saying is that the very brief moment when art and commerce merged successfully is over. With the way forward being a much more competitive path, it's no surprise that these voices choose to conflate economics and morals in order to make today's reality seem like the kleptomania of spoiled children. But if the music industry dies, music will still live on.
I think the bottom line is that nobody cares if the Music Industry dies because nobody believes it is adding value anymore, and that Music will continue on just as it has since the protohumans first started making it. That's why people won't pay for it.