If you are a music fan and have ever burned music on tape, cd or given a usb drive of songs to a friend, really think on this discussion. Its not out to brand the casual listener that gives away music as a criminal, but more or less to think on where the true value resides.
Does a band deserve to be heard and paid just because they are making music? Hell no, there is too much generic crap proliferating the airways and facebook accounts far and wide already. Does it mean you have to do everything that much better and write original music to be heard by the masses? Hell yes, ya do. Once you have original music is the world going to be at your beck at call? Nope, not just yet. Now you have to prove your worth and build your fan base as those are the good folks that want to keep your art form alive and well. Sam Phillips said it best in Walk The Line, when he asked Johnny Cash to play the one song that would sum him up his life, if he was laying in a ditch about to die.
Take notice on why you are hearing so much about acts such as Skrillex, David Guetta and DeadMau5 in national press. It is not that their music is better than other genres, but give credit, where credit is due. Electronic dance music figured this shit out years ago, its all about the vibe and getting fans in the door, not about album sales. While rock n' roll, hip hop and country genres fight over ownership, originality and who should be paid, fans of dance music are filling stadiums to hear the music and the acts are commanding upwards of a million bucks a show. In many ways this is due to electronic music's world wide acceptance of file sharing and the ability to quickly grow a fan base over the internet through remixes, mashups and giving away music for free.
Music is about the soul. Seek out the music you personally enjoy. Live and breathe it and when you want to take personal stock in seeing it last, contribute and support the artists that make it happen. Life is too short to be bothered with the mundane or those that want to be naysayers and constantly complain. As an artist make great music, build the vibe and fans will find you. There is no magic elixir except hard work and dedication to your craft.
|David Lowery of Cracker at the 2011 Pop Conference at UCLA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Lowery’s piece sparked an even bigger discussion, with plenty of new think-pieces re-treading old dialogue. Of the many third-wave response articles, Huffington Post director of commercial production and Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison managed to pinpoint a vital change in the conversation with a post titled “Hey Dude From Cracker, I’m Sorry, I Stole Music Like These Damned Kids When I Was A Kid.” Morrison noticed that when Lowery’s article began to go viral the conversation began to focus on a generational divide, which implied that the younger generation of music listeners are morally bankrupt for accumulating great volumes of music without paying for it and that young people acquiring music without paying for it is a new phenomenon that started at file sharing. Setting out to prove that the new is old, Morrison listed the various ways he copped new tunes as a kid without paying for it.
“Copped” is more or less an accurate way to describe the way Morrison went about getting new music. He was, and still is, driven by obsession, and Morrison even described the way he dubbed music from his college radio station onto cassettes in terms of addiction: “I was like a crackhead—if they sold crack at CVS, and it was free.” Unlike so many pieces focused on the ethics of illegal downloading and the moral ambiguity of the free music culture, which tend to focus on the broad economic affect, Morrison eloquently explains his reason for obtaining music through unsavory means:
"Music is so important to people. It is majorly important to young people. And to me? Literally somewhere below water and air but above food. And I just went for it. I bought a lot of music; I got a lot of free music from whatever sources were at hand; I just had to have it by any means necessary."That personal explanation is no doubt something many music fans share—a love of music that’s so strong the desire to hear more tunes can displace a basic life necessity. It’s a level of passion that led Morrison to snap up albums through legal and illegal channels, it’s most likely the same fervor that fueled Emily White to rip the CDs at WVAU onto her laptop, and it’s an attitude that strongly that resonates strongly with me. (I also rank music higher than food, and have made my fair share of unhealthy decisions based upon that ranking system: I once spent less than $10 on groceries in a three-week period so I could spend what little money I had on some concert tickets, but that’s a story for another time.) Though some could view this philosophy as the very thing that’s led to the unravelling of the music industry and the nonchalant attitude some people have towards illegal downloading, it could very well be the key to helping musicians survive and thrive.
There are a couple important terms pivotal to the recent chain of comments on Emily White’s initial “All Songs Considered” post: “fan” and “the man.” The word “fan” has been used pretty loosely to describe anyone who listens to music, but Morrison’s illustration of his experience as a music obsessive harkens back to the original phrase that begat the nomenclature “fan,” and one that hardly describes a large portion of the listening public—fanatic. The element of fanaticism is why White (among countless others) is experiencing a moral dilemma when it comes to the subject of file-sharing an a growing interest in supporting the musicians she loves. There’s a good chance that not everyone who listens to music is experiencing the same ethical quandary as White, a fickle demographic of mostly casual listeners who bought a few records every year in brighter times but ranked music on the low end of their priority list. Music may be important to many people who bought Michael Jackson’s Thriller or AC/DC’s Back in Black, two of the highest-selling pop albums of all time, yet among those who purchased those albums some may only have a passing interest in music and others may have only purchased a few albums in their lifetime prior to the advent of file-sharing.
These casual consumers may have been an important demographic before Kazaa and LimeWire became household names, but these days that’s not quite the case. For those who might have dropped $20 on an LP or CD every so often in the past it just might feel like a better decision to grab one or two songs from iTunes, or even snag it for free from a file-sharing site. Though it’s still important for record companies and musicians to try and reach these listeners, the focus needs to shift more towards the fanatics—those who see music as a vital necessity in life to the point where they may get it through illegal means but who are still interested in supporting musicians even if their actions appear to negate that notion. The leading method of gaining support from the fanatics these days is through engagement. The very act of reaching out and involving fans is not only important in gaining financial support but also in combating negative characteristics associated with the music industry hierarchy, in particular the concept of “the man” holding all the purse strings.
As Lowery wrote, his students justify illegally downloading music in two ways, the first of which is by saying:
"It’s OK not to pay for music because record companies rip off artists and do not pay artists anything."There are countless anecdotes of labels ripping off artists dating back to the days when the blues became the “electric blues,” each one feeding into this concept of “the man” that’s appropriate to rage against when something goes awry. Lowery details the ways in which labels (and, by proxy, the executives) invest in musicians, even without the guarantee that there will be a return on said investment, but when it comes to obtaining music the cultural climate is still stacked against labels—even if it means, as Lowery says, it’s the middle-class “weirdo freak musicians” who end up getting hurt.
There’s a certain degree of mystery to the concept of “the man,” a cultural figure that exists in the shadows. Engaging with fans helps combat that notion through a greater sense of transparency. Crowd-source funding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo give musicians (as well as other artists) the opportunity to pitch various projects and show potential donors how the money they hope to raise will be used, and artists are encouraged to offer rewards—such as digital or physical copies of an album, t-shirts, concert tickets—for different levels donations. It’s an idea that brings audiences into the creation process in ways that establish strong connections between listeners and musicians, and Kickstarter in particular has become an important tool for many independent and established musicians. Boston singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer recently made headlines when a Kickstarter campaign she put together to help mix, manufacture, and distribute her forthcoming solo album received more than a million dollars in donations.
Amanda Palmer is a bit of an outlier, but her example shows that musicians can find some level of success through engaging the very fans who want to do nothing more than support artists. There are any number of cost-effective ways of doing so—be it promoting one’s work through social media, or streaming and selling albums on BandCamp, or writing and recording songs for fans. As much as technology has made it easier for people to steal art—music, film, photography—it also provides an opportunity to explore new methods of economic sustainability for the arts, giving creators the chance to find the model (or models) that fit best, or develop an entirely brand new model. The current financial outlook may seem grim, it doesn’t have to be that way."