Saturday, October 2, 2010

I Know Who "Anonymous" Was!

So remember how I was talking about reading that article in Rolling Stone (about Roger Waters' upcoming tour of The Wall) in a store for free? And apparently that makes me a useless prick? Well guess what. I did read that article for free, but not in a store. Oh no. I read it in a library. You ever heard of a library? That's right, I read an article in a library for free, and I'm destroying culture as we know it.

Anyway. In that very same issue of Rolling Stone, there was an article by U2's manager, Paul McGuinness, called "How To Save The Music Industry" (Here's the slightly expanded version from GQ magazine). Ladies and gentlemen, I think I know who "Anonymous" was: U2's manager! He was searching the web, looking for comments about his article, and BOOM!, he stumbled upon Cosmic American Blog and thought he'd give me a piece of his mind.

Well, I don't know what to tell you Mr. McGuinness. You're frustrated. I understand. But I think you're barking up the wrong tree. I'm just a random insignificant blogger.

At any rate, your comments got me thinking. You ask me, "Do you expect to get paid for whatever it is you do for a living?" The irony of this statement may not have been intended. In order to make a living, I need to get paid. It's not actually possible to do something 'for a living' and not receive monetary compensation for it, essentially by definition. But I'm just being a smart-ass here. The question is: do people deserve to 'make a living' as artists?

I'm not sure. In our society we essentially pay people to do the things they would not otherwise want to do. People don't want to ride around in a garbage truck and collect everybody's garbage for fun. So we pay people to do that. People don't want to prepare dead corpses for burial. So we pay people to do that. Creating art is a very fun thing to do. Should we be paying people to do that?

Let's use this blog as an example. Would I like to get paid for writing a blog? Sure. Do I deserve to get paid for writing a blog? Probably not. It depends on what kind of blog. If it was a really good and really popular blog, maybe so. But for me, writing is not a question of money so much as it is a question of time. If I were able to make a living doing something other than writing, and I still had time to do all the writing I wanted to do, and I was able to find a large audience for that writing, then I'm not sure I would have a problem with that. But if society as a whole deemed my writing interesting, but because I had to make my living in another fashion I was not able to find the time to write, then that might be a problem. The question is: how badly would people want to read my writing? If society would suffer as a result of me not being able to write, then somebody with money would have to come along and say, "Hey, Little Earl, here's some money so you can write." Otherwise, who cares?

The title of your article "How To Save The Music Industry" raises an interesting question in itself: does the music industry need "saving"? To ask "how to save the music industry" might be a bit like someone in 1900 asking "how to save the telegraph industry."

Once upon a time, there was no music industry. Then there developed a need for a music industry, because there was a certain amount of technology that was needed in order to make a record, and ordinary people could not afford such equipment on their own. You needed money for a studio, for a recording console, for microphones, and ultimately for the physical pressing of the records themselves. All this is cheap now. Any college kid in his dorm room can record a song onto his computer and turn it into a music file. Should he make money doing it?

See, you've got me all wrong Mr McGuinness. Not that I really care what you think of me, but I definitely take the moral quandaries of downloading seriously. For example, see here, here, and here. Allow me to describe some further examples to you.

I wanted to download a copy of The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, but I realized that if I did so, Stephen Merritt would not receive any of my money and would not receive any of my support, which I felt he deserved. I went to Amoeba and, although there were actually several used copies of 69 Love Songs in the store, I purchased a brand new copy, because I knew that even if I bought a used copy, Merritt would not receive any of the proceeds. The Magnetic Fields were a currently active band that wasn't about to hit platinum status - exactly the kind of band that stands to suffer from free downloading. I paid more than I had to pay in order to make sure they received some monetary compensation. But apparently, I'm a prick.

When the White Stripes released Icky Thump in 2007, I wanted to hear it, but I didn't feel right about simply downloading it for free. Instead, I didn't listen to it at all, and now it's three years later and I still haven't listened to it. Do you see a problem here? Either I listen to the album for free, or I feel so awkward about it that I don't even listen to the album at all. Sure, if you're the White Stripes, you'd rather I listen to the album and pay for it. But if the choice was between your audience listening to the album for free, or your audience not listening to it at all, which would you prefer?

You tell me I'm "stealing." I'll tell you what stealing is. Stealing is walking into a store which sells merchandise and has a cash register. You grab a CD from the store, you stuff it into your jacket and you run past the cash register and out the door. That's stealing. When I download music files from the internet, what am I stealing? Not an actual "thing" like a CD. I'm downloading a low-quality copy of a file from someone else's computer. I'm not saying it's ideal. I would agree that it's similar enough to an actual commercial CD to prevent me from buying the CD copy. But it's not stealing. It's something in between. I don't think I'm "cool" because I do it. My intention is not to "brag." But I do it. I do it because it's over.

It's over people. If you want to make a living by releasing recorded music, it's over. Am I "destroying culture as we know it"? Maybe culture just ebbs and flows and no one is really to blame. Maybe the period of creation is over, but the period of appreciation has begun.

I was chatting with Yoggoth on this topic. We were talking about the original purpose of copyright law. Copyright law was designed to give artists the incentive to create, so that their work would benefit society. Copyright law was not designed for 60-year-old rock stars so that they could continue making money off their 40-year-old recordings. Ultimately copyright law was meant to serve society. He said, "I really don't see how it serves society and encourages creativity to have Bob Dylan making money off recordings that are 40 years old."

Besides, is downloading genuinely preventing musicians from making a living? Yoggoth was skeptical. "If you want to make a living as a musician, you can still tour and you'll be fine. You won't be able to afford a limo and a mansion, but you'll be able to pay the bills." The day a talented musician writes a post on his blog that says, "I'm glad you guys like my music, but I can't afford my instruments, so I'm going to be a substitute teacher now and I'm not going to be able to make music anymore," is the day I might actually be concerned.

Maybe rich rock stars are not something we really need anymore - or even semi-rich rock stars. My point is that we shouldn't try to create a system where a certain group of people make lots of money just because they "used to." It's got to make sense in the here and now. Sure, the internet has destroyed the music industry. It's also destroyed newspapers, the postal service, and a million other industries I can't even name. But it's also created a million other brand new industries. If you're smart and entrepreneurial, you'll figure out a way to make money by providing something that people can't otherwise find for free. The world changes.



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