Emily White in “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With”:
“I never went through the transition from physical to digital. I’m almost 21 and since I first began to love music I’ve been spoiled by the Internet. I am an avid music-listener, concert-goer, and college radio DJ. My world is music-centric. I’ve only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs. [...] I’ve never supported physical music as a consumer. As monumental a role as musicians and albums have played in my life, I’ve never invested money in them aside from concert tickets and t-shirts. [...] I didn’t illegally download (most) of my songs. [...] Some are from my family. I’ve swapped hundreds of mix CDs with friends. My senior prom date took my iPod home once and returned it to me with 15 gigs of Big Star, The Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo (I owe him one).”
This of course should come to no one’s surprise. This is simply the reality of how consumer behavior has shifted. Emily doesn’t leave it at that. She gives us a suggestion, from the point of view of a customer that also realizes artists need the support they’re not getting right now due to the changed listening behavior.
“As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. I can’t support them with concert tickets and t-shirts alone. But I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience. What I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices. With this new universal database, everyone would have convenient access to everything that has ever been recorded and performance royalties would be distributed based on play counts (hopefully with more money going back to the artist than the present model). All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?”
No Emily, that is not too much to ask at all. Matter of fact, all signs point this way when we look at the technology available, the customer’s wishes, and the best way to capitalize on the new ways of listening to music. Only when you’re being forward thinking and rational though. And this coming from me, a record label founder who at the present still makes most of our money from digital download sales. So I’m certainly not saying this because it’s convenient to me.
David Lowery in “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered”:
I’ll start by saying that David’s post is eloquent and very respectful and polite towards Emily.* It’s also just wrong. In a nutshell:
I must disagree with the underlying premise of what you have written. Fairly compensating musicians is not a problem that is up to governments and large corporations to solve. It is not up to them to make it “convenient” so you don’t behave unethically. (Besides–is it really that inconvenient to download a song from iTunes into your iPhone? Is it that hard to type in your password? I think millions would disagree.)
Lets not pretend this is as convenient as firing up Rdio and streaming anything you like. Lets also not pretend there is a solid solution for personal music catalog organization and synching. Or that there is a truly convenient way to share music with others, which is a key desire and behavior fundamental to the fan experience.
“The fundamental shift in principals and morality is about who gets to control and exploit the work of an artist. The accepted norm for hudreds of years of western civilization is the artist exclusively has the right to exploit and control his/her work for a period of time.”
Ah yes, the “tradition” argument. I’d like to remind David for hundreds of years the accepted norm was that the earth was flat, and that women should probably not vote. Lets not get into a debate on the severely broken copyright system, and just accept that it’s severely broken. We change traditions once we gain new insights.
“By allowing the artist to treat his/her work as actual property, the artist can decide how to monetize his or her work. This system has worked very well for fans and artists.”
If it works so well for both parties, then why are we having this conversation?
“Now we are being asked to undo this not because we think this is a bad or unfair way to compensate artists but simply because it is technologically possible for corporations or individuals to exploit artists work without their permission on a massive scale and globally. We are being asked to continue to let these companies violate the law without being punished or prosecuted. We are being asked to change our morality and principals to match what I think are immoral and unethical business models. [...] What the corporate backed Free Culture movement is asking us to do is analogous to changing our morality and principles to allow the equivalent of looting.”
Ah yes, the “moral”/”corporate conspiracy” combo argument. Last time I checked no one was forcing artists and labels to sign up with streaming services. Lets not pretend the size of the music industry as a whole has ever been more than a mini calculation error on the balance sheets of the companies that own the grand majority of them. If Universal was left off of the Vivendi annual report, a decent amount of people would not notice.
“The internet is full of stories from artists detailing just how little they receive from Spotify. [...] The reason they can get away with paying so little to artists is because the alternative is The ‘Net where people have already purchased all the gear they need to loot those songs for free. Now while something like Spotify may be a solution for how to compensate artists fairly in the future, it is not a fair system now. As long as the consumer makes the unethical choice to support the looters, Spotify will not have to compensate artists fairly.”
I won’t pretend that I haven’t complained about the paltry payments before myself, but why are we leaving out the fact that Spotify is co-owned by all the major labels? Major labels who have negotiated that they get more for every spin than any independent artist or label gets for that same exact spin. David goes on to calculate a back of the envelope number based on Emily’s 11,000 song library, and extrapolates that over time, concluding that she should pay around $18 dollars a month to turn her consumption into an “ethical one”. This is where he could’ve segued into the solution proposed by Emily, the Spotify-like library in the sky that synchs to everything everywhere, but he doesn’t.
“Congratulations, your generation is the first generation in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo freak musicians! Emily, I know you are not exactly saying what I’ve illustrated above. You’ve unfortunately stumbled into the middle of a giant philosophical fight between artists and powerful commercial interests.”
David gives Emily some suggestions on how she can better herself, which includes calling out “those that profit by exploiting artists without compensation,” which includes phoning Geico and Google for advertising on illegal mp3 sites. It also includes donating some of the money she “owes” to artists to charities for artists. It also includes legally buying music the old school way (download or physical), which I think Emily has already pointed out is just not going to happen.
Music Industry Quixotism
We are tilting at windmills here people. I used the expensive word “quixotism” in the title of this article, and that is the actual problem here. David represents the impracticality in pursuit of ideals, manifested by lofty and romantic ideas. David, and many of the stake holders that have tweeted in his support, play the part of Don Quixote in this farcical short novel that is the transition phase of the music industry.
Utopia as seen through the eyes of Don Quixote, is merely an illusion. We should look at the Utopia seen through the customer’s eyes, and build a system around it. This is not about morals. This is about smarts. It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s not about rebelling. It’s about a giant shift in consumer behavior and how we as an industry deal with that.
Let us not be Don Quixote. Let us be Alonso Quijano^.
- Five New Music Business Wins (Or It’s Only Going To Get Better) (read)
- Help Your Customer (Or Fighting Them Means Losing Them) (read)
- One World (Or The Inelegant Sadness Of A Lost Transaction) (read)
- Fans Would Love To Pay For Music (Or The Tale Of The Reluctant Pirate) (read)
- The Benefit Of Streaming (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb) (read)
- The New Way Of Consuming Music (Or A Dollar Less To Rihanna Means A Dollar More To Tegan And Sara) (read)
*Aside from a bit of a low blow by mentioning two artist suicides and effectively linking them to illegal downloading in a causal way.
^ Don Quixote real indentity, which he regained on his death bed when he regained his sanity.