The boom in digital streaming may generate profits for record labels and free content for consumers, but it spells disaster for today’s artists, says David Byrne
Reading any article concerning techno-fear tickles me, because they help me remember that my generation is dangerously close to assuming power. What the authors of these types of articles fail to realize is that the Internet isn’t going to do anything. It already did, and now everyone’s trying to make our world catch up.
My first independent use of a computer was snatching as much of Weird Al’s discography as I could find on Napster at the age of 9. By 12 I was building my minidisc collection: several hundred of my favorite songs, ripped from albums in my collection or the grasp of the Internet, on a portable, rechargable precursor to the iPod (which would come along just a couple years later). Now I discover music using websites like Hype Machine that aggregate hundreds of blogs and chart the most popular tracks alongside available streams.
Point is, people my age and younger are inundated with the idea that media, owned or not, can be (note: not should be) broken down to its components and freely accessible at any time. This ain’t just music, take a look at the many context-devoid lines of Family Guy dialogue racking up millions of views on Youtube. Wikipedia, launched a year after Napster, provides textual info in the same fragmented, immediate fashion. It’s not that consumers are making a choice to steal, it’s that if you rip a 128kbps track from a Youtube video of a song, it doesn’t feel like stealing. (Which is basically why all those “YOU WOULDN’T DOWNLOAD A CAR” anti-piracy ads are a joke.)
But, to tie this in with the real crux of the article: I see streaming as a fair, forward-thinking solution to stemming industry bloodflow in a world where I can now type “[song title] .mp3 download” into world-renowned criminal tool Google and find multiple illicit copies. But the problem is that if you dig money, you don’t give a fuck about what’s fair. The industry spent a few years failing to penalize consumers with rare, random court cases that served to illuminate their greed, so they wised up: “Instead of finding a way to make more money for all involved with this remarkable, here-to-stay technology, let’s just penalize the artists for the money lost through piracy! It’s their fault for sticking with us!” Somebody has to suffer and Geffen’s second yacht cannot feel feelings.
I don’t say this to justify piracy (cause I can’t and won’t, shit’s indefensible and I am a bad person). It is in the best interest of the music companies to convince consumers that we’re the ones hurting the artists and vice-versa. They refused to change, and they failed to make us change, so that means artists have to change (which is totally the sort of stress you want to lay on your cow when you’re running low on milk).
The obvious course of action is to turn it back on them, but how? Labels are still too big a gatekeeper and I don’t want to lay more work on the shoulders of starving artists, especially considering it’s not their job to adjust to market change (hmmm.m i Wonder who shouldlve don that lol). I’m sure labels have market research steering them away, but I’m surprised we haven’t seen a streaming system with a time delay: you can listen to a song once every 12 hours, otherwise you have to pay. Same exact model that keeps people playing Candy Crush and Farmville and the next wildly successful source of irritating Facebook notifications. Since these sorts of games are A New Thing That People Enjoy, the industry will probably ignore the model, but on the flip side they will try anything to avoid paying their artists fairly so who knows?
Either way, Byrne fears the Internet more than he fears the hands in his pockets. He’s afraid artists won’t be able to transition between giving music away and selling it, but he’s only showing his age by discounting the current erupting force in music: EDM. Look at ANY professional DJ capitalizing off the glut: given remix culture, fans’ listening habits (i.e. there aren’t many appropriate places to blast house music), less market visibility compared to pop/rock/hip-hop, and the fact that 90% of the songs a DJ spins are not going to be his own… How are these guys still alive? Are thousands of frat boys signed up for Beatport without my knowledge? You need to be headlining Las Vegas before releasing physical copies of your music is even practical, so why aren’t the DJs starving in such quantities? (Not a rhetorical question, actually a really fucking important question that everyone involved in music, industry and artists alike, needs to answer fast.)
Anamanaguchi released two albums for free before raising five times their $50k Kickstarter goal for the sake of distributing their third. (Yes, Good Guy Anamanaguchi runs a Kickstarter for a product that already exists rather than a pipe dream.) Girl Talk can sell his albums now, but only after he became the face of a subgenre and gained enough klout that other musicians wouldn’t sue him for it (oh and All Day is still free in all formats). How about Lorde, who released her debut EP eleven months ago on Soundcloud while still living with her parents in New Zealand; you can’t buy anything on Soundcloud! Or New Zealand for that matter! So of course Universal signed her faster than she could say “dingo” in a sultry coo, she is everything that the pop industry ain’t. That’s why she’s, uh… Sealed in a vacuum of success? wait hm im trying to figure out the opposite of going down in cata-fucking-strophic flames
It’s stories like theirs that make me think Thom Yorke and Byrne are right, that the music industry is in the middle of a long death rattle. I don’t know who was the first to find success through independent digital release, but I want to thank her for proving to everyone that we don’t need the labels. They were always meant to be a convenience, but it’s now more obvious than ever before. As time passes, more talented artists realize this and break through via alternative routes. Those artists begin making enough money to sustain their own online store, making it clear to all musicians coming after that the labels are not required for production, distribution, advertising or merchandising. Time to call hospice.
David Byrne: ‘The internet will suck all creative content out of the world’