Tuesday, December 30, 2008

With These With These Suckers Don't Respect It

Kinda kinda hectic hectic.

There's still a lot of defeatist bullshit going on around the changes in the music industry. Here's something the New York Times considered news fit to print:

this is the reality of the 21st-century music business. Selling recordings to consumers as inexpensive artworks to be appreciated for their own sake is a much-diminished enterprise now that free copies multiply across the Web.

While people still love music enough to track it down, collect it, argue over it and judge their Facebook friends by it, many see no reason to pay for it. The emerging practical solution is to let music sell something else: a concert, a T-shirt, Web-site pop-up ads or a brand...

a tectonic shift is under way. Record sales channeled the taste of the broad, volatile public into a performer’s paycheck. As music sales dwindle, licensers become a far more influential target audience...

It’s almost enough to make someone miss those former villains of philistinism, the recording companies. Labels had an interest in music that would hold listeners on its own terms; selling it was their meal ticket. Labels, and to some extent radio stations and music television, also had a stake in nurturing stars who would keep fans returning to find out what happened next, allowing their catalogs to be perennially rediscovered. By contrast, licensers have no interest beyond the immediate effect of a certain song, and can save money by dealing with unknowns.

Imagine a music world dominated by a boring star system. Imagine a child singer in this world, who grows up in the spotlight. Imagine corporations sucking such a world so dry that everybody in it knows exactly who this child is, and sees her going insane under the pressure of the spotlight, until she matures into a fully-fledged lunatic.

In this hypothetical universe, all this happens, and everyone knows every detail of it, despite the fact that nearly everyone in this world hates her music. Which may explain why nobody does anything to help, as the poor little child-woman-idoru goes mad, and then reappears acting sane, acting as if nothing happened, with her hair all brushed and her teeth all smiles, as if that were not more frightening than recording a simple, angry, honest punk rock album would have been.

Check out how the New York Times describes this hypothetical hell:

Once they were noticed, stars could provide their own story arcs of career and music, and songs got a chance to create their own spheres, as sanctuary or spook house or utopia.

It's not a story arc, you asshole. It's somebody's life. It's a crazy person with more money than Jesus, and odds are she'll never enjoy a penny of it.

For contrast, consider a fascinating little factoid Lawrence Lessig dropped in a recent NPR interview: there are more musicians making a living from music today than there were when file-sharing was new.

What the Internet is doing to music is making it easier for artists to make money based on making good music, instead of manipulating public attention. The old business model: first you convince a woman to do a thousand stomach crunches per day. Then you strip her down to her underpants. Then you hire somebody to make some music as a backdrop while the woman showcases her body.

There's no doubt this business model results in compelling entertainment. But if you tried to make the argument that this was a great way to optimize a system to produce the best possible music, a number of counterarguments would present themselves. Some of these counterarguments would be very strong. If you were cynical, you might even get somewhere with the argument that the old record industry is so twisted, corrupt, and creatively bankrupt that it needs strippers more than it needs musicians.

Don't get me wrong, strippers are fantastic now and then, but you wouldn't want to spend your whole life doing it, and it ain't about the music.

This is a system which churns out crap music and destroys people.

This is why a god of destruction is both good and evil. Seeing this woman destroyed is a sad thing. Seeing this system destroyed is the greatest thing that's happened to music since MIDI.