Thursday, June 21st, 2012

How Can We Get Artists Paid On The Internet? A Chat With David Lowery

Little did I realize, when I popped over to the Urth Cafe on Beverly a few days ago to talk with the musician David Lowery about artist compensation in the music business, that within the week he would be at the center of one of those "Media Firestorms." Founder of the bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, Lowery is a big, charming, voluble, bearded ginger who natters as fast as I do; he also has a mathematics and programming background and knows a lot about amateur radio, and is a big dork. We had a marvelous talk about the above-named topics over coffee. I'd become interested in his recent work and activism after reading a post on his blog, Trichordist, "Meet the New Boss, Worse Than The Old Boss," about the failed promise of "disintermediation" and Internet distribution in the music business: "I was like all of you. I believed in the promise of the Internet to liberate, empower and even enrich artists. I still do but I’m less sure of it than I once was. I come here because I want to start a dialogue. I feel that what we artists were promised has not really panned out."

Just days after our talk, though, came a blog post by NPR intern Emily White, in which she admitted that, though she has a music library of over 11,000 songs, she has only ever bought like 15 CDs, and Lowery's incandescent response. So much for my sobersides examination of intellectual property issues! The whole internet is still on fire with this story. When I wrote Lowery to exclaim over the fallout, he responded, "We usually get a few thousand reads a day on our blog. And I mean a few, like 3k is a good day. Sometimes we will get these crazy viral things for a few days, the way 'New Boss' did. But this Letter to Emily is totally off the charts. Like half a million reads in 24 hours."

Dear Media, what a dog's breakfast you have made of this Firestorm. The dialogue between White and Lowery is not a fight. These alleged adversaries are in agreement with respect to the only significant point at issue—that musicians should be able to make a living, and they can't in the current circumstances. Let's extend the conversation from there.


White's original post opened with a response to an NPR colleague, Bob Boilen, who'd just consigned his music collection to the cloud; 25,000 songs, 200GB of reclaimed space on his hard drive. Big deal, said White; because she didn't live through the transition between physical and digital music, storing music in the cloud seemed to her like a small step, rather than a large one. Fair enough. Then the surprises began. She wrote:

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?

Lowery's response was both exasperated and gentle, teacherly (in fact he is a teacher, in the Music Business program at UGA). He is over twice White's age and had no compunction about assuming all the authority of maturity and experience. He pointed out that the same kids who pay uncomplainingly through the nose for iPods and bandwidth on which to play music suddenly get all dodgy about paying for the music itself.

The existential questions that your generation gets to answer are these:

Why do we value the network and hardware that delivers music but not the music itself?

Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?

Why do we gladly give our money to some of the largest richest corporations in the world but not the companies and individuals who create and sell music?

This is a bit of hyperbole to emphasize the point. But it’s as if:

Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!
Hardware: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!
Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class. Screw you, you greedy bastards!

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!

I am genuinely stunned by this. Since you appear to love first generation Indie Rock, and as a founding member of a first generation Indie Rock band I am now legally obligated to issue this order: kids, lawn, vacate.

You are doing it wrong.

It is a bit surprising to hear a 20 year old say so blithely what "my peers and I" will or will not pay for, as if they weren't already obediently paying without objection for what they've been told to pay for, which is iPhones. In fact, White's generation in general has raised more or less zero opposition to their corpocratic bondage. But it's also quite plain that Emily White has finally figured out (as she's "grown up," she says) that she wants musicians to make more money. David Lowery wants the same thing!

The difference is that David Lowery has identified exactly where the money is going that should be going to artists: it's going to Spotify, Apple, Amazon, et al., and these entities are not handing a reasonable portion of their proceeds back to artists, as record companies once did, nor are they shouldering any of the risk of making a musician's career.


During our conversation, Lowery and I talked about some of these issues, including what potential Kickstarter holds for new and established musicians.

MB: What do you think about Amanda Palmer raising all that coin for her new music project with Kickstarter?

DL: Really fascinating. I don't want to rain on her parade, because I think that's really fabulous. Something I've always said is that I've never understood why CDs are all the same price? I don't know, a CD, someone who wants a hard copy should pay $150 for it, and if you're just a casual fan then download, 79c for it. So that kind of fits into my idea that some people are willing to pay more for their music.

Kickstarter isn't going to create new artists. The ones who are succeeding are people who have already had some success. A lot of them have come off of major labels, where they've had people spending money building their brand, and in some ways you're cashing that in a little bit on Kickstarter.

There are a very few exceptions. There was a little regional band I produced a record for, but they did have a little regional following. They had a little record label that put money into them, they had a big manager, Red Light Management, building their brand; they were literally just a Virginia regional band; they got $35,000 to do their record, I thought that was fantastic for them.

A lot of the auxiliary players in my bands, though, they have had less than successful experiences with Kickstarter here and there, trying to fund a little solo side project; some have been successful, some haven't.

So I'm not really sure that's a solution. Getting $1.2 million, isn't that what Palmer wound up getting, something crazy like that?

MB: Yeah! But then she went and broke out how much everything was going to cost and she's like, I'm not really gonna get rich off of this.

DL: But you see what she's doing, too, is that she's spending regular major-label money, because you still have to spend money in order to promote things, even with the web.

MB: She is a really good self-promoter. I met her just for a second at the Occupy here in LA; she was playing the ukelele and whatnot. A really forceful person. One of these people who is grabbing the universe by the throat, you know, and saying look at me; not everybody can do that.

DL: No, not all kinds of artists can be like that. How would a band like Pink Floyd have done something like that? They were too high to do any of that shit.

One of the most common responses to Lowery's Letter to Emily post is that if the digital model is so bad, why is there still such great music being made?

MB: One thing that all these policy makers including Lawrence Lessig [whom Lowery is forever battling against] are getting wrong is that they're not looking at IP issues as primarily a question of, what will ensure that we have the biggest selection of the best cultural products?

DL: There is a really scary thing in academia right now: a series of studies trying to get funded, academic studies trying to show that quality has not suffered since 1999 in music, trying to head off that argument.

Joel Waldfogel at the University of Minnesota has a study that he's working on that looks like—he's arguing that quality hasn't suffered in music. I don't want to get into a fight with him here, but just browsing his abstract, I think there are strange choices of how he's measuring "quality" and strange dependencies between his datasets. So anyway, I think he's a reasonable economist; he may come up concluding that quality does suffer, but in his abstract he is saying that it doesn't. [Lowery discussed l'affaire Waldfogel in a Trichordist post earlier this week.]

Anyway there are some people out in front of the curve, all ready to make this argument, and then there's public policy people saying, well we shouldn't do anything about piracy, because it's not hurting the quality of music. This is all very sinister and seems like a conspiracy to me, and it's sort of crazy to put on the tinfoil hat, and say there's a conspiracy to support this argument. But I think they'll trot it out.

MB: It's not tinfoil at all. I am sure that there is grant money to be had for making that argument.

DL: Yeah, they can go to Google, and they can say: we think that we can prove that piracy may not affect the quality of music and they get a quarter of a million to do a study, like from Google.


Instead of discussing how to work out the agreed-on problem of how to increase compensation for musicians, and discussing the related intellectual property issues, there has been an avalanche of mind-blowingly dumb bickering about irrelevancies in response to Lowery's Letter to Emily: We used to make mixtapes, and that was stealing, too! Is David Lowery going to go to garage sales and make people pay royalties when they buy old CDs?!, etc. etc. etc. The New York Times accused Lowery of "throwing the morality book" [Pilgrim's Progress?] at White. The Los Angeles Times said, "many commenters were dispirited that [White] didn't see this lifetime of free music consumption as, well, wrong in any way."

On the blogs, things went completely haywire.

• "For centuries artists created because they had to, and they made money here and there, if and when they were good enough to gain an audience. Artist’s [oof] were grateful when this happened, as it was rare and came only after a lot of work and great sacrifices, if at all," said the eye-popping Wesley Verhoeve, who has never heard of Michelangelo, Caruso, Patti, Titian, Picasso, Alexander Pope, surely this is stuff you could pick up even from Peabody's Improbable History? Oh, and this was a good one.

"Look, 'artists': recording music costs nothing now. Distributing it costs nothing. Press buzz costs nothing. These fundaments [!@!)#] of a music career are yours for the taking. The only thing now separating "artists" from "guy with a laptop" is the art."

It's so amazing how only good music gets attention and makes money now, and bad musicians with no fundaments are punished through starvation! Obviously, because their fundaments get smaller and smaller! #yay

But the best was "David Lowery Wants a Pony" by Mike Masnick of Techdirt. The bovine willingness with which Mr. Masnick and so many, many others simply lie down in front of the corporate bulldozer is truly flabbergasting, just perversely magnificent. "[M]y focus is on what's working in today's market, not pining for the way things used to be," he wrote.

Okay! And in the other corner, ladies and gentlemen, the outrageous idea that musicians be compensated fairly—just fairly, not in Midas amounts, the way the megacorps are compensated.


David Lowery was on the board of Groupon in its early stages.

MB: The first tech bubble was scary enough; now it looks like we're doing the exact same thing again.

DL: Maybe the bubble popped itself with Facebook. I was shocked by what our board was asking for Groupon. I think it's kind of working its way out, it was fairly priced, because there are transactions actually happening.

But advertising is such a complicated way to make money. There are a lot of steps in between, a lot of unpredictability. If the Internet is so perfect, why do we need advertising? Isn't the Internet as it perfects itself going to get rid of advertising? Isn't that the direction?

If someone's looking for Camper Van Beethoven, they can go in and type Camper Van Beethoven and get to our website very easily. Eventually we can sell our tickets very easily. There isn't a lot of room for advertisers to get into the chain of the transaction anymore.

MB: Okay but what about all this hoo-ha there's been about curation? That absolutely speaks to this. It's not a matter of getting between the transaction; it's bringing new transactions. The blogger, the curator, editor, whatever, is enormously valuable: these people bring an audience to people like you or me, whom you would have no access to otherwise. How does that work, in your ideal world?

DL: It's kind of like, okay. That does work; it's what people didn't understand about Groupon; some sort of value that you're bringing. [in wonderfully hammy radio-announcer voice] "The best deals!" But dumb advertising, blind advertising: I want to advertise this Camper Van Beethoven record: it becomes uneconomical.

So maybe 'curating' is the direction where we have to go. It's not the flat, open Internet if you want to add value, if you want to add value, you're actually creating little bumps, a hierarchy.

MB: Yes. I think it's just like a DJ.

DL: Exactly. Curators are becoming more important I think, don't you? Ideologically, I have no problem with that. Not everybody has time [to experience everything new.] I don't have time.

MB: Right? It's an essential part of what you're talking about—to create an economy, and value virtual property and in order to compensate people for it, aggregating audience is a key component of that.

Then there are new kinds of entrepreneurship. Lowery produces evidence that even very young people are handling new opportunities online entrepreneurially.

DL: My kids are 9 and 12, they'll be 10 and 13 soon. My son is starting to be a little bit like a teenager.

MB: Oh god, is he having the sullen?

DL: Sullen. He is kind of a computer tech musician, got it from me I guess. He is either in the basement playing the guitar or drums or he's online. The other day he got really sheepish because I caught him—he was on Valve, this gaming platform. They also have a platform called Steam, it's almost like an iTunes for games—really really clever, it's like a rights management thing actually, check it out.

They have their games that they make, they allow all this heavy modding, and hosting other services, so they have this real user-generated content thing. Kids will host what they call "maps" on separate servers of these games that they play through Steam.

So I caught my kid the other day clearly doing a Paypal transaction like on the microphone, while he's playing some game. You know, I make them play in the living room kind of near where I am. I gotta keep track of all that, they're talking, they're chatting with people all over the world…

MB: Oh my god and the next thing you know, there's some dismembering WEIRDO.

DL: I know! exactly. So I sort of waited awhile and then I go, 'were you exchanging Paypal information with people?'

He said, 'kinda, well, yeah.'

'What were you trading money for? Just so I know, you're not gonna get in trouble.' And basically, it was like a friend is hosting a server, and they're selling the admin privileges of this game to other kids, so they have higher status and privileges in the game.

So there you go: creating virtual property. I was all, well, that's cool!! Making little things—having a lemonade stand, you know.


What this really is, is a simple political issue: a labor issue. It should be possible for a working musician to support a household without having to tour twelve months out of the year, just like it should be possible to live modestly on minimum wage (which it ain't). But because "art" and "artists" are seen in our world less as craftsmen, and more like these special magical unicorns who are "compelled" to "make art" and can live on air, we are taking our eyes off the ball. Let's agree on the obvious, and figure out how we can all be paid fairly for our work.

Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman. Photo by Jason Thrasher.

79 Comments / Post A Comment

So much good, meaty stuff to read on The Awl today – thank you!

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

The original NPR post was awful (thought not at all unusual as an argument you find online!), but I guess where Lowrey's response loses me is the slippage from, in the beginning, "it is up to us individually to put pressure on our governments and private corporations to act ethically and fairly when it comes to artists rights" to the end, where he seems to be saying instead that it is up to us individually to directly give money to artists or their label/non-profit intermediaries. I'm on board with the former but I dunno about the latter? It sounds a bit like we're hoping people will become ethical consumers, another argument you hear a lot around online music that I think isn't exactly right either. But maybe Lowrey's just saying that we need to change our ethical view first before the policy change can come? But that doesn't seem true because he makes all these direct appeals for people to give money to certain organizations? Oh, I don't know. Maria, are you familiar with a policy that's been proposed to ensure artists get paid without falling into the trap of limiting creative expression? What should we be supporting as a policy, ethically, aside from "everyone stop pirating things"?

Moff (#28)

@MikeBarthel: I don't understand. Do you think wanting people to be ethical consumers isn't right or isn't realistic?

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

@Moff It's obviously right (like I say: 0% on board with the original NPR post), but it seems to me like the digital music version of abstinence-only education.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@MikeBarthel Not speaking for Lowery at all, but I see this as a twofold business opportunity, for sane entrepreneurs to create alternative platforms that pay artists fairly. On the other side, an analogy: United Artists was founded by disgruntled, exploited craftsmen. I'd love to see musicians make the same kind of moves.

There's always tension between management and labor, right? That's healthy but it takes a fight, and maybe always will.

deepomega (#1,720)

@MikeBarthel It's sort of just a new front in the "how much responsibility is on consumers' shoulders?" question. Do we trust music consumers to only get products that are ethical? Well, no, not right now. But we're seeing big pushes in other fields (fair trade coffee, organic whatever, &c) and it's not inconceivable that this will happen with artists' rights too.

Moff (#28)

@MikeBarthel: That makes sense; thanks for the clarification. It does seem to me like Lowery's point was twofold — that we should be putting pressure on the institutions, but that for that to happen, it sort of goes without saying we have to put pressure on ourselves and each other, too.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

@deepomega But I don't think that's working either! (I buy that shit sometimes but only because it's of a higher quality, which doesn't really compute with music.) Maybe I'm just too much of a cynic for all this.

Moff (#28)


MikeBarthel (#1,884)

@Moff Oh totally – I'm just curious what we want those institutions to do. It seems to me like you can't possibly curtail piracy without stepping on free expression in some way (Google blocking piracy results, for instance), and that's fine – I think that has to happen. I'm just interested in how we're going to make that compromise, because I have thought about it at least a little bit and I have no friggin' clue.

Moff (#28)

@MikeBarthel: Yeah, me neither. It would require some kind of thoughtful grappling with the situation, and willingness to compromise in light of the long-term greater good. So, you know, it's very hard to imagine it happening in this instance when it isn't anywhere else. Thank goodness it's moot, since the apocalypse is gonna destroy the internet anyway.

Moff (#28)

It's astonishing to me that anyone could, or would even want to, mount an argument trying to refute Lowery's response to White. I don't know how he could have been more reasonable and sympathetic than he was. And yet there is this weird thing in today's discourse where, if you point out that, hey, maybe 21st-century technology is making the world worse for some people, you're accused of whining and Ludditism. Equally bizarre is the blind willingness of so many people, especially young people, to leap up and defend the practices of giant fucking corporations. Goddamn, on io9 when Ursula Le Guin was part of the effort trying to stop Google from archiving copyrighted books without permission — the fucking comments flatly dismissing the notion that such a huge company could ever seriously operate in a way detrimental to the cultural well-being. It was maddening.

We live in a weird, sad time.

joshc (#442)

@Moff His points about the dire state of professional music were fantastic, but he responded to a poorly phrased plea for better models of compensating artists through streaming music services with accusations of digital piracy and inducing the suicides of his friends. To me, that did not read as either reasonable or sympathetic even though it may have been highly effective.

Moff (#28)

@joshc: Seemed totally reasonable. No point in arguing that something is hurting people if you can't show that, yes, people have been hurt by it.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

I'm just pleased that Lowery doesn't seem to understand that I've been ripping him off since I taped my buddy's Camper Van Beethoven albums to cassette.

Moff (#28)

@SidAndFinancy: But like Maria points out, that's such an irrelevant point. We all dubbed tapes and made mixtapes and mix CDs, but that sort of piracy had a fraction of the impact digital piracy does.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@Moff: I think I can honestly say that I have more cassettes (mostly in a storage facility, along with my vinyl) than I have, say, "bootleg" burned discs or equivalent files in the cloud. And most of my digital music is either ripped from media I own or public domain.

Then again, if you vacate Lowery's lawn, don't come to mine. (I am old.)

Moff (#28)

@SidAndFinancy: Sure, I bet I did too, before the Horrible Throwing-Away of the Giant Garbage Bag of Cassettes During the Move to California in 2001 (an mistake I try not to think about, because it fills me with too much pain). But even if I hadn't thrown them away, I bet you could put our tape collections together and they'd still be dwarfed by some lone young scallywag's ill-gotten MP3s.

joshc (#442)

@Moff yes, but isn't this exactly the kind of "piracy" (and not illegal downloads) that built Emily White's infamous 11,000 track library?

Moff (#28)

@joshc: Yes. The point is that it used to have a negligible impact on musicians' careers. Now that it doesn't, if we purport to care about those musicians, we ought to change our behavior. Our ethics do not exist in a vacuum.

Maria Bustillos and Gawker's Mobuto Sese Seco employ the rather rare "make a dog's breakfast of…" phrase on the same day. Hmmm.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@Steven Featherstone@facebook Haven't heard that one in a dog's age.

@boyofdestiny In my neck of the woods, we use "in a coon's age."

Annie K. (#3,563)

Let's pretend that writers with blogs are also artists. How do they get paid on the Internet? Granted, the only upfront investment is a computer and internet access, plus the hosting service. Granted, they can muddy up their pretty sites with ads, assuming they have the required zillions of readers. Have we already decided this question has no good answer? And am I sounding too cranky?

wesleyverhoeve (#235,044)

Very enjoyable read. A few comments:

1. I've never been called eye-popping, but I like it. Thank you.

2. Slight misinterpretation on my comment there, as I was referring to MUSICAL artists, not artists in general. I could've been more clear there. That being said, while I WAS only referring to musical artist, you will see that for five out of the six artists you mentioned what I said still goes. ;) Those artists all had patrons who paid their way for years, sometimes decades, before they started making their own money.

3. Thanks to my painter grandfather and photographer/sculptor father I am intimately familiar with the artists mentioned, and am fortunate enough to have seen their work in person. It's wonderful.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Hello @wesleyverhoeve (Maria here.) You're very kind indeed to take my teasing in good part. I appreciate that such a lot, I can't tell you. (p.s. four out of six!–and many musicians have been not just solvent but quite rich, throughout history.)


"It should be possible for a working musician to support a household without having to tour twelve months out of the year…" Why? Should it be possible for a working performance artist to support a household by doing nude yoga poses in national parks?

"The bovine willingness with which Mr. Masnick and so many, many others simply lie down in front of the corporate bulldozer is truly flabbergasting, just perversely magnificent." How is this not the other way around? Why are you insisting that labels and the established system of paying for recorded music (at the highest levels, run by corporate cartels) is somehow preferable to a more meritocratic mom-and-pop model in which every musician who wishes to sell her recorded music does it directly to consumers with no middle man?

Furthermore, why aren't musicians accountable for selling their music in a format that's easily copyable and redistributed? Don't want people copying your files? Don't sell easily copyable files.

There's an underlying assumption in this piece of what's "fair" that I don't think is supportable. Maybe you think musicians should be able to make a living making music, but there's no rule that says that should be possible in current conditions. But just as we're seeing with text publishing, an inability to monetize it doesn't mean text publishing disappears. Maybe a greater share of musical output will be from hobbyists. And that's not necessarily bad; it's just different.

Moff (#28)

@J.C. Calhoun@twitter: The thing is, in current conditions, we still see a huge number of consumers interested in hearing professionally made music. It's an awful far cry from performance art.

Musicians today are creating a product and making it available to consumers at a terribly reasonable price, and very conveniently. (It is both cheaper and easier to get 90 percent of the music you want legally than it was 20 years ago.) Historically, our culture has considered it "fair" to give people money for making something and then putting it up for sale. Do you think that just because there are now easier, illegal routes to getting those things for free, it's automatically fair to go those routes? That argument is what I think you're gonna find insupportable.

barnhouse (#1,326)

A huge amount of money changes hands over these products. What's unfair is the splitting up of the pie. Distribution costs a lot, marketing costs a lot, but traditionally there have been royalty contracts ensuring that all the members of these systems of exchange can earn a reasonable living. Authors, painters, actors, directors, composers, and so on. And over and over, it has become necessary for artists to organize, because capital will always try to rip them off and turn them into sharecroppers.

None of this is the slightest bit new. What seems new to me is the sheeplike acceptance of it. That this is somehow okay, for the Man to own us all lock, stock and barrel.

What music format isn't easily copyable/redistributable in 2012?

@Moff That it's illegal to download large quantities of music/art without paying for it is barely a problem for the millions of people who do it because there are no consequences. Effectively, it's not illegal.

If you want to play the layperson's economics game, why should anyone pay for music when it's easily and freely available at a quality acceptable to her, with zero risk of negative consequence? It's not "automatically fair", but it is unfair to ask consumers to ignore the giant loophole that musicians and their partners have left wide open. Furthermore, again, how much responsibility to musicians and their partners take for selling easily copyable and distributable products? If you sell a knickknack that magically clones when water's poured on it, would you be shocked if people simply cloned knickknacks and gave them to anyone they knew? Of course not.

Again, playing the layperson's economics game, if there's sufficient demand for professionally made music, people will pay for it — if paying for it is the only way to get it. I didn't pay anything to read work by professional writer Maria Bustillos today; it appears Newcastle Ale paid for me. There's little reason for anyone to copy and post this anywhere else because the original is freely available to all. In fact, I like enough of her work that I might pay for one of her books! Or I could check one out at the public library! Just like anyone else does. Why do people do that with books and not music? Because there's no consequence-free way for them to attain ownership of a paperback for free.

For people who wanted to make a living selling their recorded music, there are a bunch of crappy options right now (assuming there's any kind of demand for your specific product), but that doesn't mean it's unfair that no one wants to pay for it. Ten years from now, being a wildly successful professional musician in a rock band might mean you play seven shows in six nights at a local bar, and you're fighting off aspirants to your throne. If making a living selling recorded music is the goal (and I don't even agree that it's the "best" goal to aim for) then it's on musicians to figure out a way to deliver music in such a way that people only get it when they pay for it, and if they don't there are real consequences.

Moff (#28)

@Reginal T. Squirge: I love that. "Furthermore, why aren't musicians accountable for selling their music in a format that's easily copyable and redistributed? Don't want people copying your files? Don't sell easily copyable files." If only the marketplace had experimented with some sort of digital format that was difficult to copy. Someone should try that.

@Reginal T. Squirge Live performance. Vinyl?

Vinyl is crazy easy to get into digital files. I try to only buy vinyl and do this conversion all the time.

You can't really sustain a career on live performance alone because there are millions of people that you can't get to. Also, how are people that live in the town where you're playing going to know you are any good? Word of mouth? Also also, cameras.

Moff (#28)

@J.C. Calhoun@twitter: Oh, sure — if you can get away with it, it's not really illegal. And furthermore it's not wrong. And furthermore, it's unfair to even suggest that it's wrong.

I don't know anything about your age or your politics, but it's a weird thing to see music fans making arguments that oddly mirror those of the Wall Street traders behind the financial crisis.

It is certainly true that the future of music might look very different. It's certainly true that the music industry as we are familiar with it is a historical anomaly, and there's no guarantee it will or should always look like it did in 1991. But yeah, sorry — again: It's super easy to buy music legally and in a manner that provides some recompense to the people who made it. This idea that just because you can get it some other way, that makes it fine to do so. It's just "Might makes right" repackaged.

And it bizarrely deprives the people stealing music of any sort of agency. I have obtained music in all manner of ways, legal and illegal. Knowing how to use torrenting software did not somehow render me powerless to buy songs through iTunes or Amazon or anywhere else. And it didn't render anyone else powerless to do so, either.

@Reginal T. Squirge 1) Your vinyl-to-digital conversion takes real time, yes? That's a consequence, an obstacle to easy copying and redistributing. You have to sit there for an hour and change before you have your digital copies, rather than two minutes.

2) "millions of people you can't get to"… Who says? Why do you need to reach millions of people? What if the future model is similar to standup comedy? There are plenty of folks who make a living at it that you and I have never heard of, because they don't range outside a relatively small region of the country. For that matter, there are plenty of musical acts that don't achieve fame/notoriety outside a small part of the country, yet are able to keep eating and putting roofs over their heads. Maybe in the future there will only be One Directions going on world tours, and Avett Brotherses touring regionally, largely unknown outside the Carolinas.

3) Good point. DSLRs? Bouncers/security. And if someone's using an iPhone to record your show, trust that the sound and video quality will be an advertisement for what it's like to actually be at a show without coming close to satisfying the viewer's need to hear/see the performance.

In the end, I don't have the answers, but my main point is that a lowered ceiling for fame and fortune in recorded music is hardly an apocalypse for music.

iantenna (#5,160)

@J.C. Calhoun@twitter i don't get this argument. it's up to the musicians to not have their shit stolen? can we logically extend this argument to all theft? rape? murder? my mom leaves her front door unlocked while i have an alarm and bars on the windows. if her tv gets stolen is it a different crime than if mine does?

@Moff I don't download music illegally because as a hobbyist musician myself I've come in contact with plenty of people who make their living via the old structure, and I'm perfectly fine paying for their/others' work. However, I'm also not going to pretend that people won't download music out of a sense of obligation; they need a tangible reason not to do it.

It's a set of crappy choices facing professional musicians given what their options were over the past sixty years, but that doesn't mean the conditions are unfair, or any worse than the options were in 1800. Do you think musicians bear zero responsibility for selling their music in the formats they do? There's a tradeoff to digital music. They have easier distribution, but music is easier for fans to copy and distribute. Everyone's known about this for a decade and a half. Where's musicians' responsibility in this?

Moff (#28)

@iantenna: No, see, it's different because internet.

There's a real misunderstanding here about the question. It's not whether cultural change wrought by technology will ultimately be resisted. It's whether we ought to try to resist it.

@iantenna It's up to bike shop owners to not put their bikes on the sidewalk, unchained. It's wrong for people to steal, but completely foreseeable that they would. Guaranteed, after the bikes are stolen and the owner calls the cops, the first cop asks what the hell the guy was thinking putting the bikes on the sidewalk unlocked and unattended.

@Moff Resist it, or adapt to it. Maybe I don't see success in fighting a tide that powerful.

Moff (#28)

@J.C. Calhoun@twitter: They don't, in fact, need a tangible reason not to do it. There is abundant empirical evidence of that, in the form of people who have no tangible reason not to pay for music, and yet pay for it anyway.

Your format question is strange, man. Again, there was a years-long experiment with selling music that was difficult to copy. The result was that consumers hated it. (Including, maybe even especially, the consumers who paid for their music!) Musicians have also actually been active in trying to offer more flexible and appealing formats — like selling vinyl with download codes, like giving songs away. And again, more than anything else, they are selling their music now in a cheaper and more convenient legal format than ever previously existed.

Listen, the world is not automatically fair. That is true, and always has been. But traditionally, Western civilization has been about trying to make it more fair for as many people as possible. There is some major hand-waving going on when you refer to "conditions," as if the present situation just arose inevitably. It didn't; it is mostly the result of choices made by human beings.

The ultimate point I think Lowery is trying to make (and that I am certainly making) is that it is to all our benefit if people can get paid fairly for making and selling music. This is not like the buggy-whip makers; this is not consumers no longer needing or wanting buggy whips. This is consumers still very clearly and avidly wanting professionally made music, and having the ability to purchase it conveniently and at a reasonable price — and nonetheless arguing that they shouldn't have to, at the expense of working- and middle-class artists. We are destroying a whole swath of jobs for no reason beyond selfishness. And that's all it is — nothing is stopping anyone from paying for music legally.

If you don't want to fight the tide, hey, that's fine. And by all means, if you've got workable solutions for adaptation, throw them out. But don't dress up acquiescence as something worth defending.

@J.C. Calhoun@twitter

That's really limiting for artists and audiences. In this world, you would have to play only for as many people as you could reach at a given time. And if you're a listener, you'll never be able to experience music outside of your "region". Sounds like a great future! I'm sure hip-hop would've spread to the suburbs just as easily in this scenario!

This could all be avoided, though, if people were just decent enough to pay for the thing that they are being given by the artist.

Yamara (#9,395)

@Moff "But traditionally, Western civilization has been about trying to make it more fair for as many people as possible."

If that's your core argument… I'm not sure you're paying enough attention to history to mount a popular opposition to a global corporate status quo. How is buying an iPod more craven than buying a Victrola? His Master's Voice shall set you free?

Look, as a fellow creative, I know what its like to make the effort to use my output to cover the bills of my household, and then to have that dream taken away by the realities of the creative business world.

The reality is that if you have an idea or expression that can be copied 'at whim', and you want to insure making money from it, get paid up front. Otherwise, you are fooling yourself into thinking you are entitled to money every time you open your mouth. That's some serious unexamined privilege, and while I can comprehend the hyperwealthy thinking this way, it never fails to astound me how blind ego makes some artists.

You are talking. Maybe with music, maybe with pictures. The audience will share your ideas. That's what happens.

That's the rule. You cannot defeat the power of 'at whim'. Stimpy will press the jolly candy-like button. The best expressions of ideas will be handed along.

Not getting paid for saying something? Lock it in first. Tickets, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and yes, Spotify, the service that got Swedish kids off The Pirate Bay and onto paying for music.

Moff (#28)

@Yamara: I certainly don't think buying an iPod is craven. And it's not like I'm blind to the realities here, that it's really easy for people lots of music now, and that because it's easy, people are gonna do it.

But I'm sure as fuck not going to agree that the easiness of it makes stealing music any more right. Nor will I countenance the notion that it's "privileged" to want people to purchase your work legally. (It might be naive to expect that they will, but I don't think there are hell of a lot of artists out there who have that expectation. There is a difference between wishing people would do the right thing and expecting them to; and there is a difference between wishing people would do the right thing and trying to convince them to do so, and just wishing people would do the right thing. Again, this idea that it is somehow stupid or illegitimate not to succumb to cultural inertia — it's fucking sad, is what it is.)

As for getting paid up front, yes, that's a good idea. In fact, it's actually part and parcel of how record labels work.

The overriding idea here ("The best expressions of ideas will be handed along") seems to be that not paying artists for music will somehow result in a greater net benefit for society. That's a curious assumption. I don't see how we can increase overall value by decreasing the value we place on individuals' time. Of course, as assumptions go, it's hardly limited to the state of the music industry today.

Yamara (#9,395)


"Nor will I countenance the notion that it's "privileged" to want people to purchase your work legally."

As an occasional writer, using "countenance" in that sentence sounds wildly privileged. Just a heads up on the irony/hypocrisy potential there. Also "unexamined privilege" is a term of art you should google before (again ironically) dismissing it.

But you may have missed my end points: "Spotify, the service that got Swedish kids off The Pirate Bay and onto paying for music." That's the goal right? That puts the enemy squarely back with corporate aggregators who don't pay musicians, right?

Also, I notice that no one else (on this board) seems to have addressed the fact that Emily White's solution was: "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 the editorial focus has been hand-wringing over her admission to having a horde of .mp3, not her call to shrug that burden over for a central db of licensed music. She doesn't want to own, she's happy to subscribe. This has worked in Sweden, the former citadel of The Pirate Bay.

"The overriding idea here ("The best expressions of ideas will be handed along") seems to be that not paying artists for music will somehow result in a greater net benefit for society. That's a curious assumption."

…Libraries. That pesky Western Civilization and the greater good again.

Yes, I used to check out records from the Pennsylvania State Library. In the UK, artists are compensated via VAT (or something) for these borrows.

"I don't see how we can increase overall value by decreasing the value we place on individuals' time."

But… US libraries, traditionally, just buy a book once, and then lend it out. Oh, the competition. Well, competition for money. The ideas would spread awesomely. Because that is the point of opening your artistic trap.

Yamara (#9,395)

@Moff [Okay, all the following? IANAL. But.]

"Cultural inertia" — now that's a curious assumption. What is the incentive to pay someone for doing something? Well, we hate slavery. Good morals and ethics! What if that something is talking? Um, well. Is he being forced to talk? Did we promise to pay him to talk? No? Well.

The incentive to make art has to be, at least partially, the desire to be heard and/or the desire to enlighten minds.

Boy, how do you balance that. Art, speech, remuneration and the public good? Okay. Copyright.

I've actually been following "IP" since I was a kid in the 1960s. Maybe it was the "Reg. U.S. Pat. Off." on the Monopoly board, that became an in-joke on Bullwinkle. Maybe it was the "circle-R" on Robin the Boy Wonder's chest. But I was a creative kid, and all my favorite comics and shows and games had these little indicia attached. I wanted to know what they were.

So when it came to copyright, I had a working knowledge of it by the time I was ten. The internet was in swaddling clothes over at DARPA. I read that you could make a claim to copyright by registering with the Library of Congress, and it would last for 14 years, or another 14 if I wanted to renew.

This made sense to me. When I came of age, I would have 14 years to sell a comic or a story I made (a lifetime to a preteen!) If it wasn't successful, I could just let it go. But if it was, I could renew it once. Two lifetimes!! But after that: The Congress had decided the balance had to swing back. That was it. Your cool thing belonged to everyone. But hey, if it was that cool you must have made a fortune, or sequels, or new stuff with new deadlines.

Because you'd be driven to. Made perfect sense to a kid.

And then… somehow that wasn't wise anymore. Still no internet in every home, but copyright was going to be very very different. By the time I filed my first Claim to Copyright (and I have filed very many) its term was life plus 50 years.

Two lifetimes.

Very seductive, but also very detrimental to making new art. I've seen it in others, I've felt it in myself. That 14 year deadline was an incentive. Now it's nothing. Push the same tired trash till you and your children die.

And again, IANAL, but isn't there something about the government having to pay you when they exercise eminent domain? I'm still waiting to be compensated for the public domain material that's being kept from me since the late 1970s.

When terms like "stealing", "theft", "piracy" and "counterfeiting" get thrown around in these debates, those people using them are either misinformed or deliberately lying for effect. The civil offense is "infringement", and I don't need Nina Paley or Cory Doctorow to back me up in this knowledge. I've known it long before they ever did.

Obviously, it can be countered that laws change. Ah, but you see, laws can be changed again, including back. And when they become so absurd against general human use and welfare, they lose effect, and erode respect for the law. Screaming "illegal" loses its force to shock. That's the cultural inertia that needs to be combated.

So creatives? That money isn't automatically yours.

Angry that your speech isn't illegal enough? Huh?

Why should it cost anyone 250 million dollars to tell a story? Or fifty thousand to sing a song? Seriously. That money is more ethically spent elsewhere.

Anyway. Went over to YouTube to check out Camper van Beethoven. Saw their cover of Pictures Of Matchstick Men. You guys are talented.

Up on top it read:

WATCH NOW: YouTube star-turned-global phenomenon Justin Bieber live, in conversation with Jimmy Fallon.

Compensation! Thank heavens someone is seeing reward for their art.

barnhouse (#1,326)

There's such fatalism in these comments! When the truth is that nothing is out of our hands. Whoever built the Underground Railway, whoever organized the coal mines, had worse problems and less resources! We can make it the way we want. If we want.

Yamara (#9,395)

@barnhouse Some things are out of our hands. The outcome of the Seven Years' War is out of our hands. The timing of when Aldebaran supernovas is out of our hands, though perhaps not out of our descendants'. But of course we can affect many events in our own time.

Please don't compare emancipation to underpaid musicians considering backing ACTA. They are kind of opposites.

Also, there are still real slaves in the world.

And some are in the production stream of iPods.

And freeing them should not be a byproduct of a way back to vinyl, though history has been cut from stranger cloth before.

Moff (#28)

@Yamara: Oh, my good lord. First, familiar with the concept of unexamined privilege, thanks. It's a stretch, to say the least, to apply it to people (from the whole spectrum of class, race, and gender) making and selling things, and expecting others not to steal those things, in a society where such transactions have been the guiding principle for hundreds of years. Second, whether one chooses to use big or small words has very little to do with it. Third, as a frequent writer and copy editor, I would advise you to Google "dangling modifier."

Lowery actually addresses Spotify in his response to White. It does not adequately compensate artists. That said, I don't have a problem with people using it. I do have a problem with the notion that because someone's ideal legal music-listening system doesn't exist yet, that makes it right for them to obtain music illegally. (I understand that people will do it anyway; but we should at least be up front about the fact that it's wrong. I don't have any illusions about the illegal music on my hard drive.)

Actually, libraries don't just by a book once and then lend it out. They often buy multiple copies of books, and then they go back to buy more of popular titles. As a result, they provide some substantial financial support to the publishing industry, and to the authors paid by that industry. (Further, the analogy is not a good one when it comes to music, because people rarely borrow books for 24 hours and then return them while retaining a high-fidelity replica of the same media for their personal use.)

As for extended treatises on the problems with copyright law, I would be the first to agree that there are a lot. I would be the last to agree that because there are problems with it — problems that tend to benefit giant businesses — we ought to abolish the whole practice of people making money off the ideas they create. But I have to admit, your whole 9:12pm comment sort of rapidly devolved into I don't know what the fuck your point is, exactly, so I'm not sure how to respond. Good luck.


Moff (#28)

@Yamara: Hey, a lot of that was rude — I'm sorry. I am just deeply frustrated by this school of thought that posits that we can make things better by valuing people's time and work less. I just don't see what broader benefits accrue from people getting thousands of songs for nothing; I do see a lot of benefits to people being able to make a living from their artistic endeavors. The arguments from what for sake of convenience I will term the Emily White camp are not convincing; they're all abstraction and unfounded optimism and, as Maria says, fatalism.

And yet they seem to come from people who wish the world were a better place. Well — we just won't get there from an en masse lack of consideration for other people's time and abilities. We just won't.

Patrick Landreville (#235,927)


In the U.S. the original term of copyright was 14 years with provision for renewal for a second 14 year term. At that time the average lifespan was 35 years. During the 1960's the term was 28 years with a 28 year renewal.

Infringement is theft. The term infringement is simply a legal descriptive of the type of theft.

Illegally downloading a song is in fact counterfeiting as a copy of the song is actually manufactured by the receiving instrument whether that be the memory chip in a phone or a computer hard drive.

iantenna (#5,160)

great post. i have so many (often contradictory) thoughts about this stuff i don't even know where to start.

i think the thing that struck me the most about the NPR post was the complete lack of shame. i don't think there's a music fan out there under the age of, say, 50, that hasn't knowingly STOLEN music. i spent a good portion of the late 90s/early 00s ripping cds onto a laptop at my college radio station and navigating napster/soulseek. i justified it in questionable ways but i never once thought THIS IS TOTALLY OK AND I HAVE NO SHAME ABOUT THIS. this is what was so jarring about ms. white's position of, basically, "you haven't built a system yet that i think is worthy of my $ so fuck off until you do." with a position like that can we really reasonably expect that ANY music platform ever invented will be deemed worthy to her?

it's a weird and new situation (THE INTERNET, RIGHT GUYS?) where theft is actually the easier method of acquisition with almost zero chance of retribution. can anybody think of a parallel in history that you could say the same thing about? maybe like the wild west or some shit. people are just following the path of least resistance, and i don't trust them not to, so in my mind regulation is the answer. but that's always a slippery slope, too…

god this question is so tough. that's why i said fuck it to mp3s and cds and just buy records. i can rip 'em if i want to. which brings me to my final thought (thank god), what the fuck happened to arguments about quality? i would much rather have 2k albums in the glorious high fidelity of a vinyl record than 25k in mp3s. home theater setups are getting more and more bananas with dudes spending thousands on flat screens and surround sound and whatever the fuck else while, at the same time, the standard for listening to music is some shit quality mp3 in your earbuds? FUCK THAT. i'll be over here in my tattered chair after the kids have gone to bed, a little reefer and wine buzz going, enjoying my LPs.

wesleyverhoeve (#235,044)

"What this really is, is a simple political issue: a labor issue. It should be possible for a working musician to support a household without having to tour twelve months out of the year"

Why? I mean, that'd be nice, but who else has that "right"?

beatbeatbeat (#3,187)

@wesleyverhoeve You're right, nobody has the right to earn a living just by working, certainly not fellow members of the "service" industry. Get with the times, everybody! Go with the flow, get a corporatespeak-to-English dictionary, and get busy!

Anarcissie (#3,748)

I thought LeGuin's stance against Google was a little bit odd considering the admiration for communistic anarchism which informs some of her books and other writings. Perhaps she should be paying anarcho-communists royalties for using their ideas for personal profit.

In general, I think the Internet will eventually provide artists with ways of getting paid. What has happened is that the cost of publication, and the ability to control it, have plummeted to near zero, which is an industrial condition which necessarily changes the way in which the game is played. The dead-wrong response of the music, movie, and other IP industries (including many of the artists associated with these corps(es) has been to attempt to suppress the change by means of draconian legal repression, which of course has failed — it's opposing the physical facts, which as far back as King Canute was recognized as not a really good idea.

The money field does not seem totally bleak. There are many instances besides Amanda Palmer of artists getting serious money directly from their fans and audiences. I think we can do something reasonable without allowing politicians, lawyers and capitalists to lock up our culture and sell it back to us.

See Sita Sings The Blues and links therefrom, for instance.

Moff (#28)

@Anarcissie: I think you can safely posit a serious interest in communistic-anarchic thought and still be concerned about a major corporation making de facto changes to long-held ideas about how copyright law works. Le Guin lives in a capitalist society, and so do her friends and family. And it's certainly in keeping with the philosophy to be suspicious of handing power over to an institution like Google, or any similar company.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@Moff Communistic anarchism is all about defending long-held ideas. Didn't you know?

Anarcissie (#3,748)

Moff — I don't see what power was handed over to Google because they copied books. As for copyright and other IP laws, they are in radical flux, being vastly expanded in recent decades by other giant corporations. Material which was in the public domain a few years ago is being resequestered and thrown into a sort of black hole. (Details on request.) Perhaps a mere famous author has to go along with capitalism and its fondness for turning everything into rich people's property, but leading the charge is another matter.

Moff (#28)

@Anarcissie: I don't necessarily see what specific power was handed over to them, either. But I do see problems with allowing a major corporation to flout the law, in the name of the greater good. Because precedents are set that way, both legal and practical. IP law might be in radical flux, but that's not actually an argument for letting it get upended further, unhindered.

gulleyjimson (#235,121)

@Anarcissie Did you read Lowery's article? Google makes money because people want to find content (in this case, books.) When you search for, say, Ursula LeGuin's book on Google, Google makes money. When you read LeGuin's book on Google, Google makes money.
You may not be aware, but Google is an extremely wealthy corporation, with a market cap of $186 BILLION dollars. The power Google wanted handed to them in their bid to grab the publishing business is economic – instead of buying a book, people will read it on Google, and Google will collect the ad revenue. (Which is also the revenue model for file-sharing sites like the Pirate Bay.) So Google makes money, while Ursula LeGuin does not. And you will blithely go along with this process, because you would rather have Google arrogate more property and wealth to itself than have the creator of the art paid. (I realize that Google has claimed that it would only allow portions of an in-print book to be read, but the fact that it was claiming the right to copy, distribute and sell every book that was out-of-print, even if it was in copyright, so the copyright holder doesn't get paid, and has no choice in the matter, gives you insight into their ultimate goals.)

Furthermore, IP law is not in radical flux. Google, Apple, Oracle, Intel, etc., are not about to let their patent and trademark rights be diluted.

I'm guessing from the tone of your posts that you are opposed to property rights in general, and would like everything (IP, real property, personal property, business property) to belong to some kind of anarcho-communist syndicate which would accrue all profits and dole out all wages to everyone (fairly, of course.) That might be a nice dream, but it's never going to happen in this country. What's going to happen is that people like you will continue to support the ripping off of artists to enrich the coffers of mega-corporations like Google, because it allows you to enjoy the work of those artists for "free".

KimO (#10,765)

Wow. While I agree with most of the content of this article, I found its tone extremely offputting. Just super sanctimonious, which seems especially unnecessary given that you’re preaching to the choir here at The Awl.

Unnecessarily nasty, too. I prefer a good old-fashioned “sic” to “oof.”

“Corpocratic bondage?” Really? “Obediently paying without objection for what they’ve been told to pay for, which is iPhones.” Really? I think it’s being willfully obtuse to cast Emily’s cohort as sheeple in this way. Presumably, if they could find a way to download iPhones for free, they would do that, too.

At the risk of stating the obvious: Stealing intellectual property is far easier than stealing an iPhone. There’s no tangible object, no consequences. A lot of people don’t even recognize it as stealing. And while it seems like significant strides are being made in educating people about how it IS in fact stealing even when it’s not something you can hold it in your hand, and how that stealing has serious, real-world consequences for musicians who are eking out an income, I don’t think that all the education in the world is going to matter much. The hard truth is that people will steal stuff if it’s easy enough.

Frankly, I don’t think that the issue comes down to viewing artists as “magical unicorns” that can “live on air.” Not even poor old Emily White believes that, much anyone who’s likely to read this article.

beatbeatbeat (#3,187)

I don't want to live on this planet anymore.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

Moff — If the law is in flux due to the efforts of evildoers of great wealth and power, all the more reason to flout it, although it would certainly be better to abolish it. Or at least return it to its more rational original form, which balanced the just claims of the people and their culture with the utility of encouraging invention. There would still remain serious philosophical problems with the notion of Intellectual Property, however, which most of the people commenting here, and the subject of the article as well, seem unaware of.

r.c. beckom (#235,059)

oh well, on to the next invention

stuffisthings (#1,352)

I keep saying this on comment threads, BUT: if you want to know about the future of the culture economy you've got to look at video games. It seems to be the only place where the indie guy/gal-in-the-basement can still make a decent living if his/her shit is any good — coexisting alongside a blockbuster ecosystem of largely homogeneous $100m+ titles.

I'm kind of amazed that these two very smart and perceptive people just glided over the part about Steam without drawing this idea out further.

hockeymom (#143)

@stuffisthings That's what jumped out at me, too…because of my 14 year old. Like Lowry, my kid mentioned he created a "game" on the internet. I had no idea what he was talking about. But then he said he "earned" about 200 bucks for the game, based on downloads. And that it was in his PayPal account.
So a couple of things: How does he have a PayPal account (he explained, I didn't get it)
Is this REAL money? (he says yes, I have no idea)
What kind of game was it (sort of like Pong, but 3-D-ish).

He told me that he was taking the game down because it was just a beta version and he only needed 200 bucks. He also said a lot of his friends made a lot of money doing similar things. (200 bucks being a lot of money…but apparently also meaning thousands of downloads). And that all of them spend a good deal of time trying to come up with the next great game….so they can sell it and be zillionaires.

All of the above marks me as an out-of-touch old, with poor parenting skills, but I do think while the rest of the world is going to crap, and musicians and folks who produce TV shows (speaking from experience), have lost financial control over their work, the gaming world is still wide open. Probably for another 12 minutes.

I absolutely love that this is finally being TALKED ABOUT! It's like David's poking a bear that really needs to get its ass kicked, but nobody else is willing to do it.

The part of the interview that struck me was the part about being a curator. I think that'll be one of the most important roles on the internet (which is why I started Bandcamp's Best of course). But mostly because listeners of music generally don't know what they want. The majority of them DON'T want to be DJs, they want someone to do the legwork, find out what's worthwhile, and hook them up.

One thing I can't figure out how to do (as a curator) is make money. I want to promote indie musicians, but don't want non-relevant ads all over a young band trying to make a name for themselves. Not sure where I'm going with this, just wanted to let my brain wander…

Anyhoo, great interview (and photo!). I always wondered what David looked like after reading all his articles on the trichordist.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

Mark(B.B.) — You might consider an Internet radio/video program sort of thing available only to subscribers for a modest subscription charge. Susie Bright does something like this. Some other sites offer material with ads for free, or without for subscribers.

MiB (#235,131)

I view all of you people that insist on calling what is "copyright infringement" in the real world for "stealing" and similar erroneous terms as being a big part of the problem.

You cannot change what you don't acknowledge and acknowledging the wrong thing using words that call things what they are not will not help building respect for your arguments nor will it generate ideas for solving the problems needing to be solved.

Patrick Landreville (#235,927)

@MiB To those believing that copyright infringement is not theft I would advise you to read the following legal definitions:
Theft: “Unlawful acquisition of property with intent to convert to taker’s use and appropriation by taker.”
Appropriate: “To make a thing one’s own; to make a thing the subject of property; to exercise dominion over an object to the extent, and for the purpose, of making it subserve one’s own proper use or pleasure.”
Infringement: “A breaking into; a trespass or encroachment upon; a violation of a law, regulation, contract or right. Used especially of the invasions of the rights secured by patents, copyrights, and trademarks.”
Property: “Everything which is the subject of ownership, corporeal or incorporeal, tangible or intangible, visible or invisible, real or personal; everything that has an exchangeable value or which goes to make up wealth or estate.”
Personal Property: “Personal property is divisible into (1) corporeal personal property, which includes movable and tangible things, such as animals, ships, furniture, merchandise, etc.; and (2) incorporeal personal property, which consists of such rights as personal annuities, stocks, shares, patents, and copyrights.”
Definitions: Black’s Law Dictionary, Fourth Edition, copyright 1957 West Publishing Co.
(I used definitions from a 1957 edition of Black’s to illustrate that this is not a new idea in response to the current mass infringement but has existed as a legal concept for quite some time.)
Music falls under the heading of “intangible or incorporeal” property. When an unlawful copy is made that is an appropriation of property, the property being the information, that is the music, contained in the original. That information, though intangible, is the actual property of the copyright holder. Regardless of the fact that when a digital copy is made the original may still exist, intact, in the owners possession, property has been appropriated. Hence unlawful copying, or copyright infringement, is in fact legally defined as theft.

Stefan Haynes (#9,723)

Not so much acerbic as it is acidic. What. Did Lowery's smuggy yet dorbz "kids, lawn, vacate" put Ms. Bustillos in a Hostel [no oof] mood? Also, could you please refrain from comparing Picasso and Patti and Pope* to teh poprox? Overuse of the consecutive fifth is banned in art music, and I'm about 99.9% certain Cracker reaaaaaalllly like consecutive fifths just like Little Dragon and Nicki Minaj and Riff Raff(!) and pretty much every other pop artist ever. Drawing these imaginary parallels defiles real art. Please recognize that there is a distinction, even if you don't believe one is superior.

A few totally-not 'existential' questions to chew and spit at pedestrians on the walkway:

Does Mr. Lowery believe Ms. White would have contributed (significantly) more monies to the music industry had she been prevented from "stealing" (ugh) her 11,000 songs? That is, would she share the same passion and love for music that would later compel her to join on as intern at NPR had she not been given the freedom to seek out and find music that bonded to her individually, rather than choosing which particular expeller-pressed auto-tuned copypasta flavor-of-the-day she hated less (yanno, a student's budget seriously obstructs blind $15 purchases, and is the budget-bin really a good place to foster an identity?). What if she decided Willow Smith wasn't really her cup and switched over to Wes Anderson?

Which leads me to the whole reason I'm here…:

Why has Mr. Lowery (intentionally?) avoided the real bête noire of the major label artist? The internet has wrestled the dictation of public consumption out of the hands of studio execs (c'mon, we've all seen Merchants of Cool, right? right?!) and returned it to where pop came from in the first place: the public itself. Suddenly UMG, Warner and Virgin are finding themselves less and less relevant in the free-distribution model the internet (both legally and illegally) provides. Furthermore, it has heightened competition to unparalleled and, yes, "fair" levels, where innovation–not stagnation–is prized above all else if it's to catch the public's eye. And that's what scares the current regime the most.

Ugh. Sorry for all the bile; I actually threw-up earlier, so I guess it's not entirely unexpected. I'll bet the nausea was brought on by something I ate, chewed or possibly red [oof].

*If you'd mentioned Tolstoy you'd have crippled my argument with his "What Is Art?" … Sorta.

P.S. I own Dorkismo and it's great. So. At least there's that. <2

barnhouse (#1,326)

Dear Mr Haynes, I am sorry to hear you have been ill and hope you're feeling better. Thanks so much for your kind words about my book, and also for this interesting comment! There is a lot to unpack here.

I can't speak for Mr. L. but his published remarks (on the blog Trichordist and elsewhere) indicate that he welcomes the public's increased opportunities to experience music, and that he supports any new distribution methods that will favor both artists and listeners. He's concerned about the thing a working musician is likely to be concerned about, viz., how he is going to get his bills paid. That is, David Lowery not just a touring musician, he was on the board of Groupon and so presumably participated in that, and he teaches at UGA and so on, so he's not struggling the way a younger musician is liable to be. But, just like in publishing, big corporations have nabbed all the money that artists used to receive under royalty contracts. This is a separate issue from filesharing.

The purpose of calling Ms. White out on her collection is to try to get the public to understand that musicians are being treated like sharecroppers.

It doesn't matter whether you say 'stealing' or not, I don't reckon. Because this is a political matter people use inflammatory language in an effort to rally others round. It's to be expected, and is a distraction.

Back in the long-ago day when I was Ms. White's age, yes, we had to pay for music, as well as for hardware, and then we shared with one another through cassette tapes. Either mixtapes which were extraordinarily difficult to make (didn't stop anyone, even though it took hours) or the far easier copying of whole albums.

An aside: what I miss most is the opportunity to experience music in a leisurely way. The "album" seems a thing of the past and to me seemed more like a book, where a song is like short story. I'm a long-form guy generally (you may be unsurprised to hear) and always loved listening to and talking about albums with my mates. It would be a whole planned afternoon, you'd say I bought thus and such, come over.

As for comparing Picasso and Patti to pop music, I meant to point out only that there have always been rich artists. I mean, Pope didn't get rich off his best stuff, he got rich from translating the Iliad, it was crazy, I bet he is the richest poet there ever was, because of that. In any case, no, I don't think there is such a thing as "real" and "not real" art; it can't be "defiled" no matter what anybody says and certainly, I shan't recognize the distinction.

Thank you again, so much, for this pleasant talk.

Buck Baran@facebook (#235,170)

The streaming industry has low overhead and converse profit margin. The subscriber pays a nominal fee to hear whatever whenever wherever. Why should they buy the CD or download? Why own? Because their favorite tunes are at their disposal. All of the above is the problem.
In the old days of radio, radio promoted the artist and the artist got played until the public lost interest and was dropped from the playlist never to be heard from again, forcing listeners to buy the single or the album. Today is not the case.
The Streamers need to promote new music for a limited time then store in the archives until a few years later (5?) when the artists have had a chance to profit from media sales. The artist has the option to re-introduce their product via the Streamers at any time Also, the royalties need to be brought back to reality; enough of the big rip-off profit-taking.
Having said that, it is up to the Streamers to work with and for the artist; not profit by selling stolen goods. Watching the business practices of the current generation reminds of a book title from Hunter S. Thompson.

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