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Thursday, February 19

WTF? II (Notlob)

Why is it that whenever you try to say something full of down to earth common sense, that somebody who's conveniently only absorbed pop culture theory based upon the first half of the statement that starts with "Information Wants to Be Free" quickly responds with glee at the fate of the stupid pragmatists around them. That smug someone inevitably either does not know, or has somehow ignored, the second half and equally important portion of that theorem: "Information wants to be expensive."

Until the Obamatopia sweeps us all into a a happy, collectivist workers paradise sure to resemble an amalgam of Cambridge, MA, Oak Park, IL and Mountain View, CA, we live and breath in a more than nominally capitalist society. If you want to live a normal life in a city or town and eat, live in shelter, and see a movie every once in a while, then you've gotta make money from something. Hopefully we've all learned that rarely does money grow on trees or arrive at your door in a strange and wonderful envelope from Nigeria. It comes from hard work fairly compensated. And for people in the music business, that has been music. If I read another file sharing weasel tell me that I'm a dinosaur who doesn't appreciate or understand change, then I'm going to puke. Change frequently is good, but change can also be bad. Very bad. And when change gets out in front of the pace of our ethics, well...

Why is music any different than socket wrenches or spinach? Spinach is full of incredible vitamins and minerals that make you a better you. Socket wrenches tighten and fix things that allow machines to make our lives infinitely better so we don't have to toil in fields all day. They even helped make this computer I'm typing on. A hex socket, but still.

Because somebody found a way to compress music into tiny, crappy-sounding digits, and someone else figured out how to find and move those crappy sounding compressed music files quickly and easily between computers with little accountability, a large chunk of people now feel that not only is the music easy to grab, but that it should be free. A nicer piece of backwards sophistry I've never seen. I am constantly amazed at people who can either ignore the consequences of their individual and group actions, or if not, who find a way to turn the argument around onto those being hurt, using a form of the "Did you see how she was dressed? She was asking for it!" argument that has been such a big part of unfortunate male dominance for centuries.

Let's boil this down. Artists who want to spend their life making art must eat. To eat, they must be paid for their art. Ten years ago, this was not a problem. If you wanted to consume the art, you paid for it or went to a friend's and listened or looked. Now, you can get it for free so it must want to be free. And the artists? "Fuck 'em. They can get a job, and if that means that their art will be compromised or less prolific, I'll just take someone else's. There's just so much of it!"

Some artists have chosen, that's right, chosen, to focus on their art and let others handle the sometime drudgery of managing, making, distributing, promoting, booking, club-running, lighting, recording and live sound engineering on their behalf. Some artists cannot afford to get into a studio on their own, much less usher their releases through the production, manufacturing, and promotion process. And some artists could, but simply choose not to. If the people who do these jobs for the artists we love cannot get paid, then no one will do them or do them as well. The jobs will be gone and with them many of the artists both current and future. Stone dead. Deceased. Demised. Passed on. No more. Ceased to be. Expired and gone to meet their maker. AN EX-PARROT.

Does it have to be this way? No, it certainly does not.

Carrie Brownstein wrote an excellent call to action on Monitor Mix yesterday. (I am stunned by people asking what they should do after reading this. Carrie gives too much credit I guess. I'll spell it out. First: THINK. Second: DO.) She points out our ever-increasing trend toward superficial musical tourism (and I would argue life tourism as well), and then in conclusion exhorts:
In order for there to be anything left in which to participate, we have to show up. We have to show up with not just our half-selves, our virtual selves, our broke-ass selves, but with our whole selves, and in the spirit of giving. Mock participation is more than just an absence of real engagement; it is a falsehood that has allowed us to justify our apathy. When, exactly, did we stop showing up? And how long until there's not much left worth showing up for?

What Carrie is asking for is a return to the punk rock, DIY ethos of individual responsibility within a community of like-minded folks who all pull toward the same general goals. Be yourself—your active invested self—and while doing so help those around you who feel the same way. You do that, and you get something bigger than the sum of its parts—something that used to be called a scene. But creating that doesn't come from typing snark or even empathy. It comes from action.

You who are so worried about what information wants or doesn't want, maybe it will help to remember the real people who are behind that 128kbps file you just stole. People. Real ones. Not virtual ones. Not avatars. Not 2-D South Park characters. Real flesh and blood people who love, get sick, cry, laugh, and create.

Or, if reality is too big of a concept to fit into your conveniently constructed myth, then fire up your BitTorrent client of choice, sit around on your ass listening to disposable music, visit your favorite full-album music posting blog, and feel good about yourself while you save the world the two hundredth time on Halo War.

I also realize that this is most definitely not a single-issue problem, but this is one area where we all can contribute directly to a part of the solution. If even 2000 people buy a $12.98 album released on an indie label by their favorite band rather than download it, that puts a huge chunk of change into the pipeline. Because of most indie labels' 50/50 profit splits, 2000 people = $15,000 by the time it gets back to the label, who then passes it along to the band and many people on the rest of that list up there. That is not a large sum at a mega-corp, but for ordinary people, maybe even you, $15,000 is a huge amount of money. For an indie label, $15,000 might as well be $100,000. A frugal indie artist and their label can do enormous things with that (little/huge) amount of dough. For example, that amount more than covers the recording costs for many records at this level. Maybe even most.

2000 records. $15,000. Really.

Those of you who still care:


  1. I don't disagree with you. Artists and labels need to be compensated, but the landscape has changed forever. Hanging on to physical media as the end-all, be-all has hurt your (and at one time, my) industry in innumerous ways.

    The time for labels to figure out how to monetize file sharing was in 2000, and it's sad to say not much progress has been made in the last 9 years. The EMusic model was promising, but it can't gain much traction when the company itself is not viewed on the up and up and it's proprietary software is a piece of crap.

    Your Obama potshot above is even more disingenuous since any understanding of a capitalist society when applied to this situation would be at odds with how the labels have reacted this decade:

    1. Consumers are naturally going to be driven to the least expensive options. There may be small minorities that are willing to pay more for aesthetic or ethical reasons, but if your choices are 1. free 2. iTunes a la carte at .99/track or 3. $15 CDs, the vast majority will take 1 and 2 every time. By insisting primarily on option 3 and reluctantly offering option 2, with little backing or enthusiasm, you missed an opportunity to reset the rules of the game on your terms.

    2. Technology changes how industries operate. When conveyor belts and robotics were introduced to factories, workers were laid off. Yes, there is less human infrastructure needed to promote bands who are selling downloads as opposed to CDs and it may result in painful layoffs unless you can find new roles for those people. Its not the way we want the world to work all the time, but we have to adapt to what the times are telling us.

    In other words, stop clinging to the past and invent a new model to get music to the people and have everyone get paid for it. These are painful times, but the most creative ones will be rewarded in the end.

  2. 54 Cermak:
    You misinterpret my Obama comment. It is not aimed at him, rather at those who think he has some magic that can get us out of the hell that his predecessor has left for all of us. He's not and there isn't. The next several years are really going to suck worse than any of us can imagine and I think whatever the Whitehouse comes up with will most likely only affect the matter of small degrees of the suckage.

    I wish I was an inventor. Instead, I'm a person who likes to help musicians get their music to fans, while also helping them do things like put food on the table and medical insurance in their lives. Human things.

    Competing with free is not impossible and I know we'll never get the majority of the thieves who have convinced themselves that what they do is not stealing. But if we can find a minority who want to support artists that they think are quality, then we may be somewhere.

    While the majority bought Top 40 crap from the crappy labels that gave it to them, the indie world has always been that tiny, self-sustaining minority. When I see that world being chipped away in chunks, a self-created world of mutual responsibility and respect, well that's what gets me sick, pissed off, and exhausted.

    So if you reinterpret my post along those lines, I think what I've stated still stands. Whether it will still be standing two years from now is an answer I don't have. Maybe everybody really does like listening to 128kbps compressed files made by somebody with Garageband and no clue how to write a song like Maryhadalittledrugproblem or Weightless Again. Maybe everybody is just fine with listening to their music on a youtube stream.

    If so, then I know a few other people that will be checking out along with me.

    Fuck the rest of them.


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