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The Other Side Of This Digital Coin

Sean is rich

Sean is rich

Streamed music is regarded as a commodity of little value. And, very quickly, it’s developing into a worthless good, the kind of “stuff” produced in the economy of the old USSR. That’s my takeaway from  an essay posted earlier on rock nyc and it’s apt, I think.

One can add a few things to the assessment.

The other side of this digital coin is those who benefit from it. Here’s who gets fabulously wealthy off the deal: The owner of the pipe, in a perverted utility model where people or the essence of them in art, if you will, not water, are what’s shared at low price. Water, however, doesn’t care about or suffer from rock bottom pricing, that it gets nothing back. Water can’t be destroyed. People, their work and lives, however, can.

So in the US, and other western countries, China, those who have the capital, the money, the people who can own the pipes, the infrastructure of collection and distribution get everything by aggregating and supplying everyone else’s stuff.

You can view the antics and wedding of Sean Parker, who helped build Napster, now part of Rhapsody, to see one person who got a lot of spoil under this basic model and its precedents. Boy, he sure was good for pop music.

I’ve had two things shared with the world digitally in this model, my first vinyl record, made in 1985, and my 20-year old book from 1994, paradoxically on a part of the hacker digital underground so I know more than some about the alleged benefits of it. Here it is: The ideology of music streaming, any content streaming or distribution on the global networks is one of the foundations of disruptive innovation and what’s now called the sharing economy. This sharing economy, and the phrase ought to make your lips curl in a sneer, is one in which the holders of the internet gateways and services get all the share and everyone else gets shit.

It’s a technology and “consumer” attitude that has done two things. One, it’s distributed all of the risk of making the music to the individuals who make it. Record companies used to take up a lot of this heavy lifting. To a small extent, they still do. But how has the pop music world been improved by making Apple and its iTunes store the center of virtually everything? Yes, you hated the idea of record companies as gatekeepers but putting
the property into the hands of Steve Jobs and Apple minions, or the people who run Spotify, because that’s what the technology allows, is worse. You just have different gatekeepers and a much more concentrated business model in which the way fewer get virtually everything.

Two, it’s a technology that makes use of global networking to reduce all others who are not the property owners of the infrastructure to penury. Indeed, there’s a pressure to give yourself away to the streaming services, or rather to pay the toll to be on them. And you have to be on them for the best chance to be reviewed by music journalists who have been forcibly migrated there because now that there’s hardly any paying gigs for music writing, that’s where the action is. Because, you see, it’s still necessary for human beings, rather than a soft machine, to write little descriptive recommendations for everything the streaming and downloading stores provide. To dress it up this is now called “curating,” as if the writers are docents in vast ever-expanding digital museums of valuables. But even museums pay more for acquisitions in the real world, a lot more.

In 1985, if you made your own record you’d didn’t have to pay anybody except for the cost of making it. You could send it off, courtesy of the USPS for a very reasonable price, not be
waylaid by a digital gatekeeper for a fee, and somebody might actually listen to it. Now you get to give 99 dollars to Tunecore for the privilege of being buried in the world’s digital landfill of streamed music.

You’ll recall the old rubbish idea from the early days of Napster and the beginnings of “free” music: The creators would benefit from gaining exposure to a new and appreciative audience they didn’t have and their boats would be lifted thereby. That was about fifteen years ago. Hilarious, in view of how things have turned out.

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