Home Taping

June 20th, 2012

If you’re as old as me then you probably remember when all the music died. Not Don McLean’s rambling nonsense about…. I have no idea what American Pie is actually about. I mean the 80s when home taping killed music.  Do you remember when there used to be music, but then it all stopped because everyone just nicked it and it wasn’t worth it any more so people didn’t play guitars, they just worked in shops?

I exaggerate.

Music didn’t die. Someone invented CDs and we were all forced to buy all the music that we previously owned on a different format thus massively increasing the income of both artists and record labels. It was a close run thing though. I understand at one point it looked like Sting might not be able to afford his tea.

As I do remember this it is with some amusement that I greet the protestations that the music industry is about to suffer a similar fate to that it suffered in the 80s, simply because, once again, all the music is being stolen.

I should probably clarify that I see a fundamental distinction between the music industry and musicians. I hate the way this entire debate is framed from a capitalist point of view, that defines success and quality of music to be entirely correlated against its ability to generate a return in cash.

I do have some sympathy that the free exchange of digital music is undermining some musicians earning potential. Equally the freedom of digital distribution and production has given many more artists the potential to earn an income where they otherwise wouldn’t.

My personal perspective from the 80s and 90s is that the free exchange of music massively increased the range of music I like and consequently increased the range of musicians that now get money off me.  I now spend much money on music than at any point in my life. This is because it is so easy to access. If I hear something on the radio I can download it to my phone (and pay for it in seconds).

I also give much more money directly to artist through things like Bandcamp and Pledge Music.

I have to say that of the 45,ooo (give or take) songs that sit on our home server I didn’t buy all of them. I have bought the vast majority and the shelves of CDs that never leave their case is a testament to that.

So that is a convoluted way of trying to justify my interest in writing this.

This morning I got to read David Lowery’s open letter to Emily White. This letter was in response to a post that Emily posted on the NPR Music Blog. Emily’s post is a quite reasonable explanation of how she believes her generation (which I assume is younger than me) is moving away from traditional, tangible music media such as CDs. David decided to wilfully misunderstand this and launched into a long old letter about how Emily owes musicians about $2000 for all the stuff she nicked.

This seems to me to be completely symbolic of how the music industry wilfully misunderstands the changing environment  they now live in. David might have a point about streaming platforms, such as Spotify, undermine artists. To my mind that is a failure of collective bargaining rather than yet another stick to beat the youth of today with.

For a different perspective on being a musician in todays world it is well worth following Steve Lawson on Twitter. I thought it would be useful to add a link to his blog as well as it is often interesting, though just searching for the link I noticed he has already written about this today. As I’ve already got this far I didn’t really have the motivation to delete it all.

I just don’t believe there will ever be a point where young people stop picking up guitars and stop trying and make music. That’s because the rewards that people expect from music are not purely economic. Music is also about confidence, wellbeing and credibility. BitTorrent will never take these from people.

We might live in a time where musicians are no longer able to buy islands but is that so bad? Do we want to continue to perpetuate a world where Bono has influence because his set over ran at Live Aid in 1985?

People aren’t advocating that we live in a world where all culture is free (even Emily, if you read what she actually said), we are living in a world where we are redefining how people will benefit from artistic production and hopefully stop the horrendous commodification of music.



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