There seems to be a firestorm in the metal world regarding the state of the industry, Spotify, illegal downloading, and the philosophical struggle between capitalism and artistic integrity. Lines have been drawn in the sand and it’s getting fucking personal. I have remained rather silent on the sidelines but all of this action has inspired me to enter the fray.
But I’d like to approach this discussion from a different angle than the one that has been taken thus far – one which deals with some issues that are beyond music. Perhaps you could call it a political discussion, or a cultural discussion, or even a philosophical discussion. I want to talk about the idea of ownership, and what exactly that means in our modern, western paradigm, which is one rooted in competition-based capitalism.
The truth is, I never really had a concrete stance on these issues, because we’re still in the middle of a pretty gigantic transition in the way human beings live and communicate. This is way bigger than rock n’ roll. To me, having an immovable stance on Spotify is like being an unheralded champion of Laser Disc players in 1991. We don’t know where this whole thing is going. I read an article on Rick Rubin a few years back, and he predicted that some sort of all-in subscription based music service was the future of music. Regardless of your personal opinion on the man, objectively he knows the music industry through and through. Food for thought.
Let me say outright that I actually have no problems with any labels pulling their catalogs from Spotify. Especially metal labels, because the relatively big labels like Century Media who have had sustained success kind of know what they’re doing in regards to keeping a business of that size afloat through some seriously rough financial times. Bottom line, they know what they need to make in order to turn a profit and keep business going at a level that makes sense for them. They believe their product has a certain value, and do not want to diminish that value in the market place. I can’t hate that mentality. It’s a good way to negotiate in my book.
On the other hand, I really see where the pro-Spotify argument is coming from in terms of embracing change. Things are changing dramatically in the way we process and encounter information. It seems that most of the ardent denouncers of illegal downloading are older people. I don’t mean AARP old, but mainly people around my age (30) and older. People who, like me, generally grew up in an environment where you had to wait ‘til an album came out in stores to hear it. That experience was amazing, but barring some serious regulation of the technology that makes it near impossible to download media, that experience is more or less over. We all have romantic notions about how great it was when we came up, and how things were. It was great, but you have to imagine what it’s like being a fifteen year old kid who grew up knowing nothing but the internet. Perhaps they’ve never even bought an album. You can’t reminisce back to an experience you never personally head.
The other people that seem to hate this change are, obviously, the people who sell records, such musicians, record label people, mangers, etc. Also, notice that the people most bothered are ones to tend to make the most money from music. No one ever cares about giving their demo away for free when they are unknown, but when you start make a living from music solely and record sales suddenly have an impact on your lifestyle and well-being, that stance changes. This is not a knock on those individuals — just the way it is.
At this point, you may be thinking, “Wait, isn’t Doc a musician? Shouldn’t he be pissed off that people download God Forbid records for free? That dude’s a fucking hypocrite!” I am not pissed off by illegal downloaders, even though I probably should be. If illegal downloading didn’t begin crushing the music industry in the early 2000’s, I would probably have made a much more lucrative living from making music. It’s affected all of us: Me, huge artists, basement bands, and even every other facets of the industry that used to see the rewards of more funding via the sales of actual physical albums, from photographers that did press shots, to the guy that directs your music video, to all of the writers for rock and metal magazines. The contraction of this industry has been devastating to the economy of music.
The only problem is, you can’t stop these changes from happening. Getting mad about it, or even worse, making someone feel bad for doing it, doesn’t really make a profound impact. Do I want people to buy my albums? Hell yeah! But I can’t stop those who download it, and the thing is, those people still may support the band in other ways, such as coming to a show or buying a t-shirt. The truth is, I buy some albums, but I also I do download some from torrents sites. The real question is, how does that affect me morally? Is it stealing in the traditional sense of the word?
In Randy Blythe’s twitter post about downloading, he used a really great analogy, comparing the recording industry to a McDonald’s type of burger chain. It takes a lot of money and manpower to make and ship the food, and the record industry is the same way. Albums cost money to record, manufacture, and distribute. So in a way, you are stealing from the initial effort and investment.
The only hole in this analogy is that people don’t break into a warehouses and steal boxes of CDs. They don’t actually diminish the quantity of the product that’s been manufactured. A better analogy would be if I could download Big Macs at home without affecting McDonald’s supply. I am acquiring the burger by adding to the supply, not subtracting from pre-existing stock. I’m not technically stealing, but I am hurting their business, because now they do not own the monopoly on Big Macs. I don’t need McDonald’s to get them. So the moral dilemma does exist.
Which brings us back to this whole notion of “ownership” and rights in our modern society.
When the internet began to mature in the late ’90s, and file sharing and peer to peer programs allowed music, films, books, and all other media and data to be digitized and released on the worldwide web — to be grasped out of the air — it changed the way I saw the world. These things stimulate the mind and expand our capacity for understanding and consciousness. It is a form of education, and we are lucky enough to live in the information age, where information is abundant and more or less free. Before the invention of the printing press in the 1400s, information and knowledge were rare and valuable. The only way to hear music or watch a theatrical performance was to see it live. Education and certain forms of culture were bestowed only upon the wealthy and privileged, and even the culture that was designated for the lower class was allotted to that class in a very specific manner.
We are moving into a point in history where this model of scarcity and concepts like “ownership” will evolve into something new. When colonists traveled to The New World, the local tribal cultures had a very difficult time understanding the concept of “owning” the land. How could a person own the earth? After a healthy dose of genocide, they learned what the doctrine of divide, conquer, enslave, and exploit was all about. I’m not trying to preach some socialist manifesto, but my point is that we collectively tend to forget many of the wars fought throughout history are wars of ideas. As an idea, capitalism won, and was the best way to progress civilization for a long time. But the model is breaking down, and we’re seeing that in what’s happening now with the global economic situation seemingly headed towards unknown peril.
What I’m getting at is this. If you could “illegally” download a hamburger for free, would you? How about a lawn mower? Or a brand new suit? With the way technology is moving, this may be possible in the near future. I’m sure I’m not the only one that has seen some of the press about 3D printers.
Or what if we invented new solar panels powerful enough so that no one would ever need to buy gas again or deal with the electric company? We’re so used to the idea of scarcity that the concept of abundant goods, food, energy, or music seems utopian and wrong. Should we not use the cheap, abundant energy because the guy at the local Shell station will lose his job, or because an oil exec will lose his vacation home? Throughout history, industries and trades become obsolete. We’re seeing that now, as many jobs become automated, like manufacturing, or using an ATM, or self-checkout at the supermarket, or the automated operators when you call your phone company. I’m not arguing that these are all fantastic things, but they are happening, and you can’t stop it. (By the way, you are reading this for free on an internet metal blog. Congratulations! Because of you, someone just lost their job at Terrorizer magazine.)
We seem to think people want CDs or books or DVDs as individual items to own and keep, but the truth is, what we really want is the content contained on these capsules of information. The CD, DVD and book are just messengers for the experience contained therein. I noticed this when I was skimming through my hard drive and realized that I had much more music and movies on theree than I had in all of my DVD and CD collection in my room, which is quite expansive. All of this clutter dominating my space could fit into this little box. I had a revelation — I realized this whole buying albums and movies and books thing will not be the end game. I don’t want my end game to be stuff. I want the enrichment and enlightenment gained from absorbing all of the beautiful art within that stuff. I don’t know how some human person can own an auditory or visual experience. How can some mortal man claim to own knowledge? These pearls of creativity and wisdom belong to infinity and the collective consciousness.
Maybe this comes off as some hippie bullshit, but I do believe we are heading towards a shift in the way the world works. Whether you want to say that it’s the Rapture or the Singularity, or that we are moving into the next astrological age of Aquarius bringing upon a time of ultimate enlightenment… Who knows? We are still in this current economic system and money still does run shit, so I have to play ball. I hope people buy my band’s records, and that I can make a living off of music. I will work as hard as I can to do so. Right now, you can’t download the experience of seeing a band live in the flesh. To be honest, I am still figuring out where I totally stand on this issue, but I do think it is very complex. Hopefully, I am not completely full of shit.
Thanks for letting me vent. I would love to hear what everyone thinks about where music, all other media, and even technology and culture are headed.
“People work jobs they hate, to buy shit, they don’t need.”
Originally posted on Metalsucks.net