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Saturday morning quotes 2.15: The limit

August 31, 2012

“We Woosters are amiability itself, but there is a limit.”

– P.G. Wodehouse

Amiability was tested this week as the result of a purely innocuous interaction with an admirer of our music. A person who had no reason to think otherwise, simply assumed that music available on the internet must be free for the taking, and sent us this warm message:

“Thank you so much for your kind reply and your offer of help. However with the help of my son in law…I have managed to download the track and you are burnt on to the CD…”

This person innocently contacted us inquiring as to the availability of a particular piece, and saw nothing wrong with finding a clever way to lift the audio track from our YouTube video as an alternative to purchasing a download of the song.  To put things in perspective, imagine an unattended fruit stand where customers pay based on the honor system. Now imagine a person simply helping himself to an armful, leaving a thank you note in the money box, and legging it with lighthearted thoughts of gratitude for the free nectarines.

How did it come to this? The answer is, as usual, more complex than it would initially appear. We keep hearing that the music business is in transition, and that the best way to remain relevant is to give your music away for free.  This approach assumes that food will magically materialize on the musician’s table simply through goodwill engendered all round.  We have put this method to the test and must say that it can best be described as a forlorn hope.

Who promotes the idea that musicians should give their music away? The music industry.  Why? Because the music industry wants independent musicians to fail, enabling the established corporate music moguls to regain control of the once-lucrative empire that has slipped from their grasp.  This essentially immoral behavior is an accepted business strategy that is viewed as a stock-in-trade tactic of smart free-market competition.

Drawn from an article on an entirely unrelated topic, the following insightful quote applies:

“Once a corrupt practice is sufficiently perceived as commonplace, then it is transformed in people’s minds from something objectionable into something acceptable. Indeed, many people believe it demonstrates their worldly sophistication to express indifference toward bad behavior by powerful actors on the ground that it is so prevalent. This cynicism – oh, don’t be naive: this is done all the time – is precisely what enables such destructive behavior to thrive unchallenged.”

– Glen Greenwald 30 Aug 2012

What do we intend to do about it? We have thought long and hard about how to encourage listeners to understand that the touching emotional depth of our music is the result of many years of intensive study and practice, dedication and commitment, hard work and sacrifice.  Just like the farmer who labored to cultivate that succulent selection of fruit at the roadside stand, we only ask that our listeners observe the honor system.

Since it was already prepared, we are posting a video of a live performance of DuFay’s ‘Vergine bella’  from a recent performance.  Those of you who know this music will notice that the complex and transparent polyphony is performed with a sprezzatura that reflects complete immersion in and dedication to the stylistic and emotional content of the music, and the apparent ease with which it is performed is the result of  years of hard work.

One of our more popular YouTube videos, Tantum ergo sacramentumhas been viewed more than 22,000 times – but we have only sold one single lonely download.  Very soon, we will be removing ALL of our YouTube videos and revising them to encourage listeners to join us in an effort to thwart the corporate music industry – simply by observing the honor system.

“…As they were going away, one of the Fidlers said, Gentlemen, I pray you to remember the Musick, you have given us nothing yet; to whom one of the Gentlemen answer’d, nor will we give you any thing, for we never knew any Reason to the contrary, But alwayes those that dance must pay the Musicke.”

– John Taylor (1580 – 1653)
Taylors feast contayning twenty-seaven dishes of meate…(1638)

We urge other professional recording artists to follow suit and limit the purloining of of their music on YouTube. And, of course, we encourage discussion.

2 Comments
  1. Hiya,

    While I agree that in principle folks should purchase recorded music to promote and support the artists who make it, I do not agree that the concept of a recording artist giving one’s music away for free is a conspiracy of the corporate music industry.

    If there is a conspiracy behind the the “music is free” campaign it is internet service providers. It’s all about bandwidth, and the more folks who spend more time pirating music and video the richer they become.

    Digital recording of music and video media has changed the landscape of how music is acquired, listen to, and distributed. The failure of independent musicians will never allow them to regain their “once-lucrative empire” because the empire is gone forever. It is my belief that the music industry knows darn well there’s no way reverse the “free” trend, and are now looking to new ways to get revenue from their artists. Popular artists are now being signed to what they call 360 deals, where the music company gets royalties on all of the artistic output. This means T-shirts, stickers, recorded music and a percentage of live concert performances.

    One of my favorite musical artists Todd Rundgren pointed out in a lecture at a college sometime ago that the music business is thriving, but the recording business is dying. He maintains that artists always have and will continue to earn most of their money through live performances. Musicians are hired to perform a service. He believes that this “recording business” has run it course and is but a blip in a long history of how musicians earn a living.

    So within the idea that musicians throughout history have primarily supported themselves by performing, I believe that now that one can no longer manufacture a recorded product for sale at a profit (music is free), they must return to performance for revenue. The musician in the digital age still “needs product” but that the “product” is for marketing purposes ie to draw people to pay for performances. Hence the concept of giving it away for free.

    But then again, as a studio owner, you might argue that I am the evil music industry and this is a a smokescreen to cover my evil plan! 😉

    Wow, that ended up being a lot of words!

  2. Thanks for your comments, Will. I think you are right in adding the internet service providers to the roster of shame, but I am sticking to my guns re the music industry moguls.

    We receive daily adverts from digital distributors who pretty much say the same thing you say, and what the libertarian madman Todd Rundgren says. I have to refer to the quote by Glen Greenwald in the blog post above: What musicians are subjected to today is truly objectionable and unacceptable, and I don’t accept that everyone else in the musical production line gets their palms greased except the creator of the music.

    We’ve been to this fire before and I really don’t care to revisit the argument that the music has no intrinsic value. That line is an excuse for exploitation. I would rather see the other entities in the music biz accept the fact that, without the artist, all those other blokes may as well be selling vacuum cleaners.

    The production and distribution people need to change the way they think about the creative art aspect – and the higher intrinsic value of recorded music – or else just do something else that utilizes their generic skills.

    RA

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