Musician and geek David Lowery (Wikipedia bio here) ranted back in April about the current state of the music industry and its technology overlords (my term, not his): Meet The New Boss, Worse Than The Old Boss?
Set aside the misleading rhetoric about the constitutional rights at stake (no one has a constitutional right to “control” their intellectual proeprty), and some venting about chillingeffects.org, Lowery’s basic point — which is hardly original, but which is passionately felt and expressed — is that art, the domain of the few (the musicians), supported tolerably by patrons (labels) has gone thoroughly and disastrously mass market. Music is the domain of the many, and the many turn out not to be musicians, guarded by patrons, but consumers, who answer only to the logic of global capitalism. Apple, Google, Facebook, and YouTube are the new Walmarts of the music industry, offering access to cheap (and free) stuff and shredding the feudal towns of the recording industry. The result is an emerging digital music industry that is reasonably successful — for the tech companies who are in the distribution business, but not for the musicians who make the music. The piece has more than a little content as well as an elegaic quality that remind me of Neal Stephenson’s In the Beginning Was the Command Line.
It is difficult in each case (Wal-Mart, music, software) to miss the idea that there is a complicated and controversial tradeoff to be had between small / local / community / craft on the one hand (or one end of a spectrum), and large / global / market / mass-produced on the other hand (or other end). Lowery’s plea is heartfelt and true, at least from the artist’s point of view, but as I read the piece he wants the best of both worlds. Can he have it? And who (or what) is going to give it to him?