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Music + Technology + Random Nonsense from the Music Industry by Ethan Kaplan, VP Product, Live Nation

Are We Really Still Discussing This? – Or: My Response to David Lowery

Content has evolved into a pejorative word used to represent the minimum possible extraction from what we used to call the “message” in media.

Content became the minimum information necessary to create a sensory representation to convey emotion.

Content only had value based on the context of its construction, representation and the relative difficulty of access.

When content became fluid, value was only a leap of faith assumption due to constructions either artificial (i.e.: DRM), or just temporal that would be fixed through innovation.

Innovation was antithetical to value for content, as it diminished the use of accessibility  to increase relative worth.

The relationship between those that create and those that consume was always difficult. The abstraction of both doesn’t lessen this. If anything, the move from analog to digital has decentered the difference between creator and consumer. The onus of determining what this difference is, is on the context that the media is represented in.

With the collapse of the hierarchy that used to structure the relationship (and the value chain), everything has quotes. “Creator” and “consumer”. “Customer” and “provider.”

Everything is qualified by assumptions, persona adoption and positive reinforcement.

No one said that it was the inalienable right of those that create to treat what is created as immutable property. The only way to do so is to not allow its reproduction. This goes back to Walter Benjamin: the diminishing aura through mechanical reproduction. Appealing to baser notions of morality doesn’t work. Given no consequence, people revert to smashing windows in celebration of a win. We’re always on the precipice of immorality, and societal constraints which govern this are fluid.

Given no consequence, and no inherent referent as to what the causation of an action is, people are inherently selfish. It’s not immoral, it’s just self centered amorality.

It is not a musicians god given right to make money from their art. No one ever said this would continue as is.

This is a hard lesson. It doesn’t mean that copyright isn’t important. It doesn’t mean that artists can’t make money. It just means that it’s not a given, nor is it the responsibility of others to make this possible.

David Lowery tries to liken the money spent on hard goods and access (phones, computers, data plans) to that spent on soft. This assumes that music holds as much value to people. That is an awful assumption to make.

The proliferation of piracy, of “free culture”, etc is not a byproduct of a society gone amuck. It’s behavior born by the fragmentation of our ability to externalize ourselves into other media that we inherently control. Escapism, which culture formerly brought, could now be controlled in a self centered way by distilling our physical selves into multi-dimensional frameworks living in database tables hither and yonder.

Or put more simply, it was in my better interest to color my self expression with others’ art than to use the art to create that self expression directly.

Whereas before I was an R.E.M. fan, I’m now an ID/IP Address/Screen Name/Avatar colored by the fact that I’m an R.E.M. fan. I might think the value I add to those who I use to extend my self digitally (i.e., Apple, Twitter, Reddit) is more precious than the value added by anything R.E.M. could produce. Therefore their output is color for my output rather than something I value in situ and on its own.

I love music. I do realize that if R.E.M. were to start today they’d probably have quit in the next five years, possibly not having ever gotten off the equivalent of IRS. I also realize if this band started today there is no chance I’d have devoted so much time to running and making a fan site. This makes me sad.

But the realities of the state of music is more complicated than simplistic assumptions on behavior will ever expose.

It used to be we valued music for its ability to help us escape, and its ability to help us define an identity for ourselves.

We now control both of these aspects of our lives, to a greater degree and in a more self directed way than ever possible before.

What was once valuable is now color. What was once speculative science fiction is now something we pay for.

This is unfair. But the best of art came about through situations that were just that.

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3 Responses

  1. Andy Weissman says:

    Wonderful. Thank you

  2. Dave Allen says:

    Ethan,

    This is really great. You manage to get to the heart of the matter very simply. And this is my favorite line: “This is unfair. But the best of art came about through situations that were just that.”

    Dave

  3. I’d like to suggest we avoid the words “content” and “consumer” in this context.

    To call music “content” represents the attitude of a record company tycoon who cares nothing for music as long as it brings in money. To call people who appreciate music “consumers” is to take a narrow economic perspective towards the activities of making and listening to music.

    Since those are not my point of view, I decided not to use those words.