in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Of nasty mums, sad beavers, and the FLAC-copping community [Pt. III of III]

So we’ve heard about the needle, the laser, the flash-drive and the damage done. And last week I scored a few cheap points (cheap, ha, they were free – I downloaded them!) against the recording industry.

Speaking to people (as opposed to record execs), one of the refrains was the idea of not wanting to harm the ‘little guy’. Mr Footstool is the friend of the little man… can we be too, and keep downloading? Forget about the ‘big, bad’ recording industry, what about indie record stores, small distribution networks, boutique labels? The ‘bad’ industry will look after itself, and has – collapsing celebrity, marketing and genetically-engineered spectacles into an interminable rutting circus, a media orgy (available on iTunes) of pole-dancing, pole-smoking Pussy Cat Moles who will nip, tuck and grind for your tweenage delectation, provided you’re willing to pay through the hose. So much for them. A lot of people just want the latest fad single, the latest ring-tone – and they’re willing to pay to download it, as the success of iTunes has demonstrated.

But what about the ‘good’ industry? Well, the first point to be made on this tip can be summed up by the (mythical) idea of ‘lossless’ files. There’s no such thing as a lossless file, just like there is no such thing as a ‘war without casualties’ ‘sin without God’ or ‘calorie-free food’. There are no gains without losses, and although we can minimise harm and loss, we can’t get rid of them all together. As a perceptive friend pointed out, “It's almost like the cries of sheet music publishers when radio was introduced: ‘what will we do now that songs can be heard for free?!’ But in the end their songs were heard by more people, and a new era started.” Or recall the British recording industry’s 80s campaign: ‘Home Taping is Killing Music’. Just like home cooking is killing hospitality. Or home damming is killing beavers. What nasty mums. What sad beavers. Indeed.

So if this a new era, a new reality, and we can’t eliminate loss or harm, then how can we minimise it?

I’ve spoken to downloading addicts, I’ve spoken to DJs, I’ve spoken to gigging musicians, and I’ve spoken to record store owners. A lot of people mourn ‘the loss’ (wherever it may be), but there’s only three aspects of the industry that are absolutely under threat: record stores, the recording industry ‘as is’, and medium-sized producers or bands who can’t, don’t or won’t perform live.

To musicians who won’t perform – well, you should. Musicians were performers. And so should they be. If you can’t perform, then DJ. And if you won’t do either? Well, okay, then you’ve got a problem. To the recording industry – change, or perish. But I get the idea that this has already happened, although not without ‘casualties’. And now we come to small record stores, and the joy of buying a work of dedicated creativity from a passionate expert who is themselves dedicated to creativity, one of the guardians of the archive. This is where I’m really sympathetic. Without knowing the details in each case, in the past three years Melbourne has seen the closure of Rhythm & Soul’s city store, substrata’s wonderful online service, Slap records and more recently Synaesthesia (although this was apparently for other reasons). It can't be a mere co-incidence. These are all very real losses whose impact will be felt as a loss of expertise, a loss of the joy of buying music (even with all that entails) and, perhaps most importantly, as a loss of community.

Online aesthetic communities, the so-called blogosphere, they’re all very well, but it doesn’t amount to much. The flipside of being free to discuss music is being free from any kind of embodied relation. The blogosphere can create weak links between two people anywhere in the world, but it struggles creating strong links between you and the girl next to you on the tram. As I’ve said, she might be the only other girl in Melbourne who likes sleeparchive… but how would you know? Forget money, forget records, forget music. If we can’t relate to each other face-to-face, then that is a great loss. And a real challenge.

1 comment:

Jimmy said...

I too struggle with the pressure on the little record stores. Big ones can diversify, look at a complany like 3M, it seems the only thing they don't make is music, and I'm sure we'll start seeing EMI sticky-tape on the shelves soon.

But here's one for you; I have nothing to offer by way of explanation, mind: Redeye Records in sydney was always the most successful of the independents. At about the same time that people realised they could get their kicks for free though, the place started to grow. And grow. It's prolly quadrupled it's size, turnover etc since you last lived in Sydney. How?

I could, though, be entirely wrong abou that.

The Author

[almost nothing] about me

My photo
PC is an animal of the antipodes believed to be related to a gibbon.