Thursday, July 10, 2003

Ranting Against The Machine

About two weeks ago, some scary stories came out in the paper, and they didn't have anything to do with terrorism or SARS or "Legally Blonde 2." The first one you may have seen: The music industry is attempting to file lawsuits against those whom they consider the biggest downloaders of copyrighted music.

The second one is related: Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told a hearing on copyright abuse that he's in favor of technology that would remotely damage the computers involved in unauthorized file-sharing. When someone else at the hearing, a representative of a company that creates technology to slow downloads, said that nobody was actually interested in destroying anyone's computer, Hatch replied, "I'm interested."

Ever since the heyday of Napster, the music industry ("the Machine" in all subsequent references) has been whining that CD sales are down because of peer-to-peer file sharing. part of that statement is true: CD sales are down a bit in recent years. But blaming Napster and its progeny is a lame excuse. If anything, the sour economy would be a more accurate scapegoat....but the big reason that CD sales are down is that the stuff the Machine has regurgitated lately is absolute crap. So much of it has been over-produced and "polished" to such a high sheen by the corporate know-nothings that the very soul of the music is gone. There's no "there" there. The Machine refers to music--ostensibly the creative output of the heart and soul of its performer--as "product," and after years of dumbing-down, that's exactly what most commercial music has become: a "product" with all the emotional value of a box of cereal.

I would hate to be a programmer at a "classic rock" radio station in ten years. What the heck are they gonna play? Does anything that's come out commercially in the past several years stand a chance of becoming "classic?" The carton of milk in my refrigerator has a longer shelf-life than most of this drivel.

The Machine says that, if we're not careful, file-sharing will result in its destruction. I say bring it on! Despite all the blather about kicking some butt and taking everyone in sight to court (I'm not saying that they can't do that--not even saying that they won't--but it just ends up being reeeeally bad PR if you keep suing the pants off the people you're trying to sell things to!), I bet the music executives are secretly quaking in their boots because they know deep down that we really could get along fine without them....

How would that work? Well, all you'd really need is a high-quality CD burner and a website, and maybe a friend who does drawing or graphic arts. You could sell your CD's online, at gigs and on places like You wouldn't sell things as fast as if they were part of the Machine, but you'd be cutting out a Goodyear blimp-sized layer of fat, a completely unnecessary middleman...and you'd probably feel as good afterwards as you would if you'd lost the blimp's worth of weight off your own body.

Sure, you might not get played on the radio...but since radio is almost all owned by a few megacorporations too, nothing gets played anyway unless it's the particular sound that the Machine has selected as "flavor of the week." My generic description of that recent flavor is "Britney Aguilera and the BackSync Degrees"....or maybe lately it would be "Limp Puddle of Stain." You get the idea. It was bad enough already, but the FCC's recent ruling that allows even more consolidation will only make things worse. For me, radio means two things: news and sports...and thank goodness for a CD player in the car. (OK, the station where I worked gets some ear-time from me, but first of all, it's noncommercial, so it almost doesn't count in this discussion, and second, reception is sometimes spotty out in my area.)

The Machine probably didn't set out to be evil, back in the day. The problem in a nutshell is that, somewhere along the way, what was the music business became the music business. With the exception of a few artist-friendly jazz labels like Verve and Blue Note, and a decent amount of Christian labels, which have managed to be absorbed into the Machine relatively unscathed, the people in charge of things aren't musicians, don't hang out with musicians, don't know or care how musicians think or feel, or how the creative process works. Businesspeople and artists are totally different types of people; we're wired differently. (I've known this fact for a long time; my dad is a retired accountant/auditor with a business degree, while I, as you might imagine, have two music degrees. I love Dad to death, but the fact is, we don't understand each other a lot of the time.) Musicians are often lousy businesspeople themselves, so they are easily manipulated by the Machine into doing unwise, short-sighted things like signing away all of the rights to their songs, just in an effort to get that first recording out.

And the bean-counters at the top are either too untalented themselves (maybe even tone-deaf?) to recognize true talent when they hear it, or under too much pressure from above to sell more "product," which doesn't allow them to take chances with new and interesting artists. Everything sounds like everything else because that's all the Machine will release, while those with talent and innovation often work two and three jobs just to keep the wolf from the door.

It's time for a change...but I'm not advocating revolution (yet?). Honestly, I don't think we'll have to do anything. If things stay the way they are, the Machine will collapse upon itself, under the weight of its own mediocrity. They can blame file-sharing all they want to, but the true culprit will only be found in the mirror in front of them. Then, when the remnants of the beast have been ground into fertilizer (not hard, considering its usual output *grin*), upon its ashes can rise a more noble blend of art and commerce, where the artists are making more of the artistic decisions again and the bean-counters return to their still-necessary but much-lesser roles.

Incidentally, Sen. Hatch did relent later at that same hearing and say that maybe he wouldn't advocate destroying anyone's computer until they'd been given, say, two warnings. Gee, Senator, that's decent of the Church Lady used to say, maybe someone thinks just a liiiiiitle too highly of himself.

Oh yeah--someone told me that the good Senator is actually a recording artist himself, which could explain some of his ire towards file-sharers. Seeing as how this is the longest blog post I've ever written, I'll wait until later to look up his, uhh, "product" and come back with a vote on whether anyone would actually want to download his stuff or not.

(Kev was in fact listening to music on his computer while writing this post...but most of it came from his collection of over 600 CD's and 1000 vinyl LP's. Is this the kind of customer the Machine really wants to alienate by filing lawsuits?)

1 comment:

Tori said...

I'm reading this for the first time in 2012 after stumbling across your blog somehow and your thoughts about what will be playing 10 years from 2003 made me smile because I've thought your exact thoughts about today's mainstream music. Thought I'd add my 2 cents before I get to the rest of your stuff!! (reading oldest to newest)