by 99 Seats
Via the always handy You've Cott Mail comes a point/counterpoint that really highlights why conversations about art, commerce and the generation gap really don't go too far. Emily White, a 21-year old intern, writes an essay on why her generation, which loves music, will never buy albums, most because they've never bought albums. They've shared music, traded music, bought songs on the internet and, yes, illegally downloaded them. But her entire music experience has been digital. She offers her vision of what her generation would want:
What I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices. With this new universal database, everyone would have convenient access to everything that has ever been recorded, and performance royalties would be distributed based on play counts (hopefully with more money going back to the artist than the present model). All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?
In response, David Lowery, of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, at the Trichordist launched this...well, you can really only call it a screed. He starts off saying he's not trying to "shame" or "embarrass" White. Then proceeds to wag his finger at her for about a million paragraphs. He throws out nearly every possible reason a young person wouldn't want to pay for music and just demolishes them. By the end, he's invoking the Occupy movement and telling her to donate to the American Heart Association in Alex Chilton's name, because she name-dropped Big Star. One of his major rhetorical flourishes is to say that White owes two grand to the artists in her collection and compares that to the cost of a laptop, or a monthly Metrocard or a college education. He hits your heart strings by talking about two impoverished artists he knew who took their own lives, which he apparently blames solely on 21-year olds downloading their music. It is quite the barbaric yawp of a blog post. It's also pretty wrongheaded.
Emily's piece is discussing one thing that Lowery turns into another, seeming to have only read the headline. She doesn't say she's never bought music; quite the opposite, she makes a point of saying that. Yes, sharing music with your friends is still illegal, but mostly David is railing against the piracy industry. Which isn't her point at all.
Emily is talking about creating a different model for a generation whose experiences are radically different. When she's talking albums, she's talking a physical CD bought in a brick-and-mortar store. She doesn't seem to have any objection to paying for music, or to making sure that artists are fairly compensation. The compensation structure of the music industry isn't her subject. The way young audiences enjoy and experience and, yes, purchase music is. David completely ignores that and kicks around a whole bunch of strawmen.
He wants to talk about compensation structure and rail at Emily (and her generation) for a kind of moral turpitude. It's immoral, he says, not to care about the plight of artists. Most of me agrees with him. But I think he's going after the wrong end of the stick here. Emily doesn't say anything about not caring about the fate of artists. Again, she notes that she'd like a system that compensates artists more than the current one. David mentions nothing at all about creating a new system. For all of his passion, details and breakdowns, he's trying to tell Emily, someone who sees the immorality inherent in the system and wants something different, that no, she should be supporting this system.
If I were Emily White, I would feel shamed, embarrassed, scolded and kind of angry about Lowery's piece. I certainly wouldn't want to engage him any further because, plainly, he's not actually listening to me. He's so invested in the way things used to work that he can't even imagine a different way of working. So we can't talk about that, we can't discover that. This conversation will go nowhere. Which is a shame. Because, like many industries, the music industry needs to re-think its model. You can't do that when even the iconoclasts, the rebels are standing atop the barricades shouting "STOP!"