Re: @F: RE: More on Metallica vs. Napster

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From: Ian Andrew Bell (
Date: Tue May 16 2000 - 20:12:52 PDT

Let's not wade too much into the profanity or the slander here, but I think
Tom Whore, Jeff, Morton et al have the nuggets of some real common sense
(so do the others).

Making music has been a profitable (or at least an artist-sustaining)
enterprise almost since it began. Long before the written word, stories
were told by travelling bards who retold old legends set to music -- this
was the oral tradition and this was their chosen vocation. Stories like
Beowulf, and perhaps even the Holy Bible were originally conveyed in this
manner until someone had the sense (and the script) to write them down.

Later, composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were supported by Kings
and courtiers. These patrons paid them to compose pieces for specific
events. The musicians themselves were hired for public
performances. Further, the time-honoured tradition of "busking" on street
corners continues even today and is perhaps the oldest form of "music
business" there is.

I'm very much on the clue train, so I'm aware of emusic and mp3 (in the
case of the latter I invested in their IPO - blech!). To suggest that or, with their $8.99 per album price (for $8.99 USD I
can get the CD at A&B Sound in Vancouver) and their worthless stocks, is a
sustainable or even a realistic model for how the music industry should
work in a digital age is ridiculous. Those prices are set by the same
industry giants (emusic touts their partnerships with ASCAP and BMI) and
middle men that have created the pricing model for CDs -- it is not a sea
change heralding a new era for distribution.

Add to that the issue that, once purchased, the MP3s can be duplicated ad
infinitum with no degradation in quality or even any traceability, and the
same problem still plagues artists. As quoth Jeff Bone, the Internet
routes around damage, and's proposition (that every individual
pays $8.99 for 12 MP3 files) is still damage that's worth routing around.

The problem is that as you seek to erode the hegemony of big-ass labels and
their affiliated girth, you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater
because you're punishing the artists, too. So you're faced with a damned
if you do, damned if you don't sort of choice that requires you to dance
with the Devil ( or screw the artists (Napster). And that's
enough metaphor for one paragraph.

I guess the other problem is that once Napster starts charging monthly
subscriptions, it's only a matter of time before another startup emerges
that finds some way to subsidize the monthly per-user fee and offers the
service for free again, taking us back to square one. Here's that routing
around censorship/damage issue again.

Next, to say that artists should use recorded music as essentially
advertisement for live performances, say, sounds rather appealing. But the
problem is that you begin to systemically define what types of music are
sustainable. Electronic music, for example, is much more conducive to
recorded listening than live performances (when was the last time you lined
up overnight for Paul Oakenfold tickets?) -- even Gersham can corroborate this.

Finally, there's the cultural argument: Our culture needs heroes. Like it
or lump it, we (society) need the Back Street Boys -- we thrive on
them. Perhaps for the late 20's set it Curt Cobain or Tori Amos, but we
all need heroes, and it costs money to be a hero.

The infrastructure that lies underneath a band like Metallica is enormous,
and the same system that supports Peter Mulvey or Peter Frampton or Peter
Paul & Mary with a healthy middle-class income cannot support Metallica
with their 17 tour trucks and 120,000 watts of stadium-pounding
sound. Most stadium bands actually lose money while on tour -- it's an
investment that creates spikes in album sales as they move around to
different regions.

Anyway, to bring this jumble of arguments to some kind of a conclusion, I
have been simply saying that neither side has a model right now that is
sustainable or that can possibly accommodate the varying realms of artistry
within the music world.

Perhaps an uncomfortable coexistence, much as has emerged within the
computer software industry (where paying users subsidize pirates), is the
best that we can hope for.


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