Farm Development

Shame The Thieves or Fix the Music Model

David Lowery wrote a piece on how downloading music is hurting musicians (which is a response to Emily White's piece on admitting to not buying music). Here is my response.

Music is a really interesting "product," especially when distributed digitally for $0.001 cents per download (production costs: bandwidth, storage, etc). The real production costs are for the time put in by the artist, studio fees, and creativity. Besides the creativity part, that formula sounds a little bit like the FDA drug market, right? It costs about $0.001 cents to manufacture a pill so the hefty price tag goes to recoup the money spent on drug research. Or does it? Yeah, selling drugs is a messed up industry.

I think where the article falls short is it brushes off this "'Net neighborhood" where "everything is free" as if it doesn't really exist -- the real question is this: how much is music worth? As with any market it's only worth as much as someone will pay for it. Digital data, by its nature, wants to be free. Digital storage technology was invented to make data more transportable. To say that digital data has a value is going against its nature. What's worse is that everyday it evolves a little more (networks get faster, hard drives get cheaper), making data even more free. I don't think the article properly addresses that problem; downloading music is not the same as looting a neighborhood record store at all.

An assessment of this dilemma that I found relevant was from Paul Graham. It went something like this: If we colonize the moon where there is no oxygen, oxygen could be sold as a product. You could probably even sell odors like delicious pizza smell. However, you cannot sell pizza smell on earth because anyone can just walk by their favorite pizza parlor and get some smells for free.

The morality debate is a good one to have but ultimately, morals aside, easy access to free music is what today's music market is up against. It is currently losing and the battle will wage on. We could shame people into stopping their behaviors or we could think of new ways to generate revenue for artists. I think the latter is more productive.

Feedback? My comment system sort of sucks but you can also reach me at @kumar303 and on Google Plus.

  • Re: Shame The Thieves or Fix the Music Model

    The fundamental difference between oxygen and pizza versus media, is that you need food and air to live. People do not need music or movies to live. Live well, sure, but not to survive.

    Sure a downloaded file only costs initially a couple cents to distribute, but even during the time of vinyl albums, there was a mark up involved. Which pays for tour buses, studio time, rent, mixing and a variety of expenses it is required to maintain a band.

    To claim that a song only costs the amount of what it would take to house it on website, for one download, is ignoring overhead and the development it takes to keep a creative endeavor a float. Not to mention that costs isn't about a monthly service fee, but a service fee that spans over several years. It's not the instant cost, but the overall cost of providing a media outlet over the long term.

    The younger generation is screaming to sky about this, and frankly I think they don't know what they are talking about, never have made anything in their life and probably several years away from paying for their own living expenses. Frankly, they are ignorant to ways of the world. Ignorant to the creative process. And yes, they should be shamed. Not just shamed, but educated on the production process. It cost money to make cool things.

    The constant rebuttal on the file sharing forums is that media companies are making money hand over fist. Really? If I'm not mistaken Sony just posted a billion dollar loss. And laid off 10,000 employees. So, it doesn't cause job loss?

    I will concede the point that many media companies are doing a poor job at distribution. And that their price point is a bit high. But, claiming that iTunes and Sony shouldn't be allowed to post a profit is communistic in nature. Which limits the ability of creative entities to produce something grand. Something remarkable. I guess we can all live with products that have "Red Bull" stamped across it. But, I think we can all agree that corporate sponsors only dumb down true creativity.

    Example: HBO Original content is way better than anything on ABC, NBC or CBS. Why? They are not tied to sponsorship. They are free to be creative, because they are financed by a membership fee. Not controlled by some conservative corporation who will pull their support if you say something that they are politically opposed to. I can think of Birth Control, Gay rights, political dissent, Abortion, you name it.

    I will also concede that there many middle men that can be cut of the equation of distribution, focusing on a web only distribution process. Not controlled by a few. Not limited to whether you have a cable subscription. But, by membership fees to an artist's work. The deal should be, "I the artist will provide the best quality product I can create, at an affordable price point. And will continue to do so as best that I can" "I the user will not pirate the artist's work outside of my immediate social circle, in exchange for fresh and engaging content. And will only share an artist's work if said artist fails to live up to their end of the bargain."

    Under the file sharing mindset, the only way you can build something epic is by selling out to corporate interests. Who can also use their money to buy political influence. Thanks Congress. So, they control politics and creativity? Talk about a slippery slope. [anti-SOPA]

    Media companies need to do a better job at living up to instant gratification. The younger generation needs to realize that what they are taking cost money. Probably something most of these kids couldn't do in a million years. It takes practice, talent and sometimes a gift to create. This should be rewarded. Artists should be able to make a living. Make a profit. Make enough money to pay the rent, live a normal life and prepare for the next album or movie. Not working at Starbucks for the rest of their lives, because a bunch of self entitled dead beats won't "degrade" themselves by getting a job at Taco Bell for the summer.

    This attitude that media should be free, is the death of artistry. We should probably all just sell out to Pepsi and produce a variety of jingles for 20 somethings to load up their cheap iPhones, built off the backs of employees forced to work 80+ hours a week. Good job American youth. You're aces… [sigh]

  • Re: Shame The Thieves or Fix the Music Model

    @Jones all good points. I do think downloading music illegally is immoral but I also still think the digital medium is hard to sell as a product. It is actually a lot like oxygen -- music physically pushes air into your ears. It is the product of hard work and consuming it seems worthy of payment.

    I don't know if shaming this upcoming generation is worth our time. I'd like to see new models developed. We can do both, I suppose. There are a lot of promising philanthropy models right now that could do a lot to support musicians. The kickstarter model is enormously successful. It can be done.

  • Re: Shame The Thieves or Fix the Music Model

    "Digital data, by its nature, wants to be free." - citation needed

    Entropy is a law. Digital data wants to degrade.

    It takes money to keep that from happening. As someone who has operated server farms, I can tell you, it takes a lot of electrons and silicon to keep digital data from degrading. It takes even more electrons to pipe that data on demand into everyone's home.

    Digital storage and distribution is NOT free, nor will it ever be free by any technology known to man. The fact that it is less expensive than physical storage and distribution is a red herring.

    At the root of this question is "do content creators have the right to control the distribution of their creations." And the answer from people like yourself is a resounding "no."

  • Re: Shame The Thieves or Fix the Music Model

    You can cite the recent password leaks from LinkedIn and LastFM for "data wants to be free" -- it's mercurial entity and will find a way to squirm into every nook and cranny. Distributing truly private data (encrypted) is a really really hard problem and even in state of the art crypto you are still delivering something like audio needs to push air to be heard so it can be captured and copied at that level too.

    "Do content creators have the right to control the distribution of their creations?" -- does anyone truly own anything? The concept of copyright was created purely for the profits of companies who held investments in the creations of others; it was not created to support the creators themselves. This is a hard question to answer and I would not answer you "no" but I don't have a straight answer.

    I'm not trying to condone stealing music nor am I trying to deny that it's hurting artists. I am just more on Wesley Verhoeve's side (http://www.wesleyverhoeve.com/quixotism/): I see this massive shift of music consumption behavior as a beacon of reality showing us that music as a product has shifted. Music is not the same consumable product as it used to be and we need to respect that and adapt to it. We need to listen to our new generation of consumers and try to give them what they want in a way that still supports the artist. Is that too hard to do? Yes, it is hard but not too hard. Spotify is a step in the right direction, we need to give them credit for trying to build a model. Shaming these consumers until they change their ways doesn't seem like time well spent. They're not going to change.

  • Re: Shame The Thieves or Fix the Music Model

    my interest is not only to listen songs but also to know about the person behind the songs. a good creation like song is need the effort some guys. i mean the lyricists, the composer, the singer etc. a signature creation took every one contribution to be a signature. thanks to the admin on behalf of all the music lover.

  • Re: Shame The Thieves or Fix the Music Model

    I understand the desire to refute the economic argument for stealing, but I the analysis of profit, or fairness to artists, to be irrelevant in a discussion of illegal file sharing sites.

    If an artist, or a producer, decide to charge a million dollars for something that cost them 1 penny to create, nobody is forced to purchase it. If they want it so badly that they'll steal it, then they should buy it. Nobody is 'entitled' to someone else's proprietary art. And, it never helps to artist to steal their products.

    I think there is a valid argument that some record companies have been unfair to artists, but that still doesn't justify stealing. And today, almost anyone can cheaply create and distribute their music without a record company. Users on file sharing sites are stealing from these artists too!

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