Hey.. Bono? A few words. (or many.. in any case you’ll probably never see them)
In your “10 for the next 10 “article, I found a lot I agreed with(and was inspired by), but I think your assessment of the entertainment (and news, lumped in there) industry was terribly far off the mark as well as reality. Perhaps the lack of insight from such an obviously sharp, passionate and compassionate mind is a matter of information not read, heard? You say that the people downloading is hurting are the people who are essentially unknown. People who cannot make a living off tickets and t-shirt sales. First of all, who? You get my point there? The reason we have no idea who you’re speaking of is because no-one KNOWS WHO these people are because they’re not famous. Of COURSE they cannot expect to make a living off t-shirt sales! How can or could they if their fan-base is 400 people on myspace spread out over the entire PLANET? (most of which cannot afford, as you are aware, clean drinking water, let alone t-shirts with unknown bands emblazoned upon them) But that’s always been the case. The only difference now is that they can actually HAVE 400 fans worldwide, unlike before when they would have trouble even reaching the people in their home-towns.
I do agree that we in the US should give more credit where it’s due when it comes to the entertainment industry. In California we are want to say “it’s the cheese”. Well, I don’t know about you, but when was the last time a hunk of medium cheddar made people want to snog in the back seat of a car, or inspire someone to write a novel? And when was the last time a gruyere was alphabetized, shelved and consumed 100 times in a year? Then again and again over a 50 year period? Not once. The entertainment economy of California (and the US) is a gift that keeps on giving. Take that, cows. Why don’t you try licensing some pepper jack for the end credits of a film sometime. I didn’t think so.
But as you well know, there’s a price for entry to this world. Recently, a site called Mininova was taken off the radar of several million users. Mininova was indeed giving people a platform for freely uploading links to ANY content they wanted to, copyright-burdened or otherwise. But they were ALSO allowing content creators to upload content to a ready-made audience of downloaders searching for new and interesting music, films, books, documentaries, etc. You might say that your work and the works of others were being used as audience-bait in a sense. But that’s also true of radio. When the majority of the public tune in to a radio station and stay there, it’s not to be surprised. It’s to find familiarity and comfort as well as identity. If they hear something new, it’s not because they were trying to. It’s because that new track was played between the Nirvana song that reminds them of high school and the U2 track that reminds them of grade school. But we don’t wonder where your cut or the radio station’s cut of that new artist’s career boost is do we? It’s not seen as a loss because it’s happening IN YOUR EXCLUSIVE CLUBHOUSE. When Mininova was forced to take down all links to copyrighted material, they lost that audience. In a time when hearing new music on the radio is about as common as paid off houses. In turn, the content creators that had seen such a huge boost in new listeners and attention (those struggling artists you mentioned) immediately saw their potential audiences drop by the MILLIONS. But those Nirvanas and U2s were unscathed. Oh sure, there’s a kid out there whose life WOULD have been changed by hearing The Unforgettable Fire for the first time if only he’d have been able to listen to it once, free before seeking out and purchasing every single iteration of it’s recording. But you would have never felt the impact of his loss or yours. But that artist who was about to release his music on Mininova to a potential audience in the thousands instead of the 5’s? Huge loss. Huge missed opportunity. But that guy who came to the site to download The Joshua Tree rather than rip it from the fourth CD he’s purchased of the album? He’s never going to notice that small band that he’s never heard of now. Sure, he might run into suggested artists at itunes or some other site, but it will not be THAT artist.
But what hurts me the most about your article is the misunderstanding of bandwidth, it’s cost and value and the value of time when it comes to unattended computing. See, the bandwidth is there. It’s paid for. The bandwidth providers that are owned by the content middleman distribution companies (and there are many) would LOVE it if you thought this was all limited. And based on what we download or it’s popularity, that bandwidth would adjust it’s demand and it’s availability. Afraid not. That bandwidth IS used, no matter what. And it is, can be and always will be unlimited. They are not clogged tubes. You see, people are not drawn to the internet because the music is free. We are drawn to the internet because it connects us. Millions were on and percentage growth was staggering even in the infamous summer of AOL (93-94 time frame), far before people had ANY idea that you could share high quality music online. Once the web hit(still before the widespread use of the famous mp3 compression standard), file sharing was still something people did with pictures and text files. But you can count on the fact that if people would have had to wait a pretty solid hour to get a single high quality track, it would NOT have stopped them from doing so. ( I ran a file serving bot on an IRC channel at the time of the birth of the web, sharing audio files, and the wait never deterred anyone, even if it were hours, very much pre-napster ) As long as people can walk away and come back hours later, or even the next day and have what they want, they will do so. And they will not change habits/behaviour based on wait time alone. EVER. To say that our bandwidth dollars are the same dollars we WOULD have spent on CDs is like saying that our automobile dollars are the same dollars as our horse and buggy dollars. Dollars are dollars. And there’s no WAY America or any other country is going to choose the medium of the past over the medium of the future, no matter how much it bugs ya. I mean, I don’t mean to bug ya. 😉
The fact that the movie industry is thriving still has very little to do with a lack of demand on the part of file sharers (just look around a bit, you’ll see that TV shows and movies are downloaded in HUGE numbers) and EVERYTHING to do with an industry that insists on innovating and adapting. It also has a lot to do with not “developing” a failure culture within it’s walls. If I hear a major movie could be a dud, do you think I’ll waste even the trip across town to hand over matinee ticket dollars to see it? Nope. Never. Not even if it were free. But on a Sunday afternoon? If it takes even 2 hours to download, you bet I’ll give it a shot. Is that a lost sale? HELL NO! It’s not even remotely a lost sale. If I would never spend the money or the time to see it in a theatre, no matter what, it’s not a lost sale, period. Is it the ISP’s gain? NO!!! How do they make money off that download? There are some in the communications industry that would LOVE to see access to the Internet metered. In this case, then yes, money would be made by the ISP for that download and an argument could be made. But that would stifle business, new business models, and crash the economy harder and faster than you can say “debt trading”. Seriously. Think of all the social networking businesses our economy is somewhat relying upon to support other industries. Those bands (even the successful ones) that you spoke of earlier would be less likely to engage with fans because the Internet would become selective, limited and premium. Think of the activists, no longer able to reach out to supporters because potential supporters would have no idle time on the net to DISCOVER them. A metered Internet is not just a limited Internet, it’s the Internet of the privileged and the rich. When it comes to heating and food rather than Internet, most will choose heating and food and the net will be everywhere what it already is in much of the world, a place where only the rich can play and work. So finally, no. The reason why the movie and tv industries are surviving is because they are not wallowing in self pity and re-designing their economic models around suing and harassing their customers. It’s because they are focusing on improving content, improving distribution and improving the experience of the customer at every level. Can I download Avatar right now if I want? Yes. Will I? No, probably not ever. But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to see that immersive thing of beauty a third time in IMAX 3d!! And even if it was not in IMAX 3d, I’d still want to see it in a theatre because the experience in the theatre will always be better than the experience at home. ( until we finally get VR at home )
And as for America’s noble effort to stop child pornography? It’s probably a fair assessment. But it’s a crime. Grabbing a COPY of a file is not only not theft by any reasonable definition (like copying a bicycle would not be theft, even if it were as easy as the click of a button.. but you can bet people at Schwinn will be standing in line to get it defined as such), it’s not even remotely a crime. Look, the fine people over at MakerBot are the first step toward making this push-button bicycle machine a thing of reality. So don’t think this is a stretch of the imagination, let alone the moral compass. You define the copying and sharing of a thing YOU created as theft because you have so much invested in it. Like Schwinn does. You can bet that the second you can make a Schwinn (or a reasonable facsimile) at home, Schwinn will quite abruptly and suddenly claim that it’s DESIGNS are the real value, not it’s product. And anyone making one without paying them a fee is “stealing” from them. There are people out there trying to lay patent claim on the VERY GENES that make up the human body. Why? Because they are smart. Smarter than you or I and perhaps slightly evil. Everyone wants a piece of the action and fears for their future, their way of life, lifestyle and survival. No matter how well off they are now and how secure. No matter how much more they have than you or I. Fear is the worst human frailty. And there’s nothing we fear as much as the future.
Once we “track content” on the Internet, we will also be micro-managing innovation and change. That doesn’t mesh. It never has. And it comes at a cost. One must only look at the lowered faces of people in England and Singapore to know that once we’re all watched, we tend to hide. Whether it’s hiding faces from street cameras or hiding ideas that should be seen by the world to make it a better place. The cost, in my opinion, for a panopticon Internet is too high. For the economy AND the human race/planet.
And if the next Cole Porter has already left to write jingles, he or she is not the next Cole Porter to begin with. But if the next Cole Porter is selling his or her music to Ford to promote their new model, then that artist is not selling out at all. Selling out, these days, is signing a contract with a label. Selling out is paying a marketing firm to help promote your music. Making money in the industry now means having to re-define much of what we used to call selling out. The reason it used to be called “selling out” is because these artists were almost always already living a lush lifestyle. No other reason. When you hear the latest indie darlings on a car ad now, the first thing that comes to mind, for me, is not “sell-out”, it’s whether or not Pitchfork will treat them fairly now that they can pay rent this month and possibly make a second album. (because it’s hard for EVERYONE to accept the new terms, critics as well)
Art will continue to be made. It will be made with money and it will be made in basements. And it will change, like it or fight it. But with it, with hope, the world can change as well. Perhaps someday soon artists will not have to make millions to live comfortably and have the space and resources available to them in order to continue to make art. But so much of what makes what we see, what we listen to and even what we consume so beautiful is the struggle that inspired it. The obstacles that informed and inspired that art. Some of the greatest music ever made was made on the cheap, by artists struggling to make ends meet, even as the world was just discovering who they were. You know that. I’ve seen you recognize it in the music of those you admire.
We can face the future in two ways.
1. With an open mind and a revolutionary soul, recognizing it when people are reaching out to you rather than simply criticizing. *nudge*
2. By fighting it. Wrong or right. But always failing in the end. Always remember than no-one has ever, in all of history, “stood their ground” with an open mind. But they’ve managed to do a lot of standing still.
Thank you for your service to the world and your music.