Music sharing

I can’t possibly add more to what has already been discussed so many times on Music sharing or piracy. But after reading this slashdot story yesterday and this interview of Prince, I couldn’t resist from writing something about it. I think all the musicians, artists or any kinds of content creators are clearly missing a point.

The argument that Jason Robert Brown put in his blogpost (linked above), is typical of artists who don’t know what to do with modern channels of distributions of their artworks. It goes like: I work full time creating this artwork and I won’t get paid for it from sales of DVDs, if people pirate it. So don’t use modern technology to do this “illegal” act of file sharing.

I would like to add some perspective. Consider a musical artist born in early 1900s, the era when there was no radio, no TV and maybe few gramophones. The artist would earn his living by doing shows town-to-town. Let’s say, he was the most talented artist of his time. Now will you claim that today’s artists are 100 times more gifted or more hard working than that virtuoso of early 1900s? Because roughly 100 times more is what today’s top artists earn compared to that guy from the past (even after accounting for inflation).

So how come in a century’s time musical artists turned from starving performers to rock stars?

Technology.

Invention of analog and later digital storage techniques allowed saving a performer’s work and reproducing it later. This breakthrough eliminated the need for performer to perform the same work again and again to reach more people. Artists now could record their work and “sell” the recorded media.

Invention of broadcast technologies - radio and television - made it possible for these artists to reach to insanely wider audiences than was possible before. This helped in spreading their popularity and hence the sales of their stored performances.

This created an entire industry of middlemen, who will manufacture, record, distribute the stored performances. As it grew further, it became even bigger with record labels, artist agents and their secretaries.

A piece of music takes same amount of effort and talent as it used to take 100 years ago. Yet now billions of dollars change hands due to a 3 minute song from Michael Jackson.

Well, as the technology advanced still further, it turned out it is not essential to have a physical storage media at all. Artist’s performance once converted to bits-n-bytes can now travel to its millions of audiences over this super highway called Internet. The artist is the same and what he/she does is also the same; but the middlemen have changed. They are not BMG, Sony, EMI anymore. They are AT&T, Comcast. They charge their customers differently. Of course they don’t just charge for music or artwork, but they charge for any generic bit stream that travels over their Internet pipe. Music is just a special kind of data. But this tiny fact has made people lose perspective of the situation.

One’s artwork cannot be valued at X dollars or 1000X dollars. It’s invaluable.

The advances in technology took a century. So many generations of artists came and gone in the meanwhile. Any kid with a talent for performing art, saw at the contemporary successful artists and assumed that he/she can make the money same way they did. So now that technology’s progress rate has accelerated, making ways of making money obsolete within lifespan of single generation of artists, they have become clueless. They assumed that artists have made this kind of money since the beginning of time.

Technology makes it possible to reach wider and wider audiences, and not necessarily sell to wider and wider audiences.

So the real question is:

Are the artists interested in making more fans ONLY if they make them more money?


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