Today’s post is by FMC Communications Intern Peter Haugen.
Given the choice, most musicians would prefer to not to be washed up. But is it any better to be out at sea?
With the music biz in a state of seemingly permanent flux, plenty of folks are looking for a raft. Along those lines, I recently heard the major record labels compared to the big steamships of yore. Due to their large mass, they have lots of momentum, but alas, they also have extremely poor turning speed. When quick movement is needed, bulky vessels simply lack maneuverability.
Pre-Napster, I get the sense that it was generally a good thing to be a passenger on one of the music industry version of these hulking freighters; just jump on board and its professional, service-oriented crew hooked you up with a music video, a gold record, a date on “Saturday Night Live” or “Good Morning America.” But sometime in the course of the last ten years, many giant vessels seems to have…I don’t know, hit an iceberg. Whoops. Yet the big ships were never the only things on the water. Far from it. In fact, looking out across the channel in 2010, there seems to be plenty of action on the rolling seas.
If the big labels can be likened to big steamships, then DIY musicians like myself are sunboats, maybe? Skiffs? Sloops? Hard to cross the ocean in one of those things, but certainly not impossible. You need a good navigation system (talent plus a head for business) a sturdy vessel (call this intestinal fortitude) and maybe even some defenses (insert line about “pirates” here).
Let me expand the metaphor even further. When I heard about the recent Court of Appeals decision that tossed out the FCC’s presumed legal authority to regulate the internet, my nautical musings only picked up steam. Here’s the deal: Because of this decision, the internet is basically unregulated. This means the Internet Service Providers can choose who has access to the "shipping lanes." Absent rules establishing that anyone can use them, the lanes are under the sole control of the ISPs. It’s already hard enough to cross the Atlantic in a ten foot sunboat, but if the FCC can't keep the internet open to everyone, it becomes that much harder. Without so-called "net neutrality," artists and entrepreneurs may have to pay a toll to the ISP or take a circuitous route that through some rough (and much slower) waters.
Picture this: here you are, out at sea in your tiny boat, battling waves and winds and fearsome multi-limbed sea creatures, while potential audiences — who do not yet know of your existence — are near the shore, “surfing.” You need to bring your vessel closer to them. But without the ability to chart your own course, you’re just drifting.
Keep in mind I’m talking about the internet here. Also, this isn’t about consumers paying extra money for faster speeds – that’s like paying for how much electricity you use. What I’m talking about is the ability for ISPs to charge content providers (like creators, innovators and entrepreneurs) more money for the faster delivery of their sites and services. Musicians who didn’t want to — or couldn’t afford to — pay a toll could get stuck in the slow lane while the best-funded companies zoom right along.
I suppose having to pay big money to access the primo shipping lanes might help set you apart from your competition. Because clearly, there’s a lot of competition. But assuming that you are like me and have a monthly business budget of about seven bucks (which too often goes to a Wendy’s combo meal), paying for "preferred treatment" is probably not an option. Like a lot of other independent artists, I depend on an open, neutral internet to make sure my little skiff (OK, maybe it’s just me in a pair of water wings) can make it to the far shore.
The open internet is the internet as we know it. It's simply establishes a level playing field. Obviously, you still have to have the other stuff I mentioned earlier. You know, like talent and drive.
If you want to learn more about net neutrality — the principle that protects the open internet — check out this short video we made on the subject. Our Rock the Net page has a ton of information, too.
Me, I’m gonna keep working on my musicianship (and make sure my arms are in shape for some serious rowing).