If you follow debates about music, technology and how artists earn a living, you probably caught this post from David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven; Cracker). Lowery’s lengthy missive was in response to a blog post by a 21 year-old NPR intern, Emily White, who talked about how she never really paid for music, but nonetheless has 11,000 songs in her iTunes library.
This exchange of perspective has definitely touched a nerve in the artist community. We don’t want to get into a point-by-point breakdown of everything that does or doesn’t ring true about Lowery’s piece, nor do we care to cross-examine White about her choices. What we’ve learned over the past 12 years of being an organization at the front lines of these kinds of debates is that things can get really heated really quickly. And, while there’s certainly every reason to feel passionately about artist compensation (we sure do!), emotional responses are typically not the best starting point for orienting us toward practical solutions. Again, you can read Emily White’s original post here; David Lowery’s response is here. For extra credit, check out musician and FMC Board member Erin McKeown’s observations here.
To us, the real question raised by all of these pieces is, what can the musician and advocacy community do to improve current conditions? We have a few basic suggestions.
NPR intern Emily White says, “what I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices… all I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?” Maybe not, but we’re not quite there yet. Which is why it it’s crucial for everyone to support the continued development of legal, licensed services that fairly compensate artists. This means structures that are transparent, pay musicians directly and reduce the number of middlemen between the consumer and the artist’s wallet. In fact, this is one reason why we do the work that we do: to arrive at a legitimate digital music marketplace where music can be easily and lawfully accessed and musicians can earn a living.
As Erin McKeown points out, there are some issues that require greater policymaker awareness about the challenges facing the music community. We want to ensure that musicians are part of this process. Because if they’re not, policymakers will surely get it wrong. This is another reason why we do the work we do.
We also think musicians can take the lead in helping fans understand that their decisions affect artists. We aren’t trying to be proscriptive here, but it’s pretty clear to us that, if you like a piece of music, you should support the artist who created or performed it. So we’re excited any time artists work to educate consumers about the impact of the choices they make. At the same time, we can’t move the ball forward by looking backward to “the good old days.” We need to make it easier for fans to do the right thing, and consistently encourage them to do it. There are a lot of unresolved questions about how to best structure tomorrow’s industry so that artists can thrive. Part of that goal must include a commitment to helping fans understand how to make choices that support musicians. This is something we can all pull together on, even if there are debates about how the music business should ultimately operate.
Now that you’ve read all of these blog posts (you have, right?), we are curious about what YOU think. Tell us in the comments below.
(Image via Shutterstock)