I was walking through Battery Park the other day and there was a very realistic mini-me Statue Of Liberty getting all interactive with a couple of its admirers. I like that. Fifty yards further north there was another Statuette engaged in photo op. Ironically I came upon this very analog interaction on my way to the Digital Music Forum where I gained entry, by way of mediachannel.org, posing as a journalist.
These conferences are potentially excruciating as they are informative. But the reality check they offer on the state of the music industry in which I toil and complain is generally worth having to get functional before noon. Also a compelling element of the conference was a panel on Day 2 of the event that was moderated by my friend, Aydin Caginalp, the smartest and most decent practitioner of the second oldest profession (law). He's one of the only people on the bidniz side of town to recognize that Napster 1.0 was the The Future. And he knows that the big locomotive hauling The Future will, as always, arrive on schedule regardless of how many bales of money little men in suits pile onto the tracks. Aydin is still way ahead of the curve. Ahead of us all. He even had the good sense and good taste to invite a guy who, like himself, had the vision to see past the self-serving cretinous bullshit that is driving the entire machine off the cliff. This was Jim Griffin, Managing Director of OneHouse LLC.
Over lunch, after his panel performed, we talked about our kids and how mySpace and youTube are The New Future and the most viable antidote to the damage done to our creative culture by the corporatization of the human spirit. Here's a movement built from the ground up by a community of pop-cultists and all their pals. Hordes of renegades making things because it's fun and then giving them away for free. And, of course, there's the deconstructing and reconstructing of content that the zombie elite refer to as ≥property≤. This is truly the American Dream in action. Ok, so Murdoch and Google gobbled up mySpace and youTube. We all know that as soon as they suck the blood out of their new acquisitions, newer and even cooler renegade versions of mySpace will immediately begin to chirp and fly. This is, after all, The American Dream and it's spreading all over the world without help from the military/industrial complex.
As long as we're discussing a music industry that has lost its soul and is out shopping for a new one, let's get cosmic for a minute and ponder that eternal existential mind-fuck -- duality. In this context, the creative act of composing and performing music inhabits the etherial plane and the task of revenue generation, the material plane. When it comes to marketing the fruits of the etherial realm, the material machine will always be a few steps behind the curve. That's because the machine requires time-consuming analysis, hardware and software development, and passage of ugly legislation before its shit gets to market. And the etherial... well, go figure. It's mercury under a hammer. In other words -- people want music when they want it and we get jolly over the giving and receiving of music to and from friends and loved ones. The act of giving and receiving is one of those rare mysterious human impulses that are rendered free of charge. We like it that way. As Mastercard likes to say while it's boosting our wallets -- some things are priceless. And if you get too pushy about subdividing the etherial plane into market niches and pie slices, The Ether will bite you hard on the ass. Just ask the Big Four major labels.
The Sony/BMG guy up on the stage is wheezing about establishing a standard DRM (copy-protection) format that will ≥serve the interests of the consumer≤. DRM!! Nobody on Planet Earth but chumps in suits gets sexy over DRM. Well, maybe also people whose perversion of choice is hacking DRM digits into digital dust. The major labels have spent a fortune suing their customers, screwing their content providers and trying to legislate a cease and desist order on the unstoppable megaforce of history. The labels would get better returns by paying the pharmaceutical industry to develop a Stupid pill to prevent the human mind from maturing past the age of fifteen. Then the market for Britney and 50 Cent could expand unto eternity.
Halfway through the first panel of the first day I was already getting itchy with the non-stop chatter about monetizing music. But the thing that really yanked my tail was when the Sony/BMG guy referred to the music his company hijacks as ≥our music.≤ A warm green puss dripped off the dais and onto my shoes.
By nature I'm a pain and there were a bunch of asses in the room so I did my thing. I got on the mike and suggested that there's this dynamic that's been going on since humans started making noises; it's the relationship between noise-makers and those who vibrate in time to their grooves. Everything else about the distribution of music is just so much commentary and larceny. It might serve those employed in the dark arts of moving music between the Givers and Receivers to start thinking creatively about the mysterious chemistry between those two parties. That's where the new money will be. And to stay relevant, the industry has got to invite the artists and the fans to the table and seriously factor their interests into every business paradigm. Otherwise the fans will always find a way to get it for free and the endlessly exploited artists will prefer to give it to them for free rather than to give it to the corporations for not much more. As success through the DIY route continues to become a more viable option than the old paradigm, the balance of power is shifting to where it rightfully belongs -- the musician and the audience.