2010-04-06

Superflous


Earlier today I skimmed a report on the the issue of free downloads of music from the Internet and the consequences for artists and composers.

I tend to differentiate between the "music industry" and artists and composers.  In my use of the term the "music industry" is used to refer to the companies and people who do not necessarily contribute to the artistic content, but the entities who own and manage the rights to music, distribution, promotion and to some minor degree, production.

In the past recording and then marketing and distributing music was expensive and complex.  You needed expensive infrastructure and you needed a whole army of specialists just to create a technically acceptable recording.  Studios were packed full of really exotic and expensive gear and you had recording engineers to man the controls.  You also needed to address the immense logistics of producing physical media and distribute it to retail outlets.

During the 1990s this started to change and by 2000 it was entirely possible to create recordings that were on par with what the professional studios were capable of at a cost managable to anyone.  Today, for about $2000, you can set up a very basic home studio capable of quality recording.  If you manage to pony up $10,000 to $15,000 you can have a great home studio -- most of it consisting of the same tools that are used in the traditional recording industry today.

This means that for actually creating the works, most musicians can get a lot done on their own given very small budgets.  There are still some specialist jobs involved in making a record, such as mixing and mastering tracks.  However, given the extreme availability of professional grade tools to the masses there are also far more amateurs who are capable of filling this role.  And even if you do use professionals to master your recordings, you have a lot of choice and it is not very expensive.  Trade rags for music production are full of ads for people who specialize in everything from mixing and mastering to re-creation of musical samples to get around the obscene royalty fees you would otherwise need to pay.

As for the distribution of music, it is possible to sell your music online and not bother with the distribution of physical media at all.  There are lots of companies that will take care of this for you if you choose to use their services.  They'll make sure that your music turns up on popular services such as iTunes and Spotify.

What I am getting at is that significant chunks of the "music industry" is largely superflous.

However, there is a huge imbalance here:  the traditional music industry is in control of the legal aspects. Their control over the intellectual property rights as well as their political power means that they are not only capable of making a nuisance of themselves;  they do.  They aren't dumb and they know that their role in bringing music into the hands of consumers is a diminishing one.  So they do everything in their power to force artists and consumers to provide them with income.

They are sort of like the "facehugger" in Alien.  Latched onto the face of artists and consumers alike.  When the victims struggle to free themselves of the parasite, the parasite just tightens the hold and threatens to strangle the host organism.

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