Some smart thinking—probably the smartest I’ve seen so far— in response to David Lowery’s “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.” response to NPR intern Emily White’s “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With.”
davidlerner: “the ethical argument obscures another reason why I believe consumers aren’t buying enough CDs and legally downloading enough music … to adequately compensate musicians. This reason is better explained by good old fashioned value investment … than a metaphysics of morals.” And:
I hear you 21 year old intern! Not all of us are old vinyl coots and codgers. Besides, records are bulky…and they smell! Sure, some people find the very inconvenience of driving 40 miles in search of a particular record appealing. But what about the well-adjusted, busy others who view such behavior as irrational, irresponsible even, a pathetic waste of time, only appealing to deviant cretins and the mentally insane? Well, it seems these normal young people are willing to pay for music too, only in the form of a yet-to-be-determined monthly sum granting instant access to anything ever recorded, delivered right to their phone. Convenience! Although many of us are attached to real value, i.e., something we can take home, look at, put on a shelf, maybe sell on eBay or trade for a decent amount of store credit when we’re sick of it, others will pay a monthly sum to not bother, and never set foot in a record store. We may not all like it, but that’s where we are, these are the twin poles of recorded music’s potential for revenue. But what of the vast middle ground of CDs (Baby and non-Baby), streaming services, legal downloads, videos and so on? With the exception of bizarre outliers such as Rhino Handmade (seriously guys, CD only in 2012?), for all but the top-grossing entertainers in the land, these occupy the traditional territory of the loss-leader. Maybe they’ll help interest people in your project and give you a little folding money on tour, if you’re lucky.
This got me thinking …
In the New York Times “Media Decoder” blog, Ben Sisario notes that the “firestorm in the music industry” is about “the right of musicians and record companies to be paid for their work.” In the comments, I asked, “Does Emily White get paid for her work?”* I’m assuming she doesn’t and that she is part of the growing army of unpaid entry-level labor being exploited (for lack of a better word) by employers. In other words, she and musicians not paid for their work on the same side of a growing trend generally not to pay people for their work. This moreover is part of a bigger vicious circle: as household wealth is being destroyed, people are more dependent on wages—even as there is continuing downward pressure on wages, including pressure to work for free. More and more, there’s simply less money out there to spend on things, especially low-value (pure consumable?) mp3s. For the economy to support people getting paid for their work, people need to get paid for their work. Otherwise, people simply won’t be able to afford to pay, at least not for things that are not value investments (or food and shelter): non-essential goods and services.
* NYTimes.com user wbilger of Lake Action, WI’s insightful question in response to mine: “Do her readers pay her?”