hold a flawed perspective about music that the major labels and the
record stores love for people to have. The perspective, quite simply,
is that when you, a consumer, shell out that 15 bucks per CD, you buy music.
But you do not
really buy music.. because music is not the physical product that we
sometimes mistake it for. Music is an intangible, eternal form of
A simple concept
one must understand lies in the fact that anything that has no mass
also has no time. That which has no time, is eternal. That which is
eternal, cannot be bought because it merely is.
misunderstand, I do not mean to suggest that a copy of Smells
Like Teen Spirit will forever exist. Certainly, I recognize the
possibility that every instance, every copy of a certain piece of
music may one day no longer exist. The eternity of music lies in the
concept of music as an artistic expression. This concept is outside
the boundaries of time and space because it is not dependant or
affected by those boundaries. Yes, it is an arrangement of sound
waves in each instance, but looking deeper, it is simply a form of expression.
If you choose not
to purchase that plastic disk in the record store that does not mean
that the music does not exist.
If the record
store sells you that plastic disk that does not mean you own the
music. You have merely purchased the right to listen to that music
stored on that plastic disk but more directly, youve
purchased a plastic disk,
some paper on which you may find some cover art, and perhaps some lyrics.
profit (profit, in this case, meaning money after the cost of the
actual materials of plastic and paper; what it took to manufacture
those; and the record stores cut, etc.) goes to the record
label, who then takes a portion for its trouble (promoting,
popularizing, funding, etc.), and finally, to the artist who formed
his or her artistic expression with that music. Now, there you have a
crude description of the general idea surrounding the breakdown of
the money involved with selling CDs.
The problem begins
in us, when we, assuming we understand what we pay for, then begin to
have this perspective that music is a physical product for which we
can pay and then own. This folly in thinking cheapens our perspective
on music, the art. This multi-billion dollar industry built around an
intangible, eternal form of artistic expression becomes the very
thing that devalues this expression by forcing music lovers to become
consumers who purchase a physical product.
Now, the record
labels realize that we do not purchase the music when we purchase
those plastic disks. I would venture to say that in most cases, the
record company believes that it
owns the music. Here, further flawed thinking results in confusing
copyright with possession. Even the copyright holders cannot own
music. Copyright law say that an individual or company can own the
right to a particular arrangement of music and collect money when
another individual listens to that arrangement of music. When we pay
to listen, we pay to listen we do not pay to own the music
itself. Copyright law attempts to provide artists with incentive to
create and that
is good. However, when
copyright law crosses that boundary and begins to allow companies to
collect money from an artists creative expression without
paying the artist, then copyright law becomes unethical. And when
copyright law begins to become obsolete due to technological
advances, then it needs to get revised.
It frustrates me
when I read headlines like, Music Industry Estimates Losses Due
To Music Theft. The very notion of someone stealing music
astounds me. Yes, if I walk into Virgin Records and take a plastic
disk and walk out without paying, that is shoplifting. Yes, when I
download a copyrighted music file from the Internet without
permission and without paying, I have infringed on the copyright
holders rights. But in each of these cases, the music
is not stolen. The supply has not decreased, in fact it has
increased, and so has the demand.
The truth is,
music lovers everywhere become more frustrated as time goes on and as
the music industry moguls, the RIAA, the record labels, continue to
try and force music to be perceived as a product. The moguls want
music to continue to be perceived as a product because this product,
these plastic disks, largely remain what grows the billion-dollar a
The problem with
the music industry and the current model is a subject widely talked
about in our day of technological advances. Steve Albini perhaps
wrote one of the most widely circulated articles. You should also
read the article by Negativ Land about the price of CDs.
The Good News
The good news is
that technology (perhaps inadvertently) has created (and continues to
create) an opportunity for us to regain a right perspective on what
music really is.
You cannot buy
music. Hopefully, the record industry will wake up, smell the
frustration of all the music lovers, and begin to offer us the option
to pay for the delivery of
digital music through subscription models where the music feels free but
the artist prospers.
It should seem
blatantly obvious that, at this point, people become more and more
accustomed to getting music for free on the Internet, and the longer
the industry waits, the more difficult they will find it to get
people to pay for Napster-like services. Furthermore, suing Napster
and others out of existence helps no one. In fact, it only hurts the
labels and pisses off the music lovers.
RIAA, government: We
will become the generation to bring value to music as an art. We will
end the exploitation of artists as mere pawns in a bigger,
moneymaking scheme. Technology becomes our weapon and nothing can