I know, I’m a week late writing about Lily Allen and her attempts to back Peter Mandelson’s campaign to have ‘persistent file sharers’ internet connections taken away. (and in the meantime, she’s taken down her anti-file sharing blog, and allegedly quit music!)
There have been a lot of responses to this, many of them suggesting that Lily (and her brothers in arms James Blunt and Gary Barlow) don’t make music worth buying so they deserve to have it pirated…
So let’s deal with that first. Your (or my) impression of the ‘worth’ of Lily Allen’s music has no bearing whatsoever on whether she’s talking sense or not. She could be John Coltrane saying this, or she could be the Reynolds Girls. It makes no odds.
What’s more important is why she’s saying it.
What’s her interest in it? Is she broke? I’m guessing not. Are her records not selling? Uhm, I think she’s had two number 1 albums… Does she REALLY care about ‘record company investment’ in up and coming artists? How can she when after TWO NUMBER ONE ALBUMS she claims that “The days of me making money from recording music has been and gone as far as I’m concerned ” – this is completely insane! I MAKE MONEY FROM RECORDED MUSIC AND I SELL LESS THAN A THOUSAND PHYSICAL ALBUMS A YEAR!!! [deep breath...]
Does she really think that that’s the way bands will be discovered these days, and in the future? by record companies spending money in the way they have for the past 40 years??? Does she also think that ‘success’ in the future will be measured by the 100s of thousands of ‘units’ you sell (while still failing to recoup), or your ability to play the music you love to an audience who love it without going into debt to a record company ‘advance’ to do it…
As someone who made a massive deal out of the fact that her fanbase was a ‘grass roots’ thing, growing on Myspace (a free service), her advocacy for large scale record company expenditure being vital to the future of the record industry seems ill-thought-out at best, and outright misinformation at worst.
Is her objection really as ‘moral/ethical’ as her language implies it to be? Does she really think that the moral implications of people sharing music online are so heinous? (and let’s not forget that the tools that make it possible are also used increasingly by musicians to deliberately make their music available for free so that their audience can do their promo for them – a process that was previously MASSIVELY expensive, and most of the time, not recouped on record sales, due to the wastage and speculation involved…)
Does she really believe that in the world of commerce around music, the moral imperative lies with the actions of big record labels, and that fans downloading the music they WANT TO LISTEN TO are in some way ethically compromised by that desire and action?
I wonder what other actions that are associated with the music industry Allen/Blunt and Barlow are campaigning about. I wonder if, given the strong link between the international drugs trade and the glamourising of drug-taking that the music world – musicians, labels, press and fans alike – have been involved in, they’re now going to put their weight behind a shop-the-junky campaign.
Perhaps there should be plans to snoop on musicians, in case, from their position of influence, they are involved in drug taking. Maybe she’ll want CCTV put in tour buses, dressing rooms, venue toilets, record company offices. All monitored by police, paid for by the tax payer, so that those people who are doing drugs – supporting the multi-billion-dollar drugs trade and leading impressionable kids to think that drugs are cool – can be stopped. Sounds great, huh?
Which action has a greater negative effect on the world – the downloading of music, with a view to listening to it, getting more into the band, sharing the news about that band with your friends, and then checking out what else they’ve done, and buying the bits that make sense to spend money on… or the drugs industry?
The ‘self-interest’ part of this is that she’s become a part of an industry that over-spends and under delivers, that sees no value in anything other than selling pieces of plastic, and hasn’t cottoned on to just how cheaply and awesomely music can be made these days. If you live in a world where the only point to making music is to sell a million albums – and all of a sudden you’re only selling 600,000 but still spending as though you were going to sell a million, then you’re screwed. Utterly.
But that’s not the fault of file sharing. If you can’t make money off of the physical product you’re already selling, your budgeting is wrong wrong wrong. What hope do you have of making more money from more sales? Her first album sold 2.6 MILLION copies – if she’s not a millionaire, she’s either generous to a fault, massively wasteful, or she’s being ripped off by the very industry she’s trying to defend. Surely if 2.6 million sales isn’t enough, 3 million sales will make her even poorer, due to whatever those random costs are that mean she’s not making money from it!
Part II, we’ll look at Some of what already goes on in the industry that is worse than file sharing for musicians.