The difference between BitTorrent and 'home taping'.

Back in the 80s there was an ad campaign run by the RIAA or someone that said ‘Home Taping Is Killing Music’ – there were even moves to levy a royalty on blank cassettes… A lot of people are now drawing comparisons with the way that people now download music off the web, ‘we’ve always had copied music, I used to tape stuff off my friends when I was a kid. Bit Torrent is no different’, goes the argument.

Here’s where it differs – and why I believe home-taping, and the real equivalent now which is duping a CD from a friend, aren’t killing music – lending music to your friends so they could copy them carried a lot of social capital. In general, people only lent CDs to their friends, and there was a reciprochal loaning taking place, if you had cool music to lend to your friends, it carried with it a cache that could put you in strong social stead at school, and it meant that in a functional peer group, everyone bought music with their pocket money, and everybody had a slightly bigger music collection than that which they could afford. Still, you were copying stuff from people with whom you would then discuss it, and the likelihood was that as a group you may well build an affinty with a particular band, scene or genre, and as your disposable income increased, so did the desire and means to own more than just the one album that you bought. I know that when I was at school I had a couple of copies of Cure albums before I bought them, and felt a great sense of pride when I replaced those tapes on vinyl – now i was a real fan.

It was an entirely different relationship to that of the downloader who installs BitTorrent and then proceeds to download 60 albums worth of Bob Dylan, and a 12gig Torrent of Joni Mitchell, or whatever… where the ‘ubiquity/scarcity’ dichotomy that Gerd talks about is enacted on your iPod or harddrive in a way that actually wrecks your relationship with music. So instead of developing a unique soundtrack within a peer group, one that requires a degree of financial investment, a fair amount of time (copying stuff onto cassette took a lot longer than downloading!) and the building up of a whole load of social capital, now you have a music collection bigger than most record shops, and absolutely nothing defined about it that makes it YOUR soundtrack. No filter. And our relationship with music is ALL about the filters.

So, again, the question is not just ‘how do we get paid for this?’. It’s bigger than that. It’s about how we re-engage with the process of becoming the soundtrack, how do we provide those filters, how do we connect with our audience both in an iconic way (where our music and the associated ‘brand’ speaks to them in some way) and also connecting personally.

The web is such an amazing tool for breaking down the barriers between artist and audience. It’s magic that I can write this stuff, and people can comment, or post on my forum. It’s great that I can email many of my favourite artists direct from their myspace page. It’s also great that I can then buy their latest album directly from them, investing in their career, connecting with them directly (or at least from my paypal account to theirs) and often get a ‘thankyou’ email back from them… That’s a good thing, and I don’t think the same is going to happen with free downloads. It just doesn’t carry the same transactional currency (even without the financial consideration) – it’s an uneven exchange, as the artist has provided music (that – let’s not forget – didn’t take weeks or even months to make, it took YEARS of playing to get to the place where the music is any good) but the downloader has just provided attention. Now don’t get me wrong, I am grateful when people take the time to listen to my music, but I’m not a charity case – I hope that people who listen to it again after that do so because it’s GOOD. It’s of value, and it offers them something of substance. Best case scenario it becomes part of their soundtrack to the world, along with all the other music that means something to them. And if it means something, it’s worth something, more than just a fraction of a penny from their ISP collected download tax, that Google then forward onto Sting and Madonna on my behalf – hey, don’t mention it, my financial situation will hardly be altered by the few meagre pounds that come my way each year, whereas your uber-wealth needs feeding. ;o) etc.

Does that make sense? (not the bit about Sting and Madonna, the stuff about bittorrent and home taping)

© 2008 Steve Lawson and developed by Pretentia. | login