Nokia Open Lab 08. The write-up. part 1

Nokia Open Lab - photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/ekaiI’ve just spent 3 days geeking out in Helsinki, at the Nokia Open Lab 08. The idea was to bring together 40 social media/mobile tech/blogging geeks in Helsinki for a series of workshops, discussions, talks and brainy mash-ups. The attendees were from all kinds of backgrounds, from corporate bloggers writing about tech stuff or financial markets, to sub-cultural social media conduits, using mobile technology to bring communities together and subvert standard media channels.

The format was really interesting, in that we were kind of thrown together with very little context, and left to work out what people’s areas of expertise were based on what they were willing/pushy enough to say in each of the discussions. So those of us who are extroverts naturally spoke at greater length than our respective knowledge bases necessarily warranted. Still, much value came out of the discussions, and a lot of people seem to have been fired up to use social media applications that they’d signed up for months ago but never really found a use for.

From Nokia’s side, they got

  • a massive amount of internal and external marketing footage from the conference
  • a load of online content bigging up their products
  • some quality, focussed expert product and service feedback
  • a whole bunch of enthusiastic interaction with some of their technology’s most progressive early adopters.

I’ll hopefully write up a lot of what I thought about the conference, but I think I’ll actually start at the end, with what the whole thing meant for musicians:

It was really interesting to be brought in by a mega transnational corporation to discuss mobile technology, given that my focus is largely empowering creatives to create without recourse to the corporate world – I’m not a fan of ad-sponsored music promotion streams and clearly not into the big record label model of yore. So in a sense there was some bravery in Nokia inviting people like me in without any kind of NDA/Contractual obligation not to slam their very existence (like anyone would really give a shit if I did… but anyway…).

As a pragmatist, I liked being in a place where for a weekend, I could largely think about ‘the best we can do within this kind of corporate framework’ – what does a company like Nokia have to offer the world of creativity and progressive political interaction by way of infrastructure and support? How can we as creatives use this technology, and perhaps even work with Nokia, in promoting a culture of un-fettered art. What can they do to help?

In approaching it from that angle, there were quite a few frustrations – the biggest being the session on the ‘future of entertainment’ – the scene was set by Anne Toole, talking from her background as a very experienced ‘old media’ writer (TV/film), now moved into the games industry. She talked a lot about her notion of what ‘film’ is – I think the idea was to get us thinking conceptually about the future of ‘The Industry’ in whatever our group were going to be discussing.

However, for me, the start point would have been the antithesis of what she was saying – I would have blown the doors off any attempt to define ‘film’ beyond it being ‘a series of pictures projected as a fast enough rate as to give the appearance of motion’, and then got people to think about the deep stuff of how we can make the world of film – both that which is designed to ‘entertain’ but also the information/pure art end of the spectrum – more interesting, more engaging, more productive, more subversive, more enjoyable, through social media and mobile technology.

But the big problem wasn’t that I disagreed with what I thought she was saying, it’s that she had no way of knowing I was thinking that and therefor couldn’t clarify whether or not I’d got completely the wrong end of the stick. So problem #1 was the format of the ‘presentation’ part, not the content (disagreement is vital to progressive discussion, but it has to be open and ‘real time’…)

Problem #2 was the way we were divided up. There were four groups – music, film, games and ‘me media’ (me media being cleverly named, given Nokia’s latest ad campaign… 😉 ) – and we were arbitrarily assigned to them. We could have swapped. I could’ve just wandered over to the music camp, but I didn’t. I was stuck in the games group. I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone that I effing hate games. Actually no, not games, I hate Games. I play games all the time – twitter, facebook, myspace, who’s going to fill the dishwasher. All fun, exciting, enjoyable games. I just couldn’t give a shit about the Games Industry.

I am however innately curious, and fairly good at conceptual abstraction, so we managed to have a cool discussion about games, gaming, and game principles abstracted from game culture. But still, there was a discussion about the future of the music industry and its relationship with social media/mob-tech, and I WASN’T IN IT.

W. T. F?

Yup, my fault for not getting up and moving. But their fault for not facilitating a coming together of people with expertise in the area. I would have LOVED to bang heads with the guys from the Nokia music store (not launched yet), to chat with people who see music as part of the ‘entertainment industry’, to people who favour ad-revenue models for ‘feels like free’ music. I’ve got about 150,000 words of stuff written on the subject 🙂

And we did have those conversations – that was the strength of the conference. As with all conferences, the conversations after the sessions were the main course. the sessions were largely high-functioning ice-breakers. The magic of Nokia Open Lab 08 started at 3pm on Saturday after the closing speech.

So post #2 will start to look at what we covered in the rest of the sessions, and where we go from here. Or maybe that’ll be post #3. Or #4… 😉

futuremusictalk.com launched…

A couple of months back, Sarda came up with the idea of an aggregated blog bringing together lots of the different thinkers writing about the future of the music industry. My ‘future of music’ posts are up there alongside fab thinkers and writers like Gerd Leonhard and Andrew Dubber.

…which I guess means I ought to get back to writing about the future of music! Despite not blogging about it as much of late, I’ve been doing lots of thinking about it, from a lot of different angles. Today’s fairly throw-away thought was just that ‘experience is not downloadable’ – I was walking through Time’s Square in NYC, and wondering how the big theatrical shows can afford to keep running at the level they do, here and in London. And part of it is that they offer an experience that can’t be downloaded – ACTUALLY going to the show is central to any kind of engagement with it. You could download the soundtrack, even a live video of the show, look at pics online, download and print out the sheet music, but none of that is going to mean much if you haven’t experienced it.

I’ll have to have a look and see if there are stats anywhere on how much of the income from shows is in the merchandising and licensing aspects, over and above ticket sales…

Here’s another related though slightly tangental thought – I have a friend who used to manage a cinema in London. He said that ALL the money they made was over the concession stand. The actually films were roughly a break-even venture, when the running of the place was taken into consideration, the cost of the films, against the ticket price. The real money was in selling a bucket of Coke big enough to drown Vern Troyer in – made from syrup that cost 4p – for £2.50, and a pig’s trough-sized pail of popcorn for £4, when their total outlay for the stuff was about 2% of that…

Anyway, the point is, that’s the way the entertainment industry funds itself – merchandising, adverts, providing overpriced McSwill to the McHogs that turn up to watch and gorge…

One of the big questions, and the hardest part of this whole thing is still – what do you do as a musician if you don’t want to make the majority of your money in advertising or running a snack bar at your gigs?

If you gig, it has to be an event. This new focus on musicians trying to monetize gigging again could actually be a really good thing – fewer doleful perfunctory performances, fewer tours where every night is identical. For those of us doing the indie thing, we need to be creative in making our gigs a proper night out – house concerts are great for this. A house concert has the potential to be a really special event. Lo. and I have done a number of them over the last year where the hosts have told us that months later people still ask them every time they see them when they are next going to have us back. I’m guessing that hasn’t been happening quite so much at the clubs we’ve played at (though you never know, we are rather good. ;o)

That said, I’m still loathe to let go of the wonder of recorded music, resigning it to being a give-away to entice people to shows or to get clicks on google ads, even though increasingly it seems that’s the way we’re being lead…

This became a reality for me a couple of days ago when I signed up for the new Last.fm venture to give free music to their subscribers and pay the artists in ad-sharing – it’s the first time I’m accepted an advertising revenue sharing deal… Why? Cos I’m making money for them via ads whether I take it or not. I either have my share, or they do, or I remove my music. That doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do with a site as cool as last.fm, so I’m in. But it does feel a bit weird. I guess I can console myself with the thought that unless you lovely readers all head over there and listen to loads of my streamed from their site I’m going to be making about 10c a year…

One last thing for now – for us indies, Cds aren’t going anywhere while we’re still playin live shows. People want to buy music, take a piece of it home – like the fluffy indonesian Simba that the peeps here in NYC pick up for $15 after seeing the Lion King, folks want to get some discs to listen to in the car on the way home. I wonder what the first technology that allows for the easy buying of downloads at gigs will be? a USB still is just a posh CD – what about actual transfer to iPod/phone/whatever?

In other news, I just extended my stay in NYC due to me feeling a bit too ill to fly back to London tomorrow, so I’ll be back early next week…

(Oh, Jeff Schmidt, you need to email James at futuremusictalk and get your blog on the list…)

Early Christmas presents – your virtual gifts here…

It’s something we’ve done in a small way over in the forum for a couple of years, but I thought I’d copy it over here as a comment thread this year – giving Christmas presents is often expensive and perhaps almost as often, pointless. You spend ages trying to find something that is adequate as a gift, not that is either useful or of benefit, or something where the purchasing in the first place is for the greater good…

We can talk about fair trade presents (and beautiful solo bass cds) later but for now, we’re looking for free online pressies. They can be as simple as recommendations for cool websites, or links to sites with free (legal) MP3s, or cartoons, films. Please don’t post links to anything where the legality or morality of the derivation is questionable, like MP3 blogs not sanctioned by the artists etc. but links to last.fm pages with free mp3s are good, or even last.fm pages where albums are streamable if not downloadable.

This is your chance to offer a free gift of something fun and useful and artsy and cool to all the readers of this ‘ere blog…

So here are my three for you – one or two of which I may have mentioned before –

The End of Control – on ongoing ebook, readable as a blog or downloadable as PDF chapters, on the changes in the music industry.
Free Culture – another e-book about the nature of copyright, ownership and the proliferation of ideas and content in a digital age.
New Music Strategies – a third e-book about the changes in the music industry. More deeply thought out stuff on where it’s all going.

So there you go, three books for Christmas (or for you Americans, you can see them as a Thanksgiving present too, should you wish to, along with this thought and this thought about what Thanksgiving is).

So post away, comments are open – give a freebie web-gift for Christmas! :o)

Mike Watt gets it right (or why Econo-touring is the way to go!)

Punk bass Godfather Mike Watt has an expression for low-budget touring – he calls it ‘jamming econo’ (the recent film on the history of his seminal band The Minutemen is called We Jam Econo).

As a solo bassist, I don’t really have much choice but to jam econo – it’s not like I’m at the big budget tours end of the gigging spectrum, so it’s low cost all the way. But it would be a mistake to feel short changed and to aspire to the hotels ‘n’ limos end of things, as the econo-life brings with it a whole host of adventures that you just don’t find in hotels.

I’m just back from a less-than-two-day jaunt to Madrid, to play a show and a masterclass with Spanish bassist Charlie Moreno – Charlie’s an excellent bassist and has become a good friend over the times we’ve met on shows, and he helped Lo. and I to find a couple of shows in Madrid back in March.

He booked a show for the two of us at a cool venue in Madrid, on Tuesday. We had planned to do three or four shows, but the vagaries of concert booking took over and it became one show. So econo was clearly the only way to go. It meant that I couldn’t afford to get the train there, so I had to opt for a short-haul flight – something I’m generally loath to do, but was kinda stuck… So I flew into Madrid, got the metro to Dani’s house (Dani is the singer in Nonno), hung out, got lunch, and then Charlie arrived and we headed to the venue. The masterclass shifted emphasis as a fair few of the people there weren’t bassists, so I got to talk a bit more about what looping allows a performer to do, and how it changes the relationship between performer and audience as compared to using a backing track or triggered samples. Charlie did an amazing job of translating some pretty deep concepts,all of which contained myriad layers of metaphor that relied heavily on the words themselves to make sense, requiring him to work out the meaning and translate the intention into Spanish – a tough gig, but one he handled like a pro!

After the gig, Charlie had arranged for me to stay with a friend of his, who lived about a 10 Euro cab ride away (actually, I think I was stung by the cabbie, as from Carlos’ description the next day, his house was only 15 minutes walk from the club, so not the 15-20 minutes the cabbie took to get there.)

In the morning, I had breakfast and spent some time sorting out email things (my first time using a Linux Ubuntu instillation – wow! I need to get me an Ubuntu partition on one of my machines!), I also got to watch a cool Niacin live DVD, and hang out with Carlos, a sound-engineering lecturer, and badass live and recording sound-monkey, much in demand in Madrid. We went for lunch, went shopping for jeans (my fave cheapie jeans shop in the world is in Madrid) and he then came out to the airport to help me carry my bass….

…the point of all the trivial nonsense detail is that most of that is stuff I’d have had to pay some anonymous person for if I’d been flying in, staying in a hotel, eating in restaurants, travellin in a tour bus, whatever… as it was, I got to hang out with some fascinating locals, eat cheaply in cool real spanish places (not the touristy stuff on the high streets), find out more about the local scene, and get to know bunch of lovely people. AND I came home having netted a sensible amount of money on a gig that grossed less than €400. So I had a better time AND spent less money. It really was, as the saying goes ‘all good’.

It’s easy to be seduced by the BS of the industry, to be taken in by some lame record deal just cos they send a limmo to pick you up, or offered to put you up in a hotel after a showcase gig (you’ll have paid for it out of the record advance anyway…) – there is definitely something about having someone else pay for your hotel that for some weird reason makes it feel like you’ve acheived something. But it spoils the fun of touring. It really does. I’ve had so many great experiences by living the econo-life on tour, have met so many cool people, played loads of shows that I could never have played had I been demanding hotels and taxis everywhere. Instead, I keep it minimal, flexible, mobile and exciting. And everybody wins. :o)

'Too much music' – further thoughts on filters.

As I’ve said here recently, part of the problem with the notion of limitless downloads is the basic flaw in thinking it to be a good thing.

There’s never been an easier time to record and release music as a band or solo artist – anyone and her mum can get Garage Band or Audacity and record their songs. Then via the wonders of the web, you can even do one CDR, and then get it onto iTunes etc. via the internet miracle that is CD Baby.

This is, obviously, largely a really really good thing. The problem is that of filtering, and the part of that task that both cost and record labels used to play.

See, back in the day, you recorded a demo – it was probably live in a rehearsal room. You sent it, or took it to someone at a label, and asked them to come to your gig. If they bothered to turn up, they then acted as the first filter, but were obviously also influenced by audience reaction – same as it ever was, getting your mates out to a gig can really help…

Anyway, what this meant was that little labels sprang up all over the place, specialising in different kinds of music, and acting as enthusiastic ambasadors and as filters for what was good in that scene.

That’s now gone – the labels are still there, it’s just that a lot of people (like me) don’t even bother to contact them, and lots more contact them, and after endless rejections, they convince themselves they are misunderstood geniuses and release it themselves. And some times they are right.

However, a lot of the time, it’s that the music is substandard. And, back to the point about ‘value’ having a cost, when the recording hasn’t cost you anything to make, you’re automatically going to be less disposed towards making sure that it’s the VERY best you can do before releasing it. If putting a record out was going to cost you 6 months wages, you’d make pretty damned sure that it was the best possible representation of what you can do. You’d probably make sure that some of that spending went on getting an engineer who knows what he’s doing, maybe even a proper producer to oversee the project. You get outside help to make sure that you were fooling yourselves into thinking that you’re legends when in fact you’re substandard MySpace-filling nonsense.

So where does that leave artists. It leaves us needing to be mindful – mindful of the pitfalls, of the potential to overestimate how good we are, mindful of the things that we’ve overlooked because we live in an immediate culture that is all about cheapness masquerading as ‘value’. We need to make sure that the record we’re putting out there is one that we believe can become the soundtrack to people’s lives.

Why? Because if we don’t, we’ve lost. We’ve lost the battle with those who are trying to reduce the place of music in our lives to something that is measured not by its quality, integrity and creativity, but by it’s all encompassing availabilty and usefullness as an advert for some other commercial process – ours or someone else’s. We abandon ourselves to a world where we don’t get the music we want or need.

That’s why I make the music I make – I make it because it’s the music I want to hear, it’s part of a way of making music that I value hugely as a listener. It’s not fundamentally about it being marketable or popular or radio friendly. It’s about me believing that I am my own target market. What kind of music do I love most? How do I go about making that music?

That’s it, that’s what I do, and that’s what the feedback I get suggests is what my audience connects with. They’re a bunch of people who have similar taste to me, and thus click with the music that I’ve made for myself.

Of course once it’s recorded I then market it, promote it, advertise it, hope it gets radio airplay, hope it makes its way onto TV and film and into the iPods and CD players of the world’s music lovers.

And what does it mean for us as fans? It means that we need filters, we need both practical filters and abstract ones. Having to go out and buy a CD is a practical filter that stops us from wasting time on music with no pedigree. It means that we tend to buy things we’ve discovered somehow via a trusted source, be that friend, radio, review, TV, whatever…

But it also limits us to that. The digital realm, at it’s best, allows us to dip in and out of the filtered world – we can listen to a radio show, hear some great new music, then immediately get onto our music buying site of choice and buy the download, if we want to hear more at higher resolution. If we want to gift that music in a nice package, or we just like having physical product, we can order the CD.

Having access to all the music in the world doesn’t help anyone, because there’s too much of it. In the same way that very few people trawl wikipedia for news – it’s almost entirely search driven, so people find info about a subject they are already interested in – but still read random news from trusted sources (I read stories about all kinds of things in The New Statesman, just because they are in there – I don’t go searching for stories on the potential for civil war in far flung places, or the plight of migrant workers in the Caribbean… I read them because the New Statesman is my filter – if they deem it important, so do I) – we need ways of filtering for QUALITY, not just STYLE. you can search on myspace or wherever for funk bands with loads of plays, and that has some kind of popularity-related filter, but that kind of interest is driven by the degree of geekiness of the band and their ability to mobilize a an e-team, not just the quality of the music…

No, we need to be mindful of how valuable our listening time is, what a great addition truly great music can make to our lives. And artists need to think about that as an aspiration – not just putting it out cos it’s cheap and easy, but genuinely writing world-beatingly great music.

It brings me back to one of the many great points in Hugh McLeod’s How To Be Creative post – “The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to change the world.” – I want to write music that changes the world. It probably won’t change all of it, but I aim to make music that is significant, of value, and that represents everything I have to say in music, and hopefully becomes part of the soundtrack to the lives of the people who hear it. Whether I’m successful in that or not is almost moot… That’s not really anything I have control over beyond aiming for it.

The important thing is the intention. Be mindful of your intentions.

A couple of alternate views from people who think giving music away is a good idea…

Jeff Schmidt just posted a link on his blog to this article on AlterNet by Bob Ostertag, an experimental musician in the San Francisco scene, explaining why he’s made his entire back catalogue (or all of it that he has the rights for available online for free.)

The Long Tail blog (by Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and Editor In Chief of Wired mag) features a post about the perils of thinking about the music industry as being solely about the sale of CDs, and says that it’s actually really healthy if you look at a load of other indicators – Gigs and Merch, Download sales, Licencing for TV/Film/Ads, Vinyl Sales (which I’d group with other ‘premium product’, generally – bought by DJs because there’s still kudos in vinyl DJing, but also largely by fans who often don’t even own record players – single sales are half about how great a medium vinyl is for DJs, and half an anachronistic throw-back for fans who don’t see the actual ‘music’ but need to be even more of a music fan. It strikes me as a way of classifying your allegiance – I like this band enough to download, this band enough to buy the CD, and this band so much that I’ll even buy their singles despite as yet having nothing to play them on…)

Anyway, both posts are interesting, though as Jeff points out, Bob does descend into a rant about the mendacity of big corporations, record labels etc. I’d love to see some figures for what Bob’s doing, as he says in the article that making records has always been a ‘break even at best’ exercise for small labels. I’m assuming he’s talking about the labels that put his stuff out. It never has been for me. My solo Cds have always made money (less so on the duo CDs, but they have made some) and their sale, especially at gigs has been really important to my income stream. That doesn’t automatically mean that I ‘deserve’ that in the long run, but it does give the lie to the idea that ‘nobody’s making money out of releasing music on indie labels’ or whatever other myths are abound…

Anyway, have a read of them both – Chris’ position is vey similar to that of Gerd – the music industry is healthy, it’s just the process of charging per-unit for recorded music that’s on the way out…

recorded music as an advert for gigs – the death of an artform?

This post started out as a response on the stevelawson.net forum to a comment from lovely Tom who said, “Perhaps the last few decades have been an anomaly and we will go back to live concerts being the mainstay of the music industry”

To which I responded thusly (i’m cross-posting it here, because the notion that records can be given away by all musicians as a way of publicising gigs has become the standard answer to why file-sharing is ‘great!’, even though that’s not what Tom – a vinyl junkie and great supporter of musicians – meant)


Steely Dan would be screwed then… no more Peter Gabriel or Blue Nile albums, no more records that take 3 years of writing and experimentation to come up with…

I think the thing that is being missed here is that recorded music is already an ‘advert’ for live music! And vice versa. A lot of times, the only money I make on a gig is CD money. Take that away, and I don’t make anything. The idea that we’re moving back to a live music economy would be just fine if there was a commensurate shift in the way venues viewed music, but the vast majority of gigging opportunities in cities are about selling beer. So the musicians are in the bar area (or at least ‘a’ bar area), playing to people who are drinking and talking, aren’t paid to be there, and get to do 30 mins max because the higher turnover of musicians means that each of them bring friends along who drink… So the bar makes a few hundred (or a few thousand, in some cases) quid, and pays nothing (and then complains that the PRS are robbing bastards because they charge them a licence for broadcasting music – hah!)

The way that musicians make money is fragmented already – I get paid for gigs, I get paid for CDs, I get paid for teaching, for masterclasses and clinics, occasionally for session work (live or studio, though most of my live work outside of my own music is pro bono for friends), royalties for live performance and radio airplay (thank God for the BBC/PRS) and very occasionally for writing about music. I’ve made money on t-shirts before now (not much), and i’ve received a fair amount of payment in kind from music equipment manufacturers, but precious little towards keeping a roof over my head…

In any one year those levels change throughout the year. This year has been a lot about gigs, music gear demos (did a fair bit for looperlative earlier in the year in Italy and Germany), and so far, not much about music sales (the Calamateur Vs. Steve Lawson album has sold a few copies, but certainly nothing to compare with a ‘proper’ CD release, sadly…)

The beauty of the music scene is its breadth – there are people who are all about the gigs, and people who are all about the studio creations, there are bands who manage to come up with an image and brand that means they make literally thousands a night on merch and live off that money (the Stourbridge scene of the late 80s/early 90s).

If recorded music just becomes an advert for gigs, it will not only be the death of an income stream for musicians, it’ll mean the death of an artform, as album-as-work-of-art become album-as-advert. (whoever heard of a 30 minute ambient advert?) As a synonym, imagine what it would mean for world cinema if all films were given away for free, and paid for by product placement and TV-style ad-breaks?

I seriously want to do more gigs, play more live music, and I would indeed be happy to spend my life just playing live and releasing documents of that process. At least, at the moment I would, because all my albums are essentially live anyway. But there are LOADS of great artists whose contribution to the artistic quilt is their remarkable skill in the studio, a skill that requires time, and money and expertise and training and years of trial and error. All of which need to be paid for somehow, and won’t happen if they are playing 250 nights a year in order to make some dough…

[blog-only addendum]

it’s funny how in the course of the discussion some people look forward to a golden age when all musicians are paid via some kind of music license (Gerd Leonhard et al), despite it meaning that there are going to yet again be middle men creaming it off – interesting that Gerd talks about this being a way for artists to get remunerated directly, but hasn’t yet mentioned the need for a multi-billion dollar intermediary such as google, yahoo, news corps etc…. unless he’s suggesting the setting up of a global non-profit organisation whose sole purpose is to make sure that the new music license (which lots of people will see as a tax) gets distributed fairly… meanwhile, the musicians at the very end of the long tail will just drop off…

One possible scenario that scares me is that we see a ‘mainstream’ licensing scheme, so you can get all the James Blunt you want as part of that license, but running along side it is a sub culture of ‘art music’ performers and recording artists, who still charge, and who operate within a community of arts patrons. To some extent it’s already happening (I’m guessing that people who buy my CDs and downloads, either here or at gigs, do so with a very different sense of investment in what’s going on that even those who by a David Sylvian, Bill Frisell or Blue Nile record in HMV), but the idea of such a schism is unappealing purely due to the implied elitism of the mainstream/art-music split – I don’t really want to be part of some elitist musical world, but I REALLY don’t want to be told by ‘the market’ that need to play shorter snappier tunes, and maybe start singing, in order for my music to connect with an audience fast enough for them to ‘get it’ and come and see me live…

The thinking goes on…

A false sense of entitlement – the flaw in the new distribution models?

In all the thinking that’s going on about new ways of distributing music, one thing is rather bothering me, and that’s the inferred/assumed entitlement of audiences to access to music. There is, built into most of the discussions on how we move forward, the taken-as-red assumption that if musicians don’t provide music in the way that the audience wants it, they’ll just steal it. Fuck you, Mr musician, how dare you think you can limit my access to your work.

If a baker decides that he’s going to make less bread and charge more for it, either he needs to convince his customers that it’s worth the extra money and effort to get it, or he goes out of business (or finds another business to support his baking, if he does it for the love of it). What doesn’t happen is his customers decide that they’ll just go into the kitchen, make bread for themselves and take it home, or help themselves to the bread in the window of the shop, and set up a table outside the door giving it away to passers by because he had no right to do that, and is clearly a selfish bastard who needs to be taught a lesson.

But with music, the option to limit access to your music is assumed to no longer exist. Because everyone feels like they have a right to it. So if Madonna’s new album is too expensive, or only available as a download at low res and with DRM on iTunes, instead of saying ‘well I won’t get it then’ the assumption is that it’s somehow legit to take it. As though access to that music is a right, not a privilege. As though the music I write, and record and make – using my own money and time – is then no longer mine. The recordings aren’t mine, the songs aren’t mine. They’ve become public property without me even being consulted.

Likewise, the whole notion of user-generated content – YouTube videos, live bootlegs, etc. Completely unregulated, and liable to change live music for ever. Jonatha posts a beautifully worded response to the whole question of unsolicited filming at gigs and the effect it has on her in the discussion forum on her site – well worth reading. Basically, it creates a permanent document of something that is essentially of the moment, and filming it turns it into a recording session, losing something of the spontaneity. My response on the forum, when I was asked whether I minded being filmed was ‘normally no’, but I do a) like the be asked and b) like the chance to vet it before it gets uploaded. No-one wants a permanent online record of an off-night (though there is that entire recording of the gig I did with no pedals with Lo. in September!)

So, do you need to have the video of the gig you were at? Do you assume your ticket price also includes some kind of innate recording rights? If a record is too expensive, or not available in the format you want, does that give you the right to download it for free from somewhere else? Clearly, I think that’s a heinous situation, though it’s one that much of the industry seems to have resigned itself to. The biggest own goal seems to have been that the arguments have centered around money, and particularly when someone like Lars Ulrich – a multi-millionaire – complains about it denting his income, most people aren’t really going to give a shit.

However, entitlement isn’t about money, it’s about the right to negotiate with your audience, and your audience then being able to choose to not spend the money by not buying the product, and therefor not owning it! So you cut yourself off from income, but also from your audience. So you negotiate, by way of dropping the price, making it available in other ways or whatever, but it’s your product and you do with it what you like… Just like the baker with the bread.

The video I linked to earlier about media megatrends characterised the shift in slightly more euphamistic a-moral terms by talking about it being a move from scarcity to ubiquity as the driving currency – in an age when you have a physical product, the distribution of which you have control over, the value therein is in it’s scarcity – independent record shops survive because they stock things you can’t get elsewhere. Record labels can do exclusive deals, or even just sell direct. Artists can just sell at gigs, making their product even more desirable by the difficultly of finding it. Even if you sell in mainstream shops, you can set your wholesale price at the point where the price stays up, if that’s what you want, and the the competition is with other recording artists – will people pay £15 for one of my CDs, when they can get someone else’s that they like just as much for £8?

The ubiquity model says that the artist should relinquish control over the proliferation of their work in exchange for a shot at ubiquity – being everwhere, and making money through the exposure, be it profit-sharing on youtube, increased live attendance, sales of premium product (which is what CDs are now becoming, given that the default in a very short time from now will be the download) and radio, tv and film royalties.

I think there are ramifications to this that are anti-creative, and rapacious in their treatment of the creative output of a the artist – especially if you value the mixed-media product that you’ve assembled (be it artwork, sleeve notes, video, collage, pop-up book, whatever…) There’s a hyper-capitalist, spectral Friedman-esque element to the terms of engagement that negate the value of scarcity or the more esoteric value of specific and particular artistic expression, and remove any rights of the artist to negotiate or explore the notion of the work having greater or lesser monetary value in relation to any other work. Instead, it’s about rushing to make your product as ubiquitous as possible in order to turn that ubiquity into cashflow just by being everywhere instead of by being valuable/important/’good’. It’s a pretty unique and depressing scenario… Where next?

My bottom line thesis – you/we don’t need the music. You/we aren’t entitled to the music, it’s not yours/ours to take, it’s the artists to sell, or give away as they see fit. And if you don’t like the terms, you don’t need to buy, and they can starve if they choose to be stubborn. Or sell 30 CDs for $1000 a time.

DRM is a crock of shit, but with its removal comes a social contract between the artist and the audience, one that I think should, if adhered to, help both. The removal of DRM makes it easier for the listener to share tracks as a way of spreading information about an artist around, and also to play the stuff on different systems, copy from computer to mp3 player to phone – being cross-platform is vital, and is why iTunes is now having to change it’s shitty DRM policy (and up its resolution), but it does leave musicians vulnerable… with over 50% of all web traffic being filesharing, the vast majority of it illegal, the idea of the social contract is not getting across. The feeling that somehow it’s fat cat record company execs and multimillionaire rock stars who are losing out seems to absolve the conscience of the file sharers. But the artists still are making art. The judgement call that says ‘this person has sold out already, therefor i can download their stuff with impunity’ isn’t anyone’s to make.

The consequences of all this in creative and artistic terms are things I’ve blogged about a lot recently… it’s a really murky world, and I’m fascinated to see where it goes. I’m going to keep mulling this one over, and see where it leads… your thoughts are much appreciated in the comments, should you wish to share them :o)