H II Regions, 20 June 2012
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Digital Art and Physical Money
This past weekend, the NPR music intern Emily White posted a short blog about how she loves streaming music and has only ever bought a handful of CDs. A couple days later, indie rock veteran David Lowery (of Camper van Beethoven and Cracker) posted a lengthy reply, in which he illuminated various aspects of the realities of working musicians. There have since been counter replies and more besides, and the discussion has many useful veins for us writers to mine.
Lowery has good points (and bad points) and he lets record labels virtually off the hook while railing against Google. My feelings can be summed up by the Lefsetz response to Lowery:
I believe artists should be paid. But that does not mean they should be paid the same way they used to be.
Digital technologies have altered the manufaction, dispersal, and reception of media–be it music, art, prose, film, games, what have you. Frankly I think it’s a good thing because it removes control from media conglomerates. I’d rather have to hunt out good music than be given a slurry of pop rock and dance rap. But of course, creators deserve something for their work–and I think the audience should decide that something.
Generally, people like Lowery are stuck in the old ways, and people like White are too unimaginative to create new payment models. Fortunately for us, the realities of the Internet insist that neither of them are right. Numerous ways to compensate artists arrive each year. “A livable wage” is what most artists want, a reasonable desire but one they seek with little input from the audience–they who will be paying that wage.
The audience wants as many pieces of art as possible, as fast as possible. There are limits on a creator’s artistic abilities, but a new CD of 10 songs every two years is probably not cracking those limits. Many small-label bands release an album a year, plus extra songs on singles, compilations, and free outtakes online. They still don’t make a livable wage. But it at least represents a capitulation to the desires of the audience–a smaller focus on perfection and a bigger focus on forward progression.
Writers even more so than musicians focus on perfection–tightly edited sentences within pruned paragraphs within modest page counts. For sure, editing is necessary. But there is such a thing as too much.
As the Internet loosens controls on information flow, and allows for direct payments to artists, so too should our concepts of “artistic compensation” loosen. Entirely new models of creation/transmission are possible. Commissioned art became an endangered species with the rise of industry and capitalism; and now commercial art will become an endangered species under the rise of information and open access.