From The Washington Post (free subscription required):
The Who declared that rock is dead, so long live rock. Elvis Costello named the murderer -- high-speed Internet.
Liverpool's second-most acerbic pop star isn't the first person to make this observation, but after nearly three decades of paying the rent on vinyl, tape and silicon, he is familiar enough with the way the music industry works to know when the vital signs are off. Costello, who made his remarks at the just-concluded South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas, said the end was nearer than many think.
"As soon as broadband is big enough, the record (retailing) business is over," Costello said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "They will have to change or die ... It's going to be about five minutes to the end. All bets are off." Costello also said that "music chains like Tower Records had 'let the spirit go out of it.'"
[T]he U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments next week about whether Internet music-swapping services like Grokster and Morpheus break the law simply by existing.
Music is changing. There's no doubt about that. The technology of digital music, of mp3 players and computers and broadband access, means that my music is your music and yours is mine, if we only want it to be so. I guess that's been true since the age of the cassette, the first easily reproducible technology most people had in their homes. But making a cassette for someone required the input of time, at least of the length of the cassette, and contact with the recipient (or his or her mailman). It meant mixing up music in your own mind. (Who can ever forget Alfred Molina's brilliant performance of the cokehead rant against the tyranny of the album in Boogie Nights? "Ricky Springfield! He's a friend of mine!") It meant sharing. Does anyone remember whether or not the industry tried to limit cassette technology? Now, of course, you can pass along a song instantaneously, permanently.
One of our favorite bloggers, NTodd, does digital security for a living. Here's what he said recently:
When I discuss broadband technology, the first thing I do is break out the iPod and play something like Hey Ya by Outkast (gets the blood pumping when you're talking about boring techno stuff). My students think it's just a time wasting thing at first, but as we discuss how MP3s changed the music industry, it starts to dawn on them that it isn't just a lark but that there is indeed a method to my madness. We talk about compression, bandwidth, business models, how all this can be a lesson to the movie industry, etc. I note that my relationship to music fundamentally changed when it became possible to fit my entire collection into a shirt pocket.
In the midst of the discussion I talk about (the lack of) encryption and how the inventors of the CD never imagined a time when harddrive space would be so cheap that one could store thousands of songs on a computer. I also observe that the reason CDs have the storage capacity that they do is because Sony wanted to be able to fit all of Beethoven's Ninth, which had required multiple vinyl platters before, onto a single disc.
Plus, he's an amazing photographer and a fun guy.
I don't do P2P; I'm paranoid about giving others access to my hard drive. But I frequently exchange music with others, some of whom I've never actually met. I started with a woman in Colorado who contacted me after I won a Shoes CD off EBay; we discovered a fair amount of common ground and started burning discs to send back and forth. My greatest current resource is an incredibly generous Texan whose musical tastes correspond so closely to my own it's a bit unsettling. Other friends from other blogs, musicians who send me unreleased and demo stuff--there's a lot of music in my life. Some of it is probably illegal, technically. This impedes my enjoyment not one whit.
[Worth noting: if I'm any indication, EBay and Half.com are probably not doing the industry any good, either.]
The industry claims to be defending the rights of artists, but we know artists are fucked roundly by record companies, charged back for every little thing. (e.g., XTC's fight with Geffen) If artists are covertly smiling over the damage digitization has wreaked upon the big record companies, one can't really blame them. Big record companies are no longer necessary for wide distribution: we've got iTunes. Artists can find their fans online; fans can find artists they like the same way. Is this a positive development? I don't know. I think so, but I might be missing something. Thoughts?
UPDATE: Interesting set of reflections here.
Recent developments in technology have made an amazing amount of legal, illegal, and questionable activities possible for music fans. As always, the new technology has been liberating to some, frightening to others, and confusing to nearly all. As the music industry, consumers, lawyers, and just about everyone else grapple with the new abilities to copy, send, and work with music, record labels are putting out an increasing number of CDs containing technology to limit access to the music. Amid the lawsuits, piracy, and debate, PopMatters thought it was time to chime in. Here we present views from an analytical specialist, a frustrated writer/consumer, and a pissed-off whore.
UPDATE 2 (3/25): I got my iPod back! Yay!