The war against payment

It is very late in the day to debate the effect of file-sharing on the music cartels.

Perhaps “debate” isn’t in order, then. How about unilateral declarations?

Or how about altering the focus from cartels to musicians?

Either way, where would you find such declarations? Some kind of manifesto? No. Think Marillion.

What are Marillion’s options? What are any band’s options? Glenn McDonald lays it out for us.

Give away recordings, charge for concerts and miscellaneous merchandise. This is easily the most popular suggestion, and is usually accompanied by some form of the assertion that “most musicians make their real money from touring, anyway.” Although it may be true that most money in the music industry comes from touring, most of the musicians aren’t making it....

The second major flaw with asking musicians to live on concert revenue is that some of them don’t play concerts. They’re studio projects, or they have day jobs that they can’t just leave for weeks on end, or they just don’t like it.

And the third major flaw, although this one is an indirect critique from music’s limited point of view, is that the same questions are about to be raised in film and eventually in books, and what are you going to say then? Movies should be free, and actors must make their money touring the stage version? Books should be free and writers should start charging for readings? This is absurd. In what other field have you ever been structurally required to give away the most tangible product of your work and earn your money performing support activities?

McDonald gets better from there. Honour-system payments (NUblog passim) are “laughable on the face of it.” How about the Street Performer Protocol or buskware?

Artists go ahead and get to work, and meanwhile they solicit donations to their cause. Once some set amount of money has been donated (into escrow, in one model), they release their work into the public domain, and everybody can have it, whether they donated or not. This copyright-obsoleting scheme has conceptual cleverness to recommend it, but not much else. It turns a market based on production into a market based on promises, which will be unpleasant to participate in on either side. My guess is that a great number of people who would have made good albums under the fond illusion that they might pay for themselves, and then seen them not succeed, will be dissuaded from ever completing them. New artists will be locked out entirely.

Extremely popular acts will be caught between seeming intolerably greedy if they set their release-point realistically (it’s one thing to ask for only $15 from each person and then happen to get it from several million of them, it’s quite another thing to demand hundreds of millions of dollars up front), and being compelled to work at an insupportable rate if they set it too low.

It is rather likely that no model will work, and that online music distribution for a fee will dwindle to obscurity. Certainly there’s no fun in it anymore – no fun in wholesale copyright violation, no fun left over for the lower orders and their fondness for stealing. There was never any money in it and there probably never will be.

Who would have thought that Marillion would have made this all so very clear?

Posted on 2001-07-27