In Defense of Emily White (NPR) against David Lowery (Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven)
Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven’s David Lowery is living in the past. His blog post criticizing NPR’s music intern Emily White has received some notoriety so before I proceed, I would first suggest you check out the article by the intern and the article by Lowery.
There are several things that go wrong here, namely why Lowery got on his high horse and started off on this tangent. It would appear that Lowery is attacking White as being part of the problem where I more would think that there is a generational gap in how we consume information.
Emily admits in her blog that much of the music that she has in her collection was not bought by her but obtained in other manners. She admits to a brief fling with Kazaa in the fifth grade but admits to receiving music in other ways, such as through mix CDs or in her unique situation, burning albums from her college radio stations collection.
As a generation X’er, I have to admit to getting tape dubs of albums from friends and or doing them for others. This was (and still is) a form of stealing and while in my personal situation I did purchase several albums, I would not be surprised of Mr. Lowery can also attest to receiving free music in the past. It would seem that the methods at which Emily has obtained this music are different than the methods at which the Music Industry has attacked, i.e. (Bit Torrent and File Sharing sites).
I support Emily’s position in that she is bringing the point of view of the current music fan that wants to go to concerts and buy t-shirts and wants to purchase music as a form of convenience rather than an owning a physical copy of the album. Is buying a copy of a piece of plastic or downloading a copy off the Internet the only way to support a band? Is Spotify a valid mechanism to distribute music? Now these are questions that I cannot necessarily answer to the detail of knowing the nuances of contracts but I do think that Spotify is a direction at how we sell music. Like any service, (see Netflix), there is eventually pullback from those parties that want a bigger share and even Emily brings out hope that methods in the future are more fair for artists.
This does not speak of a “Free Culture Movement” as David Lowery points out but rather speaks about an artist that has lost touch and a bitter old man because the band he is hasn’t been relevant for over 15 years. Emily is not asking for these items to be “Free” but rather change the mode of service. There is no ownership of Mr. Lowery’s Cracker cds but rather the fee to borrow them or have them on standby if need be and receive appropriate compensation of those albums are actually listened to.
Why do we need to buy a physical CD or record? What is so important about the piece of plastic? Does it have magic powers? If I subscribe to a service like Netflix and stream the same show over and over again is this any different than listening to the same album over and over again on Spotify?
An artist today has more power than ever before to completely control the method at which their music is going to be released. If they do not want to put it on Spotify, they do not have to. If they only want to put it on vinyl (see Peter Buck) they can do that.
The most shameful moment of course was the comments that Lowery made about Vic Chestnutt and Mark Linkous(Sparklehorse). I am not sure how can somehow blame file sharing for their suicides. Vic Chestnutt had financial/health issues before we even knew what file sharing was. I do not believe that in either situation that if file sharing had somehow not existed, that they would still be alive today but he makes it all seem so simple that if everyone that downloaded their music illegally had bought it properly they would still be alive today.
Music is not socialism. Where were the bands when all the fans complained about Ticketmaster? They were raking in the profits.
Where were the bands in the 90s when the price for a CD could be anywhere from 16-18 dollars?
We have more tools than ever to listen to music, whether it is on our computers, our telephones, our iPods (and yes, these do cost money but is that any different for those expensive Cracker CDs in the 90s needed the CD player and the amplifier and speakers that cost hundreds of dollars? Companies like Sony made out like bandits. Of course where is Sony today? In the shitter.
Fans, took over, they decided to make their own rules, and they threw away the corporate playlists at the radio stations and made their own Spotify playlists. They determined what was relevant to listen to not what the industry told them to. They shared music with their friends in their Facebook feeds to make more fans of their favorite music. They acted as that moment of free promotion, that level of excitement when you are sharing that song or album for the first time with a friend hoping that they like it too or the mix that someone finds several songs appealing only to go and check out that band for themselves.
Lastly, a lot of bands just suck. They are not going to make money selling their albums, going on tour and selling T-Shirts. At the end of the day, the music has to be good, plain and simple. You can discuss the economics of music all you want, Spotify, stealing, .etc, but the biggest question comes down to the contents. Is it good.