Friday, September 5, 2014

The State of the Music Industry, by The Oatmeal (EDIT)

Isaiah asked me to make a post about this comic on The Oatmeal, a site with comics and infographics about life and issues. This particular comic features three main characters: a musician, a music consumer, and a blob-like corporate entity with a nametag that says "Hello, my name is EMI Universal Warner Sony." In the first panel, titled "How it was for a very long time," the corporate blob blocks the consumer's way to the musician, saying they have to pay to go any farther. In the second panel, "How it was in 1999," a Napster character leads the consumer past the corporate blob. The corporate blob complains about the huge sum of money it should have gotten from a CD sale, and the musician also complains... about not getting their 23 cents. The third panel, "How it is now," has the consumer sitting down with a computer on their lap. The computer has a cord coming out of it that leads to the musician, but the cord is held up by characters representing iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and YouTube, all claiming their respective fees or ad revenue. Meanwhile, the corporate blob is advertising concert tickets at very high prices. Finally, in the fourth panel, "Where it needs to go from here," the consumer makes a deal to buy music directly from the musician while the corporate blob cries in a corner. The comic draws on the well-known fact that corporations have been controlling the music industry and making vast sums of money in comparison to the musicians they claim to support, and hopes for a world in which musicians can gain control over and profit from what they create.

This is not so much a commentary on classical music as it is on music in general. In the age of the Internet, it takes no effort to find a song to listen to on a site like YouTube and almost no effort to save it to a computer and an MP3 device. And in a generation plagued by debts and low income, people dislike paying very much for anything. Copyright law can protect musicians, but it can only go so far. At some point, musicians have to draw their own line between keeping their music to themselves to avoid theft and relying on the respect of their audiences. Almost all independent musicians have this problem, which includes finding the right sort of license under which to release their music online - should they reserve all rights and put permission to spread their music under lock and key, or should they use a Creative Commons attribution license and get more chances for popularity but risk someone else making large sums of money on their creation? The corporations used to have control over the publicity as well as the money, and now many musicians must make themselves known through social networks and sources like the ones in the third panel.

The considerations are different when this analysis is applied to classical music, or so-called "art music." People nowadays tend to find art music boring or unworthy of their time, which is something that, for example, DePauw's 21CM program is trying to change (or at least circumvent). Classical concerts and recordings do not have the same sort of attention that vernacular music has. Though art music performers and composers still have a devoted audience, that audience is diminishing in size and increasing in age. The art music industry is pressured to find new ways of reaching a broader and younger audience. Classical musicians still rely on corporate publicity, be it from publicly funded ensembles like orchestras or from businesses like record labels, or else find their way via short-term gigs. Unlike pop music, which is firmly in the third panel of the comic, classical music seems to be split halfway between the first and fourth panels... but the audience is much smaller in size, a literally smaller consumer character. Will tweaking our performance of classical music to make it more accessible and fun for current audiences get it towards the third? And would this be a good thing?

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