A long time ago in a thieving, soulless, bastard’s wet dream, there was the Recording Industry. Specifically, the music recording industry. Musicians, bands, composers, and singers who wanted to make money while doing what they loved would work hard, eat their Flutie Flakes, and pray that some tin-eared talent scout in a cheap suit would spot them. From there, artists would fall all over themselves to sign a draconian contract that virtually guaranteed that if they were unbelievably successful, they might pay the bills, and then (and only then) they might be able to re-sign with the record company for brass-ring money. In the meantime, their likeness, music, and integrity would be sold to the highest bidder, with profits going largely to the company, and with little or no control over the rampant commercial group grope.
But along came technology – or more accurately, the internet, digital audio encoding, high-speed communication, web culture, and file sharing – and the recording industry beheld the beginnings of a reckoning.
It started small enough, but even in it’s infancy, file sharing far outstripped “home taping” as a means to distribute music far and wide, and perhaps most importantly, beyond the greedy clutches of the industry. Perhaps you might have seen one end of this, when the “news” was filled with stories of nasty, dishonest non-consumers downloading music instead of going out and buying it. Record company execs wailed and gnashed their teeth, claiming (and you can still hear the echoing clang of their giant, brass balls) that they were trying to protect the artists. Just like they’ve always protected them by inflating concert prices, forcing them into merchandising, charging twice as much for Compact Discs as for cassettes despite costing a tenth as much to produce, forcing “producers” on them (who worked tirelessly to commercialize the music, distorting and perverting the artist’s vision), dumping artists who spoke out of turn – you get the picture.
Of course, the most recognizable public display was the great Metallica Vs Napster brouhaha. This particular case proved that maybe some headbangers were just stupid thugs after all. Convinced that downloading/file-sharing (and not, say, waning interest in their increasingly stale and dated music) were costing them profits, Lars Ulrich (drummer and head ego for Metallica) stormed Capitol Hill on behalf of his corporate masters and testified against Napster while Metallica sued Napster for racketeering and copyright infringement. The result was a victory of sorts for the industry, as it crushed Napster, but the chilling effect that was supposed to follow never came to be.
To be clear: the litigious destruction of Napster, and the DMCA were little more than attempts by the industry to stomp out the little guy. Artists who shared their music via the internet were (and are) gaining in popularity, threatening to bypass the industry by bringing the music directly to the people. The industry responded as all corporations will: by trying to tighten their grip and obliterate the alternatives. To be fair to Lars Ulrich and Metallica, Ulrich has since come to regret his behavior.
Artists like The Dresden Dolls and Esmée Denters have used the massive communications power of the internet to launch themselves out of obscurity and into stardom – without the traditional intervention of record companies.
At this point, the recording industry is attempting to subvert the internet phenomena, with some small success. However, as fantastically talented (yet unheard of, largely due to being seen by corporations as lacking in marketability) artists have made themselves more known, already famous artists are beginning to shrug off the industry entirely. There is hope that one day, the industry itself may disappear, and we can all get back to liking music for our own reasons, and not having it presented to us (complete with “official” interpretation in the form of marketing, or – even worse – the MTV-style music video).
In the meantime, here’s what I mean. I’d like to see marginally talented pop-jailbait-masturabational-fantasy twits like Miley Cyrus do this. I give you Theresa Andersson:
Music For The Masses - Viva La Mp3,