By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
When all of this happens, we will be living in a slightly more open world, controlled by desire and artistry rather than marketability and gatekeepers. With Napster and its ilk, that world is here. Now. (Unless, of course, the conglomerates that own the record companies gain control of our communication lines. I shudder to think what might happen if AOLTime Warner make damn certain that we have access only to their own product.)
Will musicians make a substantive amount of money out of all this? My first response is, I don't care. My second, more mannered response is that being an artist of any stripe is rarely a profitable venture. Artistry depends upon dreams, impracticalities that finance virtually never acknowledges. Period.
My third response is that I can't imagine the situation getting any worse than it currently is. When I think of friends and acquaintances who make their "living" from music, I don't see a lot of success stories. Comparing the endless mass of musicians unsigned and struggling to the infinitesimal fraction signed and still struggling to make ends meet, I can't help think that a world with less powerful music corporations would be a better one.
Except for backup singers and session players, the musicians of the world don't benefit from the record industry's insistence on pushing a handful of superstars to worldwide prominence. When I hear the argument that music will end if record companies cease to exist, it truly hits home that our culture has gotten the words celebrity and artist and musician terribly mixed up.
Far more interesting than the potential for mercantilizing art in our new century is the possibility of what music might start to sound like if we stop trying so hard to cash in on it.
Once we do away with the manufactured concept of publishing rights -- a truly ersatz notion in a world where most music is based on pure sonic stuff, not written notation -- I fantasize that musicians will be free to realize the outer limits of recorded sound. They will sample and cut and copy and reinterpret the vast library of music that has been created in the last 100 years. Tone and beat, timbre and melody will take on strange new forms far beyond the odd sounds that have already been explored in music both popular (the assemblage of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; the early pop-music collage of De La Soul and Beastie Boys, now verboten on major-label product; the thick dub of Lee "Scratch" Perry) and obscure (the coruscating tones of minimalist composers like Terry Riley; the fresh textures of Kyoto musician Aki Tsuyuko). Music will rejoin the long history of folk and vernacular art to which it belongs, instead of hewing to the false bylaws commerce has imposed upon it. It will be the iterative art that it yearns to be.
For song fans, there will still be people practicing the art, but they'll be a hearty, dedicated bunch on a par with the classical musicians who dot the world -- university- and conservatory-trained, subscription-symphony-supported. And along with the atomization of our attentions will come the death of what is likely the 20th century's most enduring and significant contribution to art: the pop star. When else in history have humble, or not-so-humble, performers like Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Al Green -- Michael Jackson? -- had their art distributed in such a way that a single individual could instantly grab the attention of millions? How will anyone ever again be able to command the attention of the world?
I have exactly one guaranteed prediction: Lots of stuff is ending right now, but music ain't in shit for danger. So, listener, while you're stealing your music in the coming months, don't think of contracts, just ask, "Does it treat us well?" Not do records treat us well, but does music?
And when you think of music, don't think of the money some label might lose as you download its brand-new release. Think of some dead guy, maybe Robert Johnson, perhaps the greatest blues guitarist ever recorded, poisoned at 27 before the onset of fame. Try to better understand his conflicted and unclear feelings about the phonograph -- You have broken my windin' chain; Taken my lovin'; Give it to yo' other man. Beatrice? -- and wonder why so many of us have gotten locked into a debate that rests music's fate on flimsy plastic vessels, a fidelity to high fidelity, a bunch of multinational corporations, an old lost love.