Friday, May 2, 2008

Is The Internet Now Just A Virtual Street Of Buskers?

Richard Shindell is a very talented songwriter who's released seven albums going right back to 1992. He's been critically acclaimed but never broken into the wider consciousness. He's not a man who's been the subject of a million dollar record deal or major advertisements. He's a musician who loves music, writing songs and has a very dedicated fan base. The internet has undoubtedly brought him new fans but he's the kind of artist who, in theory, would be truly affected by the onset of p2p technology and file sharing. Forget the major labels complaining about how their profits have dropped and Madonna losing out on CD revenue but signing with Live Nation for a ridiculous fee. When people talk about the effect of file sharing on the industry, it's guys like Richard Shindell that they should be looking at.

So why is Richard comparing Limewire to busking and saying that "I would no more expect every person who downloads my music on Limewire to pay for it than I would every passing commuter in that tunnel" when recollecting his busking experience in Paris?

It's an interesting concept. If people hear someone busking along the street, they can throw in a few coins if they think the musician deserves it. Or they can decide not to, even if they like the music. Maybe they don't have the change, maybe they need it for a bus home. Obviously there are differences, which Richard points out, such as if you hear someone busking and then walk away, that's it, all you've got is your memory. Whereas on the internet, you've got the song, you've got the music forever and can pass on that moment to as many people as you want.

When you think of a busker, obviously they want you to give them money but it's not always expected. By playing for free they create "the very conditions that make payment possible." But that payment is voluntary, it is not forcefully coerced. This, Richard points out, is the main problem for the RIAA, and indeed all record companies, who have lost the ability to coerce payment from consumers. They have also lost control over artists who no longer need them to get their music heard, the internet takes care of that now.

It's an interesting take on the issue and most importantly, it comes from a career musician who lives and dies by things like this. It raises some very interesting questions and I would broadly agree with Richard on many of his points. I don't think that music should be free, I think a viable alternative to the current situation is needed and I don't think that the answer is the subscription service which many record companies are currently exploring but I'll return to that in a different post. I think many of Richard's points are correct and nowadays, if you can pick that prime spot on the street, beside the coolest shop, you'll attract a crowd and if you're good enough they'll hang around. The issue is creating conditions where they are willing to pay for what they're hearing. Relying on people's morals is never going to work in the majority of cases. So read Richard's article , listen to some of his music, and if you like what you hear, put some money into his guitar case as he busks along the virtual highway.

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