Meditations on the Devaluation of Music

When I spoke at CMW a couple of years ago, I came up with something I called the Cross Corollary:  The easier it becomes to access music, the less value it will have.  

Feel free to quote me on that. I’m sorry to see that this becoming more and more true every day.

Over the weekend, I came across an essay that sums up many of the problems musicians and the music industry are facing.  Here’s a quick excerpt:

When an established band like Radiohead gives away a record for free (as it did with “In Rainbows”) it increases exposure, which in turn boosts touring and merchandising revenue. But the vast majority of bands out there aren’t Radiohead. They’re small, unknown groups with no money or support structure. Sure, they can give away their record. But will anyone notice or care? Probably not. Meanwhile, Radiohead and Spotify are busy teaching us that, as consumers, we aren’t responsible for compensating our artists. In fact, we’re being conditioned to feel inherently entitled to the fruits of their labor. The amount of time and money the artist has invested is of little concern. If we listen to something, then it is ours.

I urge you to read the rest of this excellent essay.  Even if you don’t agree with the author’s position, it will at least get you thinking about what’s happening to music and the people who make it.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

4 thoughts on “Meditations on the Devaluation of Music

  • December 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Alan – I don't understand your obsession with the monetary value of music. Music has been culturally valuable for thousands of years, yet it's only been the last 50-60 where recording companies have taken over the distribution and production of music, turning into a huge business. Under this model, some artists got wealthy, but most toiled in obscurity & poverty, essentially going bankrupt after not being able to repay the advances to the record company, and in many cases, not even retaining the rights to their creations. And meanwhile, the companies involved in the distribution & marketing of mainstream music reaped massive profits. Yet somehow, that's the system that people are pining for when they talk about the 'good old days'.

    Artists will continue to make music, and the technical & financial barriers to do so have never been lower – that's a good thing. Those that are good & savvy enough to cultivate a fan following will be able to enjoy a good living.

    Creating art, even great art, does not entitle anyone to make a lot of money.

  • December 12, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    "The amount of time and money the artist has invested is of little concern.
    If we listen to something, then it is ours"
    … I think this has come about because we've seen SO many, if not TOO many, artists of mediocre talent who have made extrordinary amounts of $$ while the audience is relatively poor, and in fact sometimes of greater talent.
    If it were the norm for 'rock-stars' NOT to be so weathy, like say Olympic athletes, maybe things would be different.

  • December 13, 2011 at 12:23 am

    Classical musicians earn money from sponsors, that usually, were reach people and/or Church/Priests. All artists need money, as all of us, to make a living.

    While is true that most of the times the big companies suck all the money from a lot of musicians, it is also true that these companies had brought a lot of good music.

    I doubt the essay and/or Alan are in the vain of telling anybody what to do. Although, it is true that if you do not earn your goods and services and enjoyments, well you do not give a damn out of them.

    For me to bought a new (vinyl) record, I had to save money for weeks. But believe me, I opened the record with the most care I could give just to avoid any damage to the thing. I did not even touch the inner circles of the vinyl. I read all the information the covers had and enjoy the artwork.

    I bet you, people these days don't even bother to figure out what the cover looks like or the full discography of a musician/band.

    But I guess that's the way things are and we have to live with it. If for each download or each youtube video play every artist would earn a cent/dollar or anything, well I would be in favor of it. But is not the case, most of downloaders don't care about the musician, they want the music, no matter if the listen to it or not. Most of the people just hear music but not listen to it.

    Even services like spotify/rdio have no the same quality in sound.

    If you're concern about the artist, and you do not want to buy their music, well go to shows and/or give them direct economic donations; but don't use as a shield that as big companies don't pay them you don't pay the big companies.

    Those are my 2 cents.

  • December 13, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    I agree with the writer of the essay, but the ship has sailed, I fear. Younger music listeners are forming their listening habits at a particularly dire part of music's evolution. Contemporary pop music, with its low barriers to entry and negligible interest in expertise, spawns an infinite number of half-decent records edited and produced in somebody's bedroom. The difference between that method and a more ambitious (and expensive, and demanding) approach is entirely audible.
    When the roots of most every new record are cheap and synthetic, it gets harder for even serious young music lovers to imagine actually paying for it.


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