Dave Allen

The internet is not destroying all creativity

posted by , 27 Comments

We never read redux

I wrote here more than a year ago about my belief that a certain subset of online readers simply skims articles in online public forums. They search for the glowing ember-phrase that given the right amount of oxygen will create a commenting conflagration. And boom! Topic be damned! That action must fill the perpetrator with a sense of self-satisfaction, I’m sure. If it doesn’t I’d be surprised. If one doesn’t get a thrill from dropping a comment-bomb why do it?

The unfortunate results of the unfiltered, unmediated comment thread is that thoughtful comments get overlooked in the white-heat stream of invective.

I responded to a set of questions about one week ago that became the basis of a Q&A article for Salon. The Q&A was in response to a prior Q&A that was titled ‘Silicon Valley must be stopped, or creativity will be destroyed.’ The title alone would stop any reasonable person in their tracks. Unfortunately, in the article the subject of the interview misrepresented me. There were also some thinly veiled accusations about my being on the board of the non-profit organization Cash Music.

This happens a lot. Yet, as my friend Maurice Boucher reminded me, W.C. Fields famously said: “I don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to.” Wise man. I certainly don’t attend every argument that I’m invited to either. Sometimes it’s just unavoidable.

I’ve been thinking a lot about specialists, processes and systems lately and have become fascinated with how each of those things affect how we go about our work in an era of online, open platforms. I read recently how Buckminster Fuller worried about overspecialization. This in turn sparked a thought for me about how musical groups are systemic and specialized. In an internet era, that could be debilitating for those musicians who have a false nostalgia for how things used to be.

I’ll save my thoughts on that for another post.

What follows here is my attempt to take the discussion to a higher level. If we start with the premise that the internet is not destroying all creativity, as is clearly evident to anyone who cares to take a look online, we might then be able to untangle the heated rhetoric around the subject of “internet vs creatives.” My position also requires musicians to stop presuming that they are a special subset of internet users that are treated “unfairly.” If everyone is honest we can have a debate.

I will be moderating the comments section of this post. The only rules are: no Ad Hominem attacks and no off-topic comments. Your comments will be deleted if those two simple rules are not followed.

I mentioned Maurice Boucher above. He left the following comment (below) in the comments section of my Salon Q&A. As is often the case when a well-reasoned and thoughtful comment appears in the stream, especially one that requires a response, it is routinely ignored. Maurice’s comment met that fate. I know him well enough through our online correspondence that he would not take this personally. Far from it. He fully understands what happens in these forums.

Here is Maurice’s Salon comment:

In his response to this article David Lowery claims that Dave Allen is setting him up as an anti-Internet straw man. If his position is more precisely a repudiation of HOW the Internet is being used by immoral (or at least amoral) moneyed interests as he seems to claim then I think I can help him pinpoint the exact reason why he is pursuing a not-all-together-hopeless but definitely arcane and peculiar cause.

Because, as Dave Allen rightly points out, of the standards Mr. Lowery proposes as a remedy–fair trade coffee being a rather spurious analogy since it drags ‘art’ down to the level of a commodity (and I love coffee as much as anybody). These bandied about solutions whether enacted without coercion by men of noble virtue or by means of legislative force, has never existed in the history of the world. This is a fact that does not redeem such behavior but it does at the very least gives us ample cause to wonder, “Why this particular situation (and with it the somewhat fuzzy remedies of the “Trichordist” ) and why this moment in history?”

Taking this stand now over the issue of exploitation of musicians while specifically avoiding how in the larger scale of the history of human dealings this inequity is so pervasive and documented; replete even in the history of literature, philosophy, and even science if you care to loosely reference game theory, yet it is suddenly so objectionable at this particular point in history for this specific sub-class, is to fit the definition of what Karl Popper termed in his Poverty of Historicism the definition of ‘essentialist’ thinking. It is a thought process used when political extremists want to separate out a defined group for behavior we have all been known to indulge in, yet wish to attribute exclusively to this group or a sub culture in order to say this is the exception that will not stand. I say why not let it stand if it has always stood before?

Perhaps there is a hidden equity within the chaos. Could the “Trichordist” exception be that for the first time ever Mr. Lowery sees himself on the wrong side of this equation? I hate to think that it is really down to that alone.

Even if there is a larger moral argument here that I have missed it does no good to allude to modernity as a raison d’etre in seeking recompense for musicians over streaming. That traditional modernist argument to address inequity is well established within the confines of the concept of the greater common good, and we don’t need to consult the ghost of John Locke to see how the music listener sees himself in this case. In this POST-modern age it would be more useful to take a relativist position of adjusting to the perceived shift in the ratios of power one group suddenly enjoys over another when technology accelerates access and distribution as it always does. I simply don’t see to which official authority you can address these grievances to when the only authority that has ever mattered is the music fan.

Unlike Dave Allen, whom I support in this matter, I have a less nuanced view of the Internet as an example of a transformative technology and am not willing to engage in rapprochement and with it, the danger of being called an apologist. From my perspective the Internet is NOT a more or less technologically benign presence in the world with nearly no innate deterministic properties. Someone is definitely going to be on the losing end, but I certainly don’t believe in the clarion call of the “Trichordist” that the Internet can or should be put in the hands of practitioners of higher moral virtue even if such people could even be discovered by some heretofore unknown altruistic method or even by the collective wisdom of democratic institutions. In fact, the Internet seems to challenge the foundations of democratic institutions by the ubiquity of its reach into the definitions and roles of the individual in enacting large-scale change out of proportion to that individuals’ comparative social/cultural influence (see Snowden).

The Internet is (quite rightly as Dave Allen pointed out) above sub-culture. It may even be above culture if you hold the view (as I do) that it is a medium and therefore a sealed, transparent and non-permeable (in terms of tracing reason and action) environment that introduces McLuhanist sensory biases thereby forever altering human perception in subtle and subjective ways.

In this light it seems that chasing down specific behaviors that are deemed unproductive by a specific group, one that calls for the curtailment of certain activities by other groups, is to definitely go “down an endless rat hole,” as Dave Allen points out. Why is this so? Because in a medium, human sensory biases need to have free reign or it ceases to be a medium. Its ‘seams’ begin to appear and it becomes an Internet in name only. Some may think that is desirable but it is, in the end, something that no one will stand for. It would be comparable to a worldwide initiative to burn all bibles not written in Latin.

The only method I know of to adjust a medium without destroying it is to build tools to use within its domain that enhance its features to the point that there is equity in opportunity. Right now there seems to be little to no equity in the role of content publishing. Digital technology destroyed the bottleneck through which publishing for profit was able to exploit its inherent limitations. A remedy is coming but it is not an obvious remedy and may only be seen as such in hindsight. It is probably not a remedy that restores a bottleneck. Indeed it will likely be a remedy that expands upon the sensory possibilities that the medium embraces. In this way opportunities for artists will reveal themselves through new and previously unknown bottlenecks. It is this narrative of new frontiers, aside from the narrative of artist exploitation that the Trichordists claim to be newly untenable, that is perennial to human history regardless of the medium in use.

Along with Maurice I have also struck up an online friendship with Anthony Rue. He attempted to post his comment to the Salon comments section but was faced with such an array of hurdles he gave up and instead forwarded his comment to me.

Here it is:

Cry havoc and let slip… the concern trolls. Let’s remember that the current back-and-forth on Salon was engineered by Mr. Timberg, an author releasing a book with the Buzzfeed-worthy click bait title “Creative Destruction: How the 21st Century is Killing the Creative Class, and Why it Matters.” Yet in spite of dire predictions that drive SEO headlines, creativity and the artistic impulse have always proven resilient. The combined 20th century disasters of atrocities and gulags and pogroms and tyrants and mass economic chaos failed to extinguish human creativity– yet we are to believe that a cabal of San Jose VCs pose the true threat? Is it specifically a threat to American artists of a certain appeal (i.e., Grammy fodder circa 1992), or should we expand this perceived threat to the creativity of artists outside of the US mainstream, to Asia, Africa, and the Middle East? Is creativity always commoditized as entertainment? If not, perhaps Timberg and Lowery might consider the creativity of Tahrir Square activists in leveraging web and mobile technologies to improvise a revolution, or, on an individual level, Ai Weiwei’s use of Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and the web to chip away at tangible repression at the hands of the state.

If Mr. Timberg and Mr. Lowery are really concerned about the next Eric Dolphy or Coltrane, they should contact their congressional representatives to demand renewed funding for public arts programs. Even with the recording industry at its monstrous pre-web peak, where was the next Strayhorn? If your name wasn’t Marsalis, you were not making a significant living on jazz record sales in the 80s and 90s. The game was always about entertainment, not creativity.

Working artists and musicians outside of the pop mainstream are more interested in an ethical housing market, an ethical health care system, or even functional educational institutions, with arts education. How about rent control or subsidies for performance spaces so that the next generations of Coltranes can be heard? Would the explosion of underground experimental jazz (or punk or hip hop) have blossomed in NYC in the 1970s if not for the implosion of New York City property values and the availability of just-above-squat lofts and warehouses?

While I relish the idea of Anthony Braxton and David Murray publishing Trichordist-like rants about the unethical business environment that kept them down in the 70s and 80s, it just didn’t happen– and they kept on making creative, visionary work. Come to think of it, check out Anthony Braxton’s new internet-based organization The Tricentric Foundation. It’s worth taking a second to consider Braxton’s mission statement for the foundation: “The Tri-Centric Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that supports the ongoing work and legacy of Anthony Braxton, while also cultivating and inspiring the next generation of creative artists to pursue their own visions with the kind of idealism and integrity Braxton has demonstrated throughout his long and distinguished career. Specifically, TCF encourages broad dissemination of Braxton’s music through creation of, and support for, performances, productions, recordings and other new media technologies.”

As opposed to the forward thinking Tri-Centric, in the world of the Trichordist it is always now, and now is always a state of panic. It is an irrational but persistent state of fear, unable to remember the past but also unable to formulate a future. I would have hoped that most recognize the Trichordist gang’s formulation of “the internet” is hardly more sophisticated than Sen. Stevens’ system of tubes.

Seriously, Silicon Valley capital investment is somehow privileged in how it will destroy creativity in a way that a London-based hedge fund or a credit default swap on junk mortgages don’t? Am I forgetting that under Vivendi and Sony, under Clear Channel and Tickemaster, all musicians existed in a worker’s paradise of fair compensation and a guaranteed quality of life, a musical arcadia threatened by a series of communications protocols? Yes, the internet allows the Trichordists to cherry pick aggrieved musicians and the “exploitation economy.” Now is always a panic, and panic is an irrational fear one neuron away from paranoia. You don’t see a list on the Trichordist site that charts all of the musicians who have flourished because of the internet, who have found new ways of producing music, performing, making their way. Because that would be, well, ethical. And it’s not because the internet isn’t ethical. It’s because people who use the internet are sometimes not ethical.

Especially when in a state of panic.

Anyone is free to add to this debate but please adhere to the comment code of conduct that I mentioned above.

Comments

  • Pingback: Everything becomes magical again: A year in letters | NORTH : a brand agency in portland oregon

  • http://jaycosnett.com Jay Cosnett

    Thanks, Dave. I guess I just can’t imagine that you’re not right about the experiences of other musicians. One of my favorite bands that I used to to sound for has recently reformed–they’re “keeping their day jobs” but also using internet tools to reach a new audience. At the time, I considered them to be one of Portland’s more unappreciated talents–now they have a whole new mechanism to find and connect with listeners, here in Portland and around the world.

    We forget how disruptive past technologies were–things we now can’t imagine living without. In the first decades of the last century, musicians were convinced that radio and the phonograph would destroy their livelihoods. A few decades later (at least in popular music), they were both a the very center of a musician’s career. The Beetles stopped performing live, and still had millions of listeners and enormous influence afterwards, something literally impossible 50 years before. Today, some musicians see the Internet as a threat, while others can’t imagine having a career without it. It’s hard for me not to see an unqualified benefit in a new paradigm that gives artists low-cost ways under their control to find and interact with an audience, and to not think this will create more, not fewer opportunities.

  • Robin James

    Sorry to jump in late! The beginning of AR’s penultimate paragraph is really telling, I think: maybe people are saying “the internet” but what they mean is a specific mode of capitalism facilitated by, among other things, the internet. Not that capitalism is necessarily antithetical to creativity–we’ve had art and capitalism for several centuries, now.

  • http://north.com/thinking/author/dallen Dave Allen

    Jay, this is great and thanks for adding to the comment stream. If I may, I’d say that your experience is mirrored by many other professional and semi-professional musicians. Change can create fear or opportunities and I’m glad that you understood that there were opportunities provided by the Internet..

  • http://jaycosnett.com Jay Cosnett

    Hi Dave, responding to your prompt for musicians to join in: https://twitter.com/DaveAtNORTH/status/413584042391384064

    I would have earlier, though, as many have pointed out, the whole notion that the Internet as a thing could somehow “destroy” creativity seems absurd on its face. My music industry experience, though, is a bit different than those who question the impact of the internet from the point of view of relative success (my reduction: “I make a living as a musician and the Internet is making that harder/reducing my income”), so hopefully it will add something worthwhile to the discussion.

    I was a local live sound and recording engineer for about 20 years. I never made a full-time living from the music business–I always needed at least a part time “day job.” I married a songwriter and musician, and engineered and produced a number of low-budget, self-released recordings, for her bands and other local indie pop/rock acts. When my wife’s band released a cassette EP titled “Thick Picnic” in 1994, the Internet was starting to gain traction. In 1995, I was drafted into an on-stage role and came out from behind the mixing board to play bass. Our last live performance was in 1998 at North by Northwest.

    Our band did not pack local clubs on Friday nights. We did not tour. We struggled to find an audience that would come to a smoky club late at night to hear us play. We played music that we felt was strong, unique and that had lots of positive qualities, but we had also struggled against the perennial chicken and egg problem that faced most artists in the pre-Internet era–you can’t get a club owner/newspaper/radio station/booking agent/record company to pay attention to you if you’re not selling lots of tickets and records, and you can’t sell lots of tickets and records unless people know you exist and think they might like you, which they can’t do unless you get gigs/press/airplay/advertising.

    But in 1994 and 1995, we were doing something that people started to notice: we were one of the first Portland bands on the Internet. We had a website. We had an interactive press kit distributed on a floppy disc. (Really.) We started sending fans emails instead of postcards. A music writer in Quebec wrote us up in a magazine. We got airplay on a Dutch radio station. We spoke at the local Musicians’ Union on how musicians could use the Internet. And when we talked to Dave at an “industry mentor” session at NXNW (think speed dating for bands and music industry types), he said, “Exactly. Write your own ticket. Find your own audience. Forget the big record deals, because even if you get everything you dream of, chances are you’ll just get screwed in the end.” (I’m paraphrasing, of course!) So that’s what we did.

    Did we end up being able to quit our day jobs and live the rockstar life? No. We had kids, moved, lost jobs, cared for sick relatives, and with our studio packed away in boxes, the album we started recording in 1997 remains unfinished to this day. (My wife died of breast cancer in 2010, so I have it as my task to finish it and sell in–online–to raise money for cancer research.) The Internet didn’t make our dreams come true, but it didn’t PREVENT them from coming true, either. Now, because of the internet, I might decide raise funds to have our album professionally mastered. I can sell it without having to first shell out hundreds or thousands to press CDs that might not ever sell. (I still have cassettes from 1994.) I can–gasp–let people listen to our music, for free, if I think that’s what I want or that’s what will further our mission.

    I gain inspiration from musicians who have used the internet to further their own, independent careers, in ways they never could have done under the old, record company/radio/big tour business model. My musical career has paused, but it is not over forever, and I cannot at this point imagine that being possible in any way without the tools provided by the Internet. The extent to which I posses the creativity and the talent to take advantage of those tools is completely up to me.

  • David Kahl

    The Fair Trade Music idea that is being forwarded in this discussion should not be confused for the legitimate initiative that both union and nonunion musicians, beginning here in Portland, have been working on getting venues to sign on to. There is no comparison between the two. Just a point of note.

  • David Kahl

    Sutton – you’ve nailed it, as far as I’m concerned. What’s destroying creativity is fear and anything that distracts from that process. Too much is made of the various nouns – Internet, labels, enterprises (as subject and object of derision) – and too little of the verb. It’s always, in the end, about the moment. Too precious few of these if the eye is on one thing that has nothing to do with the heart.

  • http://north.com/thinking/author/dallen Dave Allen

    Trying!

  • Rob.Sims

    I just ran across this very impressive fan share funding site: https://www.artistshare.com/v4/Home/About

    From the site: “What is ArtistShare?: ArtistShare is a platform that connects creative artists with fans in order to share the creative process and fund the creation of new artistic works. ArtistShare created the Internet’s first fan funding platform for artists launching its initial project in October, 2003. Since then, ArtistShare has been allowing fans to show appreciation for their favorite artists by funding their projects in exchange for access to the creative process, LTD Edition recordings, VIP access to events/recording sessions and even credit listing on the final product. Unlike other companies we build the model around the artist while providing the best fan support in the industry. ArtistShare projects have received countless awards and accolades including 6 Grammy awards and 21 Grammy nominations. Our artist roster includes some of today’s most prestigious artists including Pulitzer prize and Oscar nominated writers, Guggenheim fellowship recipients, Grammy winners and NEA Jazz Masters. View some screenshots from the first fan-funded project (circa 2003!) here.”

    No “nattering nabobs of negativism” at ArtistShare!

    Two AS releases are mentioned in Fred Kaplan’s best jazz of 2013 [http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2013/12/the_best_jazz_albums_of_2013_as_selected_by_fred_kaplan.html]

  • Rob.Sims

    No takers because the argument, once examined, is weak.

    David Lowery is upset because his tracks are worth the same as anyone else’s tracks on iTunes. David Byrne is worried that St. Vincent might have to take a day job if she can’t make more $ as a musician. These are petty issues that have nothing to do with the supply of creativity. One worries about getting paid what he deserves, and the other about whether a sometime musical partner can succeed.

    I am unable to detect any loss of creativity that can be attributed to the internet. Looking through the lens of the Portland’s music scene, I cannot detect any immediate signs of death. The clubs are full and a wide variety of music is being created by enthusiastic musicians for enthusiastic fans. The shows usually start too late for many, but that has always been the case.

    Last week I saw Pere Ubu at the Doug Fir for the princely sum of $15.The club was filled, but not quite sold out. Slightly fewer than 300 fans were able to see a niche band formed about 40 years ago perform for next to nothing. So imported creativity and the local consumption of creativity seem OK despite Spotify and the internet. Perhaps that is because the band owns its catalog and racks up big CD sales instead of accepting a pittance in royalties from Spotify? Or perhaps they are artists who enjoy performing their art to others and accept (grumpily, in the case of David Thomas) their place in the food chain? Anthony Braxton is an excellent example of an artist who continues to create despite his seeming lack of commercial success.

    Being an artist is a very personal choice that for most, involves considerable sacrifice, while a few get rich. The idea of fair trade music suggests that some sort of public or private clearinghouse or authority can sort out the relative values of musicians and music and will do it in a manner that is better (fairer?) than the current market system.

    What I think we would really get is a sort of musical version of the Los Angeles Triforium, a sixty ton concrete light & musical show installed in 1975 that is meant to ‘play “everything from Beethoven to the Bee Gees”,[3].’ Unfortunately, I can’t post an image, but I think fair trade music would sound and look a lot like the Triforium on the rare occasions when it works. I apologize for cribbing from myself, but I am not that creative.

  • curtiswaterbury

    Yeah, the whole thing has been blown sideways. Thus, Dave’s work to get above it all with a more holistic eye :) Cheers to that.

  • MauriceOnAnIsland

    I agree that there is a lot of ‘lumping’ going on. I see it as a standard rhetorical trick to remove the daylight between one issue that many people may be soft on (but is of a vested interest to the rhetorician) and another issue that many people clearly object to.

    Never mind that pursuing that strategy is an admission that the complainant is on soft ground and that the internet has a built in trail of breadcrumbs that allow for easy deconstruction of the conflation of the argument. People still use it because it works with lazy minded followers and/or the media that is always looking for an opportunity for foment and the resulting click-thru’s that pay the rent. At least, it works for a while anyways (as the Trichordists are finding out).

  • http://north.com/thinking/author/dallen Dave Allen

    Succinctly put!

  • http://north.com/thinking/author/dallen Dave Allen

    Sutton, mind boggled or not you make plenty of good points! And the nod to Lewis Hyde is a big one in my book. I really enjoy his writings. Thanks for jumping in here…

  • sutton althisar

    all these sorts of discussions have been mind-boggling to me since these new issues have arisen. most of what i read on this subject confines its discussion to an oversimplified “a vs. b” situation, as in “silicon valley is destroying the creative class”, framing an argument about how much money beyonce should make from spotify next year. in my opinion, the really important questions here pertain to the relevance of the argument itself and the value of the terms of the discussion.

    for example, can creativity be destroyed? don’t impediments to creation always turn out to be the greatest fertilizers for creativity? do copyrights truly promote creativity? are they, in general, good for society as a whole? is there really such a thing as a “creative class”? aren’t we really only referring to the people who have heretofore made a living by being exploited by big businesses? in that case we’re fighting on a slippery slope about the terms of their exploitation – about which i couldn’t care less. why are so many people conflating their own interests with those of beyonce? there isn’t any way to know for sure, but i would bet that the majority of people who blame their economic despair on new technologies would be doing as bad, if not worse without those technologies. if you really know what you want to do, aren’t the tools at your disposal right now only beneficial?

    if all you want is to be a professional musician you can join a cover band and play weddings or corporate events, you can try to get session work, you can teach, you can sing jingles. if you have a low enough standard of living you can even start a band, write some songs, and tour incessantly in the hopes that you may be able to afford a bus or your own hotel room one day.

    if you want to be an artist you can work bullshit jobs to make a living while you write, record, and distribute your art – nearly for free. it would be nice to make some money, but you shouldn’t expect it. only a lucky few have ever managed to get any real money making art. if you are fighting for money in the world of commerce (trichordist), then i recommend reading “the gift”. http://www.lewishyde.com/publications/the-gift it’s important to note that capitalism IS exploitation – this is not a moral judgement, it’s the name of the game.

    if you are an executive trying to prevent the invisible hand of the free market from brushing you aside, then go fuck yourself. it’s a tough game. tighten your belt and go find a new bubble to exploit. it’s over… at least i, for one, hope that it is.

    ………….

    another interesting part of all this is what light the “google business model” sheds on it, and whether seeking compensation now, in most cases, equates to putting the cart before the horse. if you find your market, and create your value, you should be able to monetize that value down the road. crowd-sourcing may fit here somewhere, and beyonce’s fragrance or energy drink or whatever may, too.

    …………..

    as i said, my mind is boggled, and i just barely have a grip on any of my thoughts about all this.

  • David Kahl

    I’ve wrestled with this one, Maurice. I see pieces out there that, if interfaced, could become a great personal, professional, individual and/or collective platform for sharing the live performance experience. Archival use, for reference and/or editing is a possibility. Deeper social connection is another.

    There are many reasons it hasn’t happened yet, but, someone’s certain to make it so; its integrity, after that, would determine if it’s as needed or relevant as we might think it is. There are lots of apps out there that are good ideas, but ….

  • curtiswaterbury

    I’ve never really understood why the Internet was even dragged into this debate. It’s always seemed like two separate discussions to me.

    One, if you’re a musician pissed off about lack of money flowing in – don’t attack the medium. Rather, it’s a discussion to have with the recording industry execs and lawyers. So, if I’m reading about this issue in the NYT then I envision a story about a group of upset artists who want to bring industry execs and tech folks to the table to see how they can re-negotiate contracts in light of new technologies. Execs and tech folks might balk, then we pick sides, argue capitalism and equality, and off we go. The technology isn’t going away.

    Two, if you’re a musician pissed off about how technology is ruining your life, that’s an entirely different (and, in my mind, absurd) conversation. As PE Preston points out in the comments here, it’s never been easier for musicians (especially the up-and-comers) to reach their fan base. It’s a medium, plain and simple. If you’re not pleased with the way it’s being used, then let’s start a movement, and get together to talk about how we (THE WORLD as one set of users) can use it in a manner that benefits everyone. Understanding, of course, this moves to the behavioral and philosophical, and probably an endless “rat hole”. Nonetheless, it’s a separate discussion in my mind.

    Please enlighten me if I’m oversimplifying the matter, but I’m having trouble understanding why people want to lump the discussions together.

  • MauriceOnAnIsland

    I agree. The thing of it is; does the act of viewing deepen the possible social experience (as in a typical Youtube experience WITHOUT restriction to access by territory) or does it remove the user from a possibly deeper social experience as other platforms do? Or are there visual platforms that you guys know of that take it to another level?

  • MauriceOnAnIsland

    I largely zoned out through the initial non-marketing event of Beyonce’s new album. The first indicator that it was a ‘thing’ came from a Lefsetz post that took a view of the whole approach with a great deal of skepticism. In Bob’s opinion the album release was a true non-event masquerading as a feigned non-event, “It’s a stunt”. And he goes on to say it is indicative of how desperate Apple is for I-Tunes to remain relevant. He argues it is feigned in the sense that it was promoted with all the normal clout Jay-Z can muster (only in a back-channeled kind of way) to mass media as a story of “we are beyond the hype now” indifference that was, in fact, hype.

    It reminds me of nothing less than the release of the Beatles “White” album in 1968, that if I remember, caused the sales division at Capitol records fits of outrage to rack-job a Beatles album that had no cover art and barely any graphic text that would make it stand out in the record stores. The Beatles, of course, in a pre-Black Adder fit of “I have a cunning plan/how cunning?/so cunning you could brush your teeth with how cunning it is”, knew that every-band and their record exec pretend-uncle had psychedelic cover art that made the record store patrons eyes swim and the White Album would stick out amidst all the Peter Max influenced visual noise.

    So in that sense I have to agree with Bob Lefsetz on this one. It’s the same old, same old. That said the Beyonce non-campaign IS a success (but a lot of that has to do with Apple giving her the keys to the record store perhaps)? The next issue is more relevant to me. Is it a workable model to draw from? Simply Measured says yes but that is an argument that I feel they have no choice but to make. Lefsetz takes a view of singularity in tech cultural values; that the public tends to value a clever uniqueness above all and will not respond to copy-cats. I don’t know if I agree with that. I think it depends on how profoundly bored the online public is at any given time (and how desperate the professional media is for fodder) and therefore are willing to convince themselves that, whatever the next viral moment is, it really is not just another Internet version of a mass media hand job (even though they DO know on some level it probably is).

    To me the big take away from the Beyonce event is that it really a very conservative and traditional philosophy of music marketing culture in an Internet context. It shows that the big players still have little use and even less respect for the ‘streaming’ model represented by Spotify. I’ve been thinking about this model for a while and maybe its a good way to start conceptualizing what a musician is faced with when trying to get any attention through digital media.

    The first conclusion I feel confident of is that there are two models that a musician of limited resources has to take into account. If I use my use my software engineering background to draw a highly abstracted conceptual model it would look like this:
    https://cacoo.com/diagrams/yzodfgSw9TPKRFr4

    The diagram seems somewhat simplistic at first view. You have to keep in mind that a UML diagram is about uncovering complex relationships hidden by simplified concepts we all use in discourse but never seem to nail down before elaborating upon. In this case I am trying to uncover what processes and patterns a musician has to engage in to successfully interface with a ‘release’ model (as represented by the Beyonce campaign) and with a ‘stream’ model (as represented by Spotify).

    The most important artifacts to uncover from this process is to identify which methods are unique to which model and which methods are interchangeable. Think of it this way; each model sits out on the Internet listening and waiting for something special to come by but a musician is probably unaware that whatever art they produce might seem like gibberish to one of the two models or maybe even both independent of what their music actually sounds like and what quality that music may have. THIS IS IMPORTANT: the successful ‘signals’ the musician needs to send are completely independent to the subjective ‘quality’ of the art. The musician has to send a message that is appropriate to the model they wish to engage. it is important to know what messages these models will respond to. That is why the connecting lines of each model POINT to the musicians scenario of creating and generating. In the domain of the ‘always on’ Internet these models wait for signals like a radio telescope scans the sky.

    It is all about the musician exposing interfaces to the models that make sense to the models. In this way we can discover what ‘fills’ the dimensions of the technology giving the listener/viewer the sense of an artistic experience that draw them into the role of an audience. Having a visual ‘signal’ (as Beyonce’s release has with videos for every song and then some) is probably a requirement of both models but that doesn’t mean that the ‘value’ of the visual image is the same to each model. That is what (among many other issues) I hope to find out by seeing what is behind the streaming and release models.

  • MauriceOnAnIsland

    I agree with Anthony Rue, that for most people, it is a rather incoherent complaint to make about the Internet and many people may feel they lack the specificities in knowledge to challenge Timberg’s sensationalist assertion. But all the same I suspect many would simply react to it in a non-verbal but dismissive manner.

    That said, the Trichordist camp needs to be answered however feebly in this interim period when the way forward is not too clear. They are counting on a triadic situation of the confusion, a vacuum of opposing opinion, and there own veritable tape loop of lazy historicisms repeating over and over in said vacuum to take hold and cement itself into the online mythology.

    So if a few of us can dissemble some sort of basic counter-argument that at least says, “No, greater minds than us have dealt with these issues in the past in larger arenas than the music business and this is why the Trichordist position is pretty much a joke.” Then that answer at least (hopefully) stems the tide of ignorance until a way forward becomes clearer.

    So its not really surprising that they offer no coherent debating of the issues we raise in opposition to their ‘position’ (I’m still waiting for David Lowery to explain how modernity supports his call for redress). Unless there is a way for him to travel to an alternate universe and import that history into our universe, I don’t see how he can even pretend he has a leg to stand on with that particular issue.

  • PE Preston

    Here we are at a moment in time when it has never been easier, as a result of the confluence of various readily accessible technologies, it has never be easier for musicians to:

    1. record their music themselves to a satisfactory level of quality;

    2. mix their recordings and master finished files themselves;

    3. distribute files to willing listeners;

    4. build relationships with fans directly to makes sales, promote shows, etc.

    And we’re supposed to feel bad that these changes are disrupting the old system where musicians signed shitty deals on shitty terms with shitty labels and got paid shit (at best)? And that was just the lucky few who got to have deals at all. No. Whatever the new thing is going to be, its going to be better than the old thing was.

  • David Kahl

    Let’s face it, Dave. As to your example here, I would guess that enough folks out there are looking as much as they listen. Maybe more.

  • David Kahl

    Dave:

    I am glad you pulled my last post. It
    was much more reactive than responsive. I revisit with the attempt to address
    the following points referenced in the two Salon interviews.

    Common decency – start with manners. Is this generational?

    Revenue – new streams of income need to be viewed within the context of an economy. Business models are developed within. The factories that thrived with new technologies built new architecture upon and around it. The music industry is an old manufacturing model, making it less relevant.

    Points of seeming opposition – seem binary, but, in fact, define two forces that will ultimately be mediated. The vastness of the Internet allows for organizing
    community around common imperatives and, within these, common perspectives, as happens in the physical world.

    Changing principles to match technology – if, indeed, this is the case, then there a fundamental flaw in the principles at play. Take the issue of equity. One
    person sees access; the other sees ownership. Who is right? They both are.

    Value – is Spotify wrong in assuming equal value? They play by the existing rules of governance, over which they have no control. Spotify is functioning in a dysfunctional environment. They are managing, not cosigning, while others are screaming about the insanity around them. A 12 Step program might help, but it all boils down to that one issue – management versus control. If currency standards are off base in any economy, market forces will even them out and, if policies that govern these standards are still not in line, then movement coalesces around the issue and deals with it.

    Organizing – again, a management issue. If the ex officio reality is that you can’t unionize as a songwriter, then a de facto capacity needs to be in place.
    If the rules are determined by government and corporations, then a new corporate platform needs to deliver a co-op ownership of both. An entity of this sort would have a greater and more effective capacity to advocate and protect its member-community.

    The “Golden Age” argument – more like golden moments, expanded and embellished. The past is always brighter than the present and, at best, bodes some hope for the future.

    Confusing art and business – business (finance) has ruled the art, from the moment it became a commodity. The artist has always been torn between the two worlds, initially impelled from the simple desire to create. As soon as someone pays attention, paying money becomes an issue and conflict ensues. Mozart knew it; just watch “The Impresario” if you seek proof. Of course, “The Agony and the Ecstasy” also comes to mind. Everyone wants assurances, but sees themselves as living examples of implicitly offering these assurances without addressing agreeable standards of practice and proficiency.
    Historically, guilds afforded better responses in this regard than unions, with
    some notable exceptions, predominantly in the trades. Artists have been much
    remiss when it comes to this, leaving it up to management, agency, lawyers, and corporations to determine for themselves and complaining after the fact.

    Politics – democracy and socialism (not the pointed ideologies, but the broader historic dynamic) are best empowered by the Internet. Again, equity – access and ownership of creation, of statement, and of position – is key. You can say what you want, build your case, offer your wares, back it all up and succeed or fade away.

    The complaints of 16 artists – there is one question, two answers, which beget
    other questions. Why do you record?
    - If for purely artistic reasons, then why would you charge for it? Isn’t the idea
    to connect with as many others as possible, to garner acknowledgement and
    affirmation? If so, then why do you even attempt to treat it as a business?
    - If for economic reasons, then what is its function? Again, it harkens to the
    previous point, as the number of connections mark the size of your market,
    leading to gigs, which are, for most musicians, the bread-and-butter of our
    careers. If this is the case, then, accepting that recording is primarily
    promotional, the next question is would you sell your business card?

    (NOTE: Of course the answers are mediated toward some
    hybridized middle ground.

    Your reference to Western Union and the telephone struck a resounding chord with me. It wasn’t the what, but the why of their decision, which was ego-driven. The fact that Alexander Graham Bell’s father-in-law had attempted to compete, unsuccessfully, with them was of prime motive. The dismissal of the telephone as a “parlor device” was secondary, only affording rationalizing of their decision. Then, of course, contingency was considered. If Bell’s device was ultimately successful, then the corporate clout of Western Union would back the Elisha Gray invention and squash Bell like a bug. In the end, their hubris got the best of them and they ended up spending much more on leasing equipment.)

    Ethics – you are spot on here. The construct of the Internet is not ethical. The wilderness of the New World was not ethical, either. The communities and corporations that carved out their respective territories imposed their own ethics, good or bad. One is transparent because it promotes the general welfare and the other is not, for various self-serving reasons.

    Entrepreneurship – success will be qualified by dealing with the mindset of people like “caliman”, whose comments are seen in
    response to your interview. These people hold the creation of others as some
    form of an entitlement, with no regard for the efforts of the artist who
    provides.

    One means of ameliorating this conundrum would be to adopt
    the Canadian model, which acknowledges a certain, fundamental societal and
    cultural value. In this model, the artist is granted an annual award to support
    and sustain his or her chosen livelihood. Of course, this is underwritten by
    the taxpayers – the general market and the marketplace, including the
    individuals and businesses that reap benefit from the harvest. Barriers to
    entry in this newly revisited economic reality? – Most definitely. Some would suggest that it’s about survival, others would call it theft, and others identify it as looting; it is inarguably mob or majority rule.

    Another means would be to think of the Internet as a colonization effort, wherein social fabric is woven, integrating diversity of texture and color; agreed upon actions, activity, and accountability; economy and commerce.
    There will ultimately be a convergence, whether by happenstance or by
    design, creating and contributing from even the most common base, and thus
    delivering an infrastructure that functions seamlessly enough to transition
    into the physical world. Think this is an opportunity of abundance?

    I am prone to think that this agrees with your perspective, professor.

  • Anthony Rue

    Dave, I’m not at all surprised by the lack of participation. I’d like to think it is because this whole notion of “the internet is killing creativity” put forward by Byrne, Lowery, and now by Timberg (and does anyone really need to read more than the title of his book?) is so preposterous that it seems rather trite to have to respond. Beyond the obvious conflation of a specific type of entertainment with creativity in the “trichordist discourse,” a reasoned response would either take the form of opposing models (your hunter/artisan or tax essays, public support for non-mainstream arts and performance, examples of artist/musician initiatives that sidestep the music biz) or the use of a critical framework (i.e., Karl Popper, McLuhan) that requires the discussion to slow down, to show nuance. Outside of the MLA conference, there’s little bloodsport in arguing essentialist historicism. Maurice’s comments are idea-dense enough that they require a response on his terms, something that most are not going to prepare for in the comments section of a blog. (I should note that I do like his response here quite a bit, but beyond posting “go, Maurice” I wasn’t sure how I would respond to it in the framework of the Salon comments.)

    It does make me miss the early days of the Pho mailing list, though, with its back-and-forth among those involved directly in the emerging the digital frontier.

  • http://north.com/thinking/author/dallen Dave Allen

    And Maurice, I saw your recent comment on the Salon piece where the commenter had written:

    “I think the discussion we should be having, both as musicians (who aspire to do it full time and not starve), and technologists, is how to use the platforms and tools at our disposal to create new forms of musical expression (which begs the question about whether visual expression should also be included in the idea of musical expression).”

    To which I say: Beyoncé, an album plus videos of every track. 890,000 albums sold on iTunes in 3 days. No upfront radio singles, no advertising, a reasonable price point of $15.99 etc, etc…

    Know who your customers are.

  • http://north.com/thinking/author/dallen Dave Allen

    Well Maurice, it may be just you and me here for a while. I have to admit this is an experiment. And the experiment is: if given the chance to enter into a moderated debate and express their concerns and real problems regarding the rise of technology, would musicians and their supporters take the high road and speak out clearly and succinctly?

    So far no takers.

  • MauriceOnAnIsland

    Clearly No One Expects the Spanish Inquistion When Posting at Salon!

    Thank you for re-posting my comment David. And thanks especially for posting Mr. Rue valuable comment which makes several fine and detailed points about the goings on at the Trichordist site. It’s too bad it was not added to the Salon page but I understand the difficulties he had.

    It was very difficult to post a longer, more detailed response at Salon for your Q&A. It took multiple attempts and editing the post was very difficult. The engine Salon uses is a step down from Disqus and would go so far to say that it is a piece of crap. I suspect it is more suited to the machine-gun type bursts of inflammatory rhetoric they usually deal with (and encourage) there.

    I don’t really mind the lack of response I got to the points I raised. It used to bother me but then I became sanguine about the motivations of most posters at sites like Salon. You’re right, they scan the text quickly looking for familiar tinder-dry fuel that they can ignite upon with a type of sloganeering accelerator that befits their A.D.D. approach to discourse. It seems they never read any post fully and they probably spend more time coming up with an alias that is obscurely meaningful to them before they dash off, Scarlet Pimpernel-like, into the void quite certain they had the last word over the matter that no one can possibly top.

    What surprises me is how David Lowery (if that was really him) took pretty much this approach. In terms of responding to posters and the ideas put forth, he definitely went for the low hanging fruit and ignored the rest of the tree. His strangely over-heated tone was interesting to me as it gave me insight into his motivations vis-a-vis his biography. At the risk of playing amateur psychologist, I think he is contented in his Internet role as a patron saint of a lost cause and is really not interested in the issue in a more detailed context of devising and implementing public policy. I don’t think you have to look further than the literature of the post-reconstructed South (going back to William Faulkner and through to James Dickey to find examples) as he plays the ‘knight errant’ of sorts that resonates to his followers and their steadfast investment in a glorious but false version of rock n roll history.

    Still the Salon piece was a success in terms of its reach into the Social sphere and I’m glad I was able to finally post, though my contribution was relatively dense and conceptually compacted, with clumsy sentences here and there making for a not-too-easy read, thanks for re-editing for better effect here at North. I sort of take a weird pride writing a long dense response that probably frustrated flammers as they had to scroll…scroll…etc looking for easy rhetoric they could attack and finding not much to work with. It was like introducing the intestinal tract of the Salon discussion engine to a high-fiber diet when they are used to lower fiber/higher carb fair. With your Q/A and a few contributions by the rest of us and all the links out to twitter and facebook, we can assume some food for thought was consumed by a silent majority giving them a thoughtful ‘regularity’ in their view of a complex matter.