Saturday, June 03, 2006

the Solution to the problem

A few decades ago, a group of strange young men went into a studio, rented for 600 dollars, and in two days they recorded a masterpiece of an album: "Black Sabbath". They changed peoples concept of what music could be almost overnight.
That studio was all analog. Hideously expensive, complicated, requiring specialists to operate and when the tape master was to be converted into salable disks, it was on vinyl which is also complicated to get good sound off and brittle to handle. No easy task.
Today, a bunch of musicians can pool together 15000 dollars and build their own all digital studio, easy enogh to operate to let them do everything themselves. No more one or two-inch master tapes costing a months salary. The sound quality is fantastic compared to what was available in the olden times. When it comes to distribution, blank CD:s are rugged and cheap and simple to burn. No vinyl cooking wizardry required.
The world should really be drenched in new amazing music. For some reason it is not. When the Beatles camped out in the studio for an eternity way back when, they emerged with Sgt Pepper and the world spun. Today, some hyped new act spends two months in the studio and the result gets a yawn and a polite golf applaud, while the record company charges them an arm and a leg for the studio time.
Where are the genre-creating new acts? Where are the death-defying artists daring to break the formulas and make musical history? The major record companies are not releasing them. Instead we get an army of "Britnilera" clones, just like Hollywood keeps hitting us with "Bennifer" films. Creativity may not be dead, but the near-comatose state is worrying.
As greed has run rampant, the "biz" goes for more and more of the same low-risk pap. Boy bands looking and sounding the same. Girl stars shaking their store-bought parts on camera. Rap acts where no actual singing or musical talent is needed at all, all you do is read from the prompter in a monotone and have a really bitching attitude when in public view. The profit margin has been maximized. This is progress?
Meanwhile, most of the old acts have been forgotten. The radio stations are now owned by another Biz that has one global playlist that not quite fits all, but is still the only choice. Everyone, everywhere has to listen to the Bluntness of this week, and next week another Sugacoated company construct takes over. No-one gets to hear the music made roughly between 1900 and 1980. All those fantastic acts, forgotten in time, because the Biz has no time to re-release them. No incentive.

I listen to a lot of music. Tons of it, mostly from the net. When I find something I like, I buy it if it can be bought. A lot of it is out of print, and even if I could find it on ebay the real artist would not make any money from it, just some vinyl hustler making his own profit as a middleman. Very uncool.
What I would really like for christmas is this:
Pass a law that gives the original musicians their recordings back after ten years, to do with as they will. This way the studios have a decade to make their megabucks so they wont whine us to death.
Then, let some neutral foundation set up a hu-uuge site as a repository with all this wonderful stuff for download, and with simple paypal links to let us pay the musicians directly. It would be free and voluntary for the musicians to participate. When someone dies, the foundation gets any further proceeds to keep this mammoth site in operation. No DRM crap, no obstructions, just the stuff up for the taking and a way for us all to pay without hassles.
NOTHING would go out of print again. Three decades after the release of some obscure but wonderful album the right people would still get paid by the right fans. New acts would be on a level playingfield and get their homegrown stuff out, and we could download it and try it out, and maybe give the guys who really should stick to driving a truck some spare change for their effort at least. Not everyone should be a musician, and not everyone should expect to live off it. Everyone should have a right to be heard, though.
Apart from the fact that a number of very fat cats would lose some marginal income, and the fact that copyright laws rammed through by the senator from Disney would have to be torn out of the books again, I can see NO problem with this scenario. This is doable right now. Not tomorrow, but today. Only greed keeps it from happening. Who can defend that?
I can not imagine why any recording artist would not jump at the chance of this. I really can't.
I actually own albums that I would happily pay money for every year. Rupert Hines "Immunity" and Eno/Byrnes "My life in the bush of ghosts" come to mind. I have bought them both in multple copies already, and if I could send the artists ten bucks a year for the enormous listening pleasure those albums still give me, I would. I am hardly alone in this feeling. I think that us true fans over time will compensate for the cheapskates out there. Good artist will always have good friends. People still happily pay for Elvis Presleys old masterpieces. Let's be honest - we all know someone who has his records. If we wanted to, we could bum a copy from them, but the stuff is magic so we do the right thing. Those albums have been in circulation since the fifties and still generate income, despite all the copies made over the years.

The current laws governing copyright and related concepts have been written by politicians acting as ghostwriters for the Biz. The interests of the very very few takes precedence over the needs of the huge majority. However, if the content creators (musicians, poets and other assorted mutants) actually said NO to the Biznizmen, this could be changed. Not tomorrow, but today. Slavery could be ended despite the squeals of the slave-owners. Let us free all musicians from the current system that keeps the vast majority of them obscure and out of print. Let no-one be forgotten ever again.


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