The Trichordist

Recently Emily White, an intern at NPR All Songs Considered and GM of what appears to be her college radio station, wrote a post on the NPR blog in which she acknowledged that while she had 11,000 songs in her music library, she’s only paid for 15 CDs in her life. Our intention is not to embarrass or shame her. We believe young people like Emily White who are fully engaged in the music scene are the artist’s biggest allies. We also believe–for reasons we’ll get into–that she has been been badly misinformed by the Free Culture movement. We only ask the opportunity to present a countervailing viewpoint.


My intention here is not to shame you or embarrass you. I believe you are already on the side of musicians and artists and you are just grappling with how to do the right thing. I applaud your courage in admitting…

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4 thoughts on “

  1. Peter – I’m glad you re-posted this because comments have been closed on the original article.

    It’s a great article in that it’s sparked such healthy debate.

    As much as I agree with the sentiment, I feel it denies the reality of our time. The fact is people don’t have to pay for MP3s anymore, and the vast majority won’t. Trying to govern the morality of this issue is a losing battle.

    Successful artists will embrace that fact and use it as a means to raise awareness – then make money on things which can’t be shared online for free. True fans will buy tickets, t-shirts, vinyl, even CD’s – even if they already have the MP3s on their hard drive – because they want to support.

    They key is learning exactly who those fans are, catering specifically to them, and making it easy for them to spread the word.

    Look at this case study on Pretty Lights partnership with BitTorrent:

    He’s one of the most successful acts out there today and he’s given his music away for free – all of it – since day one. That’s the model artists need to embrace moving forward.

    I’m quoting someone here – can’t remember who, but they’ve hit the nail on the head: “The curse of today’s artist is not piracy, it’s anonymity.”

    Much respect to everyone taking part in this dialogue.


  2. It’s a good article with some interesting arguements and others that should be challenged.

    The statements about being asked to ‘change our morality’, assume that asking us to pay a certain amount for music for the past 60 odd years was inherantly ‘moral’ in some way, rather than simply the product of capitalism informing the development of a recorded music industry, once technology to do so became available. Those statements also assume that artists were treated ‘morally’ by record companies and their contracts, which the dude who wrote this (he played in a Seattle band called Cracker) should be acutely aware is a fallacy. Record companies have dicked mid-level bands out of millions of dollars for decades. The article talks about the rights of an artist to profit from their creation, but nothing about the fact that signing that dotted line waives 99% of those rights.

    It is obviously an issue that the average ‘consumer’ could give two shits where their money goes when they buy a record, or anything else for that matter. So, unfortunately, I don’t think appealling to any sense of morality is going to help. It might fare slightly better as a strategy if used on so-called music lovers – those of us who identify as being kind of obsessed with music and bands. Obivously I fit that category, but then, I’m a schlep who still pays for CDs. This has extra significance because here in Australia, CDs have been historically exhuberantly priced! ( I realise that is the result of a complex world-economy that i have no hope of fully understanding (or liking, eiher way.) )

    So, I think, an artist who was active in the hey-day of 90s undergrund success, now complaining that those ‘good ol’ days’ are gone, is nothing particularly new. Appealing to consumer’s morality is an odd tactic, since it was record companys that created the artist-label-distributor-store-buyer model. Were record companys a ‘necessary evil’ – was it ok that they made multiple millions so that artists could earn, lets say $30k per annum (a very generous figure) and have a chance at maybe, just maybe, being the next Nirvana or Alanis Morrissette or whatever you want? (I pick those two because they came from out of almost no-where and were PHENOMENALLY successful.) Maybe ‘indie’ artists (and fans) were short-sighted in bitching about the record companies so much, since now they’re sorta going belly-up and taking the money with them. This is where the original blogger has it right -inmodern times lower-level bands are usually on their own imprint or own tiny label. So, we have the opportunity to put money right in their pockets via websites, bandcamp etc!!! That’s what we should do!! I’ve really enjoyed exploring Bandcamp for new sounds, and being able to actually buy stuff from the people making it, there and then.

    Spotify, quite franky, amazes me and scares the shit out of me. It’s amazing to be able to stream virtually any song or album you can possibly think of (and there’s definitely proper-obscure stuff on there, no doubt) instantly and in high quality, is just … mesmerising. The fact that you can do it from virtually anywhere is just as mindblowing. But the reason it scares the shit out of me is this: I’ve had younger people than I look at my hundreds of CDs and DVDs and go “woahh!! why have you got so many!!? Don’t you download stuff?? Most of my music is on mp3!!” – these are people in their early 20s, not primary school. Now, these people still had a sense of “having” music, even though it was mp3, and regardless of whether it was acquired legally. They “had” the mp3s, and, I too “have” a crapload of mp3s. I have them, I know where they are, and in some sense, they are tangibly “mine” just like “my” photos are in the folder next to them and “my” documents are in the folder next to that.
    I’m getting to my point, which is this: The generation that grows up with Spotify is never going to have that sense of ‘having’ the music. Music via Spotify is finally completely ephemeral … it’s not “yours” any more than watching the 7pm news makes it “yours” (ok ok, unless you’re the type that downloads it!)

    I think this has immense implications for the music industry at large – whether or not Spotify switches to a more realistic payment structure for artists (Which it definitely should – though i take the original blogger’s points about piracy making that nigh-on impossible.) This is inevitable going to extend to digital video as well. The Spotify generation’s attitude toward and concept of music (and video) as a product will be even more difficult for guys like the original blogger to comprehend and fathom, let alone reconcile with.

    Which is why, although I agree with his sentiments on a base level, I think his arguements deny the reality of our times. His analogy about the neighbourhood with no law enforcement is quite ridiculously flimsy, and that’s unfortunate, because some of the other things he says are imporant to consider.

    I think, as others have said, that the most successful artists in our times will be the ones who embrace digital culture for what it is, and via ‘free’ material, raise awareness of output that can’t be digitized and shared, and thus can be monetised – if that’s what they want to do….

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