Thursday, July 26, 2012


This article first appeared in the 7.26.12 issue of Metroland.

Picking up more or less where we left off last time, talking about why David Lowery is so FoS in his damning of the internet, of tech companies, and of the generation of music lovers who don’t pay for recorded music:

            Blaming the internet is stupid.  So is arguing that “music has been de-valued.”  Nothing has been devalued, it’s just that the algorithm has changed.

            Let’s look at the argument that there are less full-time professional musicians than there used to be.  Without a survey, I can tell you that’s true.  Is it the internet’s fault?  No.  In fact it has nothing to do with the internet.  Here’s some big reasons, in no particular order:

The drinking age:  Yup, I’m gonna keep pounding on this one.  Years ago, in 1984 (!!!) the Feds tied millions in highway funds to having the states raising the drinking age to 21.  In most states at the time it was 18.  With the MADDS and SADDS and their disingenuous arguments that raising the drinking age “saves lives” (so does not venturing outside, or wearing a Kevlar suit), the states all caved and in one fell swoop musicians by the thousands were out of work.  For the vast majority of working musicians, gigs were at places that served alcohol, and the high margins on alcohol sales subsidized the musician’s pay.   The most reliable patrons of these places were the 18-21 year old kids, driven by their surging natural mating instincts, that basic human need for bad communal behavior, and equipped with the uncanny ability to function passably on one or two hours’ sleep after hours of heavy drinking.  A musician or a band would typically see a modest young following turn into a catalyst for a scene, where throngs of kids would show up and drink and be together.  Maybe the crowd would be focused on the music, maybe not.  It didn’t matter; musicians got paid well.

            When the drinking age went up, clubs closed, clubs that didn’t cut back on live music, had music start earlier and end much earlier, charged more at the door, and paid musicians less. A huge chunk of the audience had disappeared, or, in the case of all ages shows, the demographic that bought the most drinks was now drinking in the parking lot instead of in the club.  It was a death spiral that continues to this day.  Many clubowners I know lose money on music, and offer it out of some vestigial and romantic notion that nightclubs should exist, in part, to present live music.

Live music has been replaced I: Some years ago, the idea took hold that a person should gain near-celebrity status for having the job of picking out popular pre-recorded musical selections and playing them in sequence for a room full of people.  DJ’s are invariably cheaper than musicians, cleaner, less trouble (no drummers, for example), more reliable, more flexible (“Sinatra?  You bet!  Die Antwoord?  Coming right up!”), and a good DJ gives the people what they want, not that this takes any great measure of skill.  So it’s not surprising that clubs, weddings, parties, etc etc etc will forgo hiring mercurial artists who have spent years honing their craft and thousands of dollars acquiring and fine-tuning their instruments and instead book some clown with a couple of speakers and a music library, and this clown gets marketed like he (or she, but really, it’s almost always a he, isn’t it?) is some kind of star, some kind of talent.  Please.

Live music has been replaced II:  The world has changed.  Bands, guitarists, singers, aren’t the thing any more.  Electronic dance music (EDM) in all its various incarnations (dubstep, house, drums & bass, etc) is the thing.  Nobody over the age of 20 seems to be getting this yet, except for a few outliers like the brilliant music blogger Bob Lefsetz, an old coot like me who’s been ringing this bell for a while.  But look at the numbers, look where the excitement is at festivals like Coachella and Bonnaro.  Ask the Avid guys who’ve been jamming the Albany Armory with kids coming to see their shows that sometimes sell out before they’re announced, while we’ve been sitting in half-empty clubs and concert halls trying to decide if it’s time to go home yet.  Yes, there are plenty of kids learning guitar and drums and going to some rock band camp under the proud tutelage of Mom and Dad, but even they know that the cats who are gonna make it, gonna get the girls (and/or boys), gonna get the glory---those cats are holed up in their bedrooms with a computer and headphones, creating music alone, or on places like Soundcloud, trading beats and sounds and ideas with similar kids from every corner of the earth.  They all know what time it is.

Paul Rapp is an art and entertainment lawyer who just noticed that there is a porcupine carcass outside his front door, and who has a recording studio in his computer that he doesn’t know how to use.  You can

Thursday, July 12, 2012


This article originally appeared in the 7.12.12 issue of Metroland

            A few weeks ago a short screed about the music acquisition practices of our youth by Camper Van Beethoven /  Cracker frontman David Lowery went seriously viral.  A surprising number of Facebook music pals reposted it with captions like “Brother Lowery gets it right.”   This essay appeared on a Wordpress blog called The Trichordist, Artists For An Ethical Internet, a sad little place where a couple of musicians grouse about not getting paid enough and blame Google and folks like John Perry Barlow and Larry Lessig for this sad state of affairs.

            The debacle started when NPR’s great music guy Bob Boilin posted on the NPR site that he’d ditched his entire 25,000 track iTunes music library in favor of Apple’s Match cloud storage service.  He did the usual old-guy bemoaning of missing album liner notes and the like, but said he felt it was time to move past ownership and to trust the cloud.  In response, an NPR intern named Emily Smith posted that Boilin’s jump didn’t seem like a big deal to her, since she was never interested in “owning music” to begin with.  She’d amassed an 11,000 song iTunes collection by ripping CDs or trading with friends, but this “collection” meant little to her.  What she wanted, what she’d pay for, was a service like Spotify, an always-on service where she could listen to whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted.  Oh, and she mentioned that she’d only bought 15 CDs in her life, and she didn’t have any of them any more.

            Lowery has posted head-in-the-sand idiocy about the music business before, but he outdid himself this time.  He first explains to Emily that her premise “that fairly compensating musicians is not a problem that is up to governments and large corporations to solve” was false.   Unfortunately, this wasn’t her premise.  Her premise was that she didn’t care about "owning" music.  He places Emily’s music collection in the center of a huge moral dilemma about paying musicians.  He says that he wasn’t going to create a straw man, but then argues against various popular justifications for file sharing, like that file sharing is OK because record companies screw musicians anyway.   Except that Emily didn’t raise this, or any other justification, for file sharing.  Then he rails against the big tech companies, who apparently are involved in some mass concerted conspiracy to take musicians’ money.

            Lowery teaches a college course in the economics of the music business, but it appears that he specializes in the irrelevant economics of the 1990’s music business, and is clueless about how things work today.  He notes that most of his students have similar views to Emily’s, apparently because they also hip-mo-tized by that pernicious Free Culture Movement, funded by the nefarious tech companies that, as we have discussed, conspire to abscond with musicians’ money.

            After a patronizing and incorrect tutorial about how Lowery thinks the music business is supposed to work and the history of intellectual property law, he starts spouting phony statistics about the state of the music business and declining sales and earnings, all caused, I guess, by Emily and her little thief pals.  Then, incredibly and pathetically, he lays the suicides of musicians Vic Chesnutt and Mark Linkous at the kids’ feet, while disingenuously claiming he wasn’t.  Then he dismisses Spotify because of all the complaints about low payments.  And he compares the internet to a big record store where everything’s free but you have to pay AT&T or Verizon for admission.

            He ends with instructions of how Emily can buy music off of iTunes.  Sigh.

            What shocked me was how much traction this tripe got.  People I know and respect were applauding Lowery’s clumsy, pedantic drivel, and chiding Emily for stealing stealing stealing!  What decade are we in, kids?  Certainly not this one, ‘cause the train left the station on Lowery’s bullshit ten years ago.  Lowery and his followers are little more than ignorant and skeevy old people telling kids to get off a digital lawn that doesn’t exist.

            Today, young folk, and I’ll define “young folk” loosely as anyone under 30, don’t give a rats ass about “owning” music.  The fact that they need to stick digital files into their phones or computers so they can listen is a nuisance they could do without.  They want to push a button and have their music come out, and they don’t care where it comes from.  And they don’t want to pay a la cart for digital files, which to them aren't things, but they’ll happily pay for reliable, easy to use service.  This isn’t a conspiracy and there’s no misunderstanding and there’s no moral dilemma.  It’s the market screaming to be heard.  A market that’s been ignored, marginalized and ridiculed by the record companies and their sycophants, like Lowery and his ilk.  So the kids are like, fuck you, we’ll just get it for free then.  And I don’t blame them.

Paul C Rapp is an art and entertainment lawyer who currently lives in a forest without internet, teevee, or telephone, but who miraculously still knows where it’s at.  You can try to reach him through his website