Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sharkey - shall we call him "music tsar" and have done with?

Fergal Sharkey's rise to music industry powerhouse continues tomorrow, when he will be crowned head of UK Music, a well-meaning sounding organisation that is going to work with schools nationwide:

In January, Sharkey will oversee a national programme that will see secondary schools invited to start a record label, with teenagers encouraged to write and record tracks as well as produce and market a CD. It follows a number of successful pilots.

That sounds fine, right? Except it's a little odd that they're teaching kids how to be record labels rather than give them the tools to be able to self-release and to negotiate deals directly for themselves, isn't it?

That would be because UK Music is the latest record label attempt to stop "piracy", and is aimed at promoting the status quo rather than really shaping a UK music scene that's able to cope with the new world. Nick Mathiason's piece on Sharkey's role for today's Observer is stuffed with what sound oddly like BPI lines, picked up and half-digested:
But Sharkey's chief task will be to lead the fightback by the music world against illegal music downloads. The launch of UK Music comes just weeks before the first warning letters from broadband operators are sent to those suspected of downloading large volumes of music for free. Next month will also see the launch of the first subscriber services offering fans the chance to download tracks, as well as gaining access to a vast music library for a small extra charge on a monthly broadband subscription.

The first subscriber services? Really? What's eMusic, then? Or could it be the music industry are suggesting that subscriber services haven't happened before because it allows them to say "now there is another option rather than 'stealing' music" one more time?

And since when did "downloading large volumes of music for free" become, by definition, wrong? There are loads of ways of downloading tons, tonnes even, of music for free without once setting foot outside of the law.

But Sharkey seems obsessed with the idea that 'free' is bad:
Speaking exclusively to The Observer before the launch of UK Music, Sharkey said: 'I think people do realise once you explain it to them that music isn't for free. There is a harmful impact and, ironically, the people it most harms are the ones people are most engaged with and have most respect for - the songwriters, composers and musicians. For some reason people don't make that connection.'

UK Music is going to push the 'if people only knew that music can't be made for free, they wouldn't download from the torrents' line again, is it? As if people don't already know the arguments inside, outside, backwards and forwards.

How, by the way, is Sharkey going to cope with the 'music can't be for free' line when the phone companies start to launch services which imply the music they come with is for free, and advertising-supported free services give the same impression? If - as UK Music would have us believe - there are people left who think that free music is a victimless crime, how does Sharkey intend to try and deliver a message that sometimes free music is alright, and actually has value, and sometimes it's bad, and doesn't.

I'm also looking forward to UK Music teaching kids about where the money really goes when music is sold - and the economic implications for artists of some of the deals the BPI labels have been cutting recently with companies like Nokia. There will be time for that, right, Feargal?


6 comments:

manc_ill_kid said...

"produce and market a CD"? Its bit of an anachronism, why not teach the kids to produce and market a cassette, or a record, or better yet, wax cylinder.

robin carmody said...

If anyone has ever doubted why the only creative and interesting British music left is the sort you only hear "legally" late at night on 1Xtra, doubt no more.

Anonymous said...

"I think people do realise once you explain it to them that music isn't for free"

It's unbelievably frustrating because his attitude here pretty much sums up everything that's wrong with the industry - the mere idea that ALL MUSIC IS COMMERCIALLY RELEASED AND IN THE CHARTS. Is it so unlikely to him that bands might just enjoy playing and sharing their music with appreciative fans in a friendly loving atmosphere? Is it completely unimaginable to him that music can just be some kid struggling to play Greensleeves on the recorder but enjoying every sodding moment of it even though they'll never ever know, let alone see, what the inside of a recording studio looks like or know what if feels like to get applause from a grateful audience. Just being happy with the sounds you're making and if somebody listens... well that's great too. I seem to recall hearing of one such occasion where many people enjoyed music for free, one late night on the radio, back in '78, a little number being thrashed out with youthful exuberance, little musical skill but all the heart in the world. Then immediately getting played again probably to the sound of tape recorders ripping Sharkey off.

Most music is free if you know where to look.

Jack said...

Why not call him a "rock tsar"?

duckie said...

@Jack

Quality.

robin carmody said...

Jack - please don't give Cameron any ideas ...

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