Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The John Peel Lecture: Technology is bad

I'm not sure that a lecture is the best way to memorialise John Peel - Radio One's short-lived Keeping It Peel day of music felt more in keeping than a bloke from a band Peel wouldn't have played for a good two decades standing behind a lectern, talking.

It's even more disappointing that Pete Townshend's debut lecture was little more than yet more banging on of the wailing that the music business has been disrupted by technology; the sort of thing that older musicians were chuntering on about years before Peel's death:

He also argued against unauthorised file-sharing, saying the internet was "destroying copyright as we know it".
"The word 'sharing' surely means giving away something you have earned, or made, or paid for?" he said.
Townshend, clearly, has never shared a joke he heard down the pub, or the name of a great curry house in Bridlington.

He works from the arguable starting point that "copyright as we know it" is a thing that we should weep tears for - and seems to have just completely ignored that alongside the growth of the internet, copyright has changed and grown and still manages to support a fleet of well-paid lawyers and lobbyists.

Still, if Townshend is upset at unlicensed filesharing, he must be delighted that a company like Apple has found a way to actually sell music online, and make money from everyone's labours, right?

"Is there really any good reason why, just because iTunes exists in the wild west internet land of Facebook and Twitter, it can't provide some aspect of these services to the artists whose work it bleeds like a digital vampire, like a digital Northern Rock, for its enormous commission?" he asked.

Apple should employ 20 talent scouts "from the dying record business" to give guidance to new acts and provide financial and marketing support to the best ones, he added.
To be fair, this is a new idea, albeit a potty one. Apple have some sort of moral duty to find work for displaced A&R men? But why only twenty of them? To cover the entire world?

The desperation to try and force the record label model onto digital music is a fallacy of old-school thinking: really, A&R in the sense of coked-up failed drummers travelling as far out as New Cross, trying to grope the lead singers of up-and-coming bands before comparing notes with other A&R men and recommending taking the most conservative route possible is a dying art.

The very digital changes Townshend complains means bands don't need to rely on the dumb luck of an A&R person turning up when they're having a good night, and liking them, and introducing them to a label any more. There isn't the need for that level of intermediaries; artists can go direct to the market and - because the level of investment required to get a recording onto iTunes is much, much lower than that needed to get records into Tescos - they're much more able to self-fund and find their own sales.

It must be scary if a business that you did very well out of has suddenly vanished. It's understandable that you might rail against it. But it's like radio acts suggesting that television broadcast without pictures for a few hours every day. Just because you don't like the new world isn't a good reason to stop it.


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