Saturday, November 22, 2014

Billy Bragg on wrong side of history, again

Billy Bragg is having a terrible year - having backed the South Bank and its sponsors against the Undercroft skaters, he's now had to apologise to Taylor Swift.

See, when Swift pulled her music from Spotify, Bragg concluded somehow that this was because she was clambering into bed with Google:

"If Ms Swift was truly concerned about perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free, she should be removing her material from YouTube, not cosying up to it," Bragg said.

"Given that this year is the first to fail to produce a new million selling album, I can understand Taylor Swift wanting to maximise her opportunities with the new record – and it worked: she shifted 1.28m copies of 1989 in the first week of sale. But she should just be honest with her fans and say “sorry, but Sergey Brin gave me a huge amount of money to be the headline name on the marquee for the launch of You Tube Music Key and so I’ve sold my soul to Google,” Bragg continued.

"Google are going after Spotify and Taylor Swift has just chosen sides," wrote Bragg. "That’s her prerogative as a savvy businesswoman - but please don’t try to sell this corporate power play to us as some sort of altruistic gesture in solidarity with struggling music makers."
There's two problems here: the first, that Swift's pulling of music from Spotify is unconnected with her selling over a million copies of her album. How dispiriting it is that Bragg assumes her sales are simply a function of a basic supply and demand curve; that it is the scarcity of supply rather than the quality of the experience that has seen 1989 fly off shelves or down wires or whatever it is records actually do now.

The second, more important problem was Bragg's accusation that Swift was acting not out of principle but greed was... well, it was very wide of the mark. Here's his climbdown:
"I want to apologise to Taylor Swift for accusing her of selling her soul to Google," wrote Bragg on Facebook. "I have learned that her music will not now be available on the new YouTube Music Key service, which launched this week."
So, sorry about that. Bragg then launches into an explanation of how he got confused, based on how he'd read in The Observer that Google had used Swift's music at the launch, and then goes into a bit of a ramble about how music being available for free on the internet made him do it.
The time will surely come when content creators have to band together to challenge deals done between rights holders and service providers, details of which are kept from artists and their representatives. If Ms Swift is going to lead that fight for transparency, she will have my full support.
I'm sure she'll be delighted to have your full support, Billy. Perhaps not in the research department.

On the other hand, Bragg did have a good joke to end on:
I would like to add that I will be boycotting the first media outlet to use the headline ‘Bragg makes Swift apology’
It's a good gag, but perhaps having accused a person of selling their soul to Google for a large sum of money requires more than a boom-tish.