the clatter of keys

writing on music, politics, and sports from erin mckeown.

White vs. Lowery (or I Don’t Have Time For This)

yesterday i tweeted this:

"i’m 2 busy hustling 2 make a living 2 wade into NPR’s E.White vs D.Lowery: but it all feels bad”

this, i’ll admit, was a hasty and somewhat confusing tweet.

and then my friend musician matt the electrician called (imagine that! a phone call!) wanting know what i really thought, because he’d read both articles and was curious. last night a friend stopped me to say she’d read my similar facebook post and was curious what i really thought too.

"i dont have time for this today", is what i think. i’m up at 8am to start a day that will include the following: listen to and approve a radio edit for my new single, which has to get to the mastering lab this morning. read, edit, and approve a draft of the bio for my new record so that advance copies of the music can get to press in time for long lead coverage. confirm a rate and schedule a day as soon as possible with my photographer so we can make photos for my album package and publicity photos. film a new pitch vid for the final stages of my pledge music campaign, which closes next week. oh, and eat. and that’s just my morning.

it absolutely kills me that my current list of daily tasks, the inbox of the modern independant musician during pre-release set-up, keeps me from doing more than skimming these articles. this is important stuff, and i hate having to choose which fire to fight first. but i will try to take a second on this flare-up.

to summarize, emily white, an NPR intern who shares a name with one of my favorite music-biz thinkers, walked right into an internet trap: a roiling debate on artist compensation, cultural practice, technology, and policy. did she know how heated all this stuff is?

i’ve had my own tangled history touching on this, and i’ve garnered my fair share of criticism for trying to stake out my own position in this debate. i actually dared to suggest that artists get paid for their work when it was copied by someone else. much of the snark leveled at me could be summarized as “get a job, and stop whining.”

so i find it interesting that the comments directed toward emily, who is saying pretty much the opposite of what i said, can also be summarized as “get a job, and stop whining.”

and all she wanted to do was let us know she doesnt care about album packaging and never pays for recorded music in a brave, naive, and far too short post. i hope to see a longer, more nuanced response from her.

i have mixed feelings about david lowery’s post. i have not particularly liked the positions he’s staked out in the arena at other times, but he did what i didnt have time to do: lay out a comprehensive, emotionally contained (mostly) response that shows the real world implications of the shift in listeners’ buying habits. he did a great job of defusing the usual argument that record labels are always corporations. i like his math. i love the way he pointed out how we will gladly pay for technology and access, but not content. believe it or not, it hadnt occured to me to think about my devices that way.

i do have an objection in david’s post to the implied connection between the deaths of vic chestnutt and sparklehorse and file-sharing. i understand they were friends of lowery’s, and that their deaths were certainly needless and complicated, but in the context of the argument he’s making, it felt too heavy-handed and shaming. which in general, admirably, he did not do to emily.

i am not particularly fond of the following words when we talk about this stuff: steal, pirate, loot, illegal. i do not like the “store” or “neighborhood” metaphors. i do not think it’s helpful to police music fans, or set-up any type of “us vs. them” mentality. i do not think it’s the government’s responsibility to generate policy that tries to solve this. without the input of artists, they invariably get it wrong.

as artists, it is our responsibility to become educated on all viewpoints here: corporate interests, independant creators, cross-genre collaborators, technology companies, policy makers, free culturists, copyright-ists, and also listeners like emily white. and then we must form our own opinions, share them with others, find like and dislike. only in this way can we generate concrete, useful actions that we can take to our fan bases, to venture capitalists and app developers, and to policy makers. which i would dare to say are the big three players in the future of the music industry.

let me say it again, artists must generate their own solutions. artists must take the lead on these issues.

so, thank you emily and thank you david. and thank you matt for calling to know more.  i approve this next draft of the debate.

and that’s what i think. now i have to get back to work.

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    I really like and agree with this
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