There are a lot of horrible things going on in the world around us. A thorough study of human history will show that the atrocities, devastation and conflict occurring now are not very different than what has been happening for thousands of years. But there are also some very amazing things unfolding around us.
On the technology front, I’m now able to hold a pretty powerful computer in my hands, when only a couple decades ago, the same computing power would fill large rooms. Using that computer, I can access Twitter, and learn about world events as they happen, from people “on the ground” as it were. With Facebook, I can connect to friends from high school and college, send them notes, see pictures of their families and, in a limited sense, share their memories, when previously I would probably lose touch with them, and correspondence would take weeks or months.
In a broader sense, the Internet has enabled the exchange of ideas and information like never before. We are able to learn about things that were previously inaccessible to the ordinary person. The “hand-held computer” (my iPhone) and its ecosystem of apps has allowed people to build businesses made of one or a handful of people, and make enough money to support their families.
On the scientific front, I read about black holes, dark matter, string theory, and the origins of the universe. We are able to send telescopes into space and study far off galaxies and star formation and countless other wonders. We send probes into deep space to learn about the other planets in our solar system, and discover water or ice there, the building blocks for life as we understand it, and wonder at the potential for other life in the universe.
I was browsing through the timeline of the ASIA group on Facebook last night, bathing in the nostalgia of music I grew up with, and I came across a song written by John Wetton called “An Extraordinary Life”. It was written after the group reformed recently, and quite some time after Wetton himself had undergone open-heart surgery. The song reflects on the ups and downs of life, mistakes and triumphs, struggles and glories, but ultimately concludes that life is extraordinary, and that we should “enjoy the day, come what may”.
I can’t help but agree.
A lot has been said and done recently regarding SOPA and PIPA. Wikipedia and a number of other sites blacked out on Wednesday, January 18, in protest of the legislation. Other sites displayed censor bars or demonstrated the effects of what the legislation would do to the internet at large, and a lot of places provided ways to contact U.S. Congressmen and -women to let them know your feelings on the bills.
And Congress heard: the two bills are now “indefinitely” postponed, which likely means they will rear their ugly heads at some point in the future. Personally, I would be surprised if they didn’t. The companies backing them are the persistent, technology-ignorant types that simply refuse to give up their antiquated business models, fear the technology that their customers are heartily embracing, and display a consistent, irrational hatred of the very customers that are their lifeblood.
On Thursday, Duff McKagan, bassist for the band Guns N’ Roses, wrote a piece in the Seattle Weekly, taking to task the protesters of SOPA/PIPA for not also crying out against internet piracy. He generally agrees with the protest against the bills, but also draws attention to the “working stiffs at recording studios and record stores”. In some ways, he’s right. Piracy is a huge problem, and something should be done about it. But what?
I think McKagan’s frustration and outrage, and his apparent stand for musicians and the industry workers is admirable, and there needs to be more of it. But there’s a fatal flaw in his argument. He’s lashing out against the thieves of music, when the real crooks who are running away with his hard-earned cash are the fat cats at the record companies and the RIAA.
He claims that those working stiffs aren’t rich because people steal music. But not everyone gets rich, in almost any business. There are stars, and there are grunts, and a wide range in between, and most of them are just trying to make a buck to feed their families and pay for some nice things that make their lives better.
The fundamental problem in the music industry are the men and women at the top of the record companies. If a musician makes it big and sells a lot of records, who gets the lion’s share of that money? The record company executives. How much of it goes to the songwriters, the performers, the studio engineers? Not much. But those people are the real talent behind those hits, and they get little or nothing. When a song or album is produced, whose name goes on the copyright? The record company, not the musician or songwriter. But who deserves the credit for the song or album, and who should reap the rewards for a song that becomes popular? Not the record company executives! Yet they cry out that “their” property is being stolen by the thieving masses.
Duff McKagan is rightly pissed that piracy is a problem, but he’s got his sights set on the wrong group. The music industry needs a shake-up, a fundamental change to the way it deals with its creatives and its customers. The old guard needs to go.
Louis CK recently sold a show he produced at the Beacon Theater. You can buy it directly from his site. There’s no DRM on the file, no stupid regional restrictions. He eliminated the barriers to getting the content, and is asking a more than reasonable price for it, and he made a pretty good chunk of change for it.
This is what the record companies (and other media) don’t understand. If you make it easy to get, and ask a reasonable price for it, people are willing to pay. When you make things a hassle, and set prices too high, and customers perceive that the asking price exceeds the value of the product, someone is going to steal it and find a way around all the arbitrary restrictions that media put in place.
When Apple introduced the iTunes Music Store, the record companies balked. Ninety-nine cents for a song? “No way, we’ll lose money.” Remove DRM from the tracks? “No way, people will copy them and they’ll be all over the internet!” What’s the number 1 music store in the world? The iTunes Music Store. Why? Because it’s not a hassle, and the price is reasonable. And the record companies are raking in the money. Imagine that.
When the record companies display greed, they encourage piracy. The record companies are their own worst enemies.
Duff, why don’t you ask your record company why they’re keeping all the money that you earned?