Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Who pays the piper, calls the tune...

I have just watched an episode of Robert Llewelyn's Car Pool - here. It was the show where he takes Sharon Corr to Heathrow Airport and along the way they discussed the topic of music sales and the effect of the internet. This has been something that has rattled around in my head for a while now and I must admit to a certain amount of wonderment and confusion.

I may be wrong but the music industry (and entertainment in general I guess) must have its roots in the distant past as some sort of hybrid between a court jester and a wandering minstrel. These people travelled from place to place doing what they do and getting a few coins payment for it. Their show was new to each town and they paid their way from the money they made. If the show was no good they ended up being a blacksmith/archer/maid/etc as a way of living. Presumably at some point the good ones got a name and when they came to town people travelled to see the show and they made more money. It was still live performance, new to each location. They learned/wrote more songs and played those to locations on the second visit, and so on ...

Now, again - I presume, someone must have spotted the role of MR 10% and gotten into the "Stick with me, I'll make you a millionaire" groove of promoting these popular acts. They run ahead to the next location, do some marketing/promo work, create some excitement and build the interest for the act arriving on the horse/carriage next week. then once the act arrives Mr 10% moves to the next location. Everyone is happy, the act is getting more popular (and more $£$£$), Mr 10% is getting £$£$ for little effort and no creative talent and the crowds are seeing a good act with new material.

Fast forward and Mr 10% takes on a few more acts, maybe some not so good ones too. He's getting a cut from all of them but not doubling ot tripling his work. Still everyone is happy, especially Mr 10%.

Then some clever boffin invents "recording" - whatever media wax,tape,vinyl. Now the act and Mr 10% dont need to travel. They record the music and flog it. Much money is made by all. Maybe the audience is getting short changed? That's opinion. Anyway, its not really practical to copy the recordings and distribute them so the act is still fresh when it tours. That boosts media sales. Acts and Mr 10%s get ridiculous incomes.

Then some genius invents computers the internet and then Billy Jones can copy CDs, DVDs and share them with anyone else who has an internet from the comfort of his own home. Suddenly the sales start to drop. Live music is then the best way to gain income as people still want new live music, well played and the thrill of a concert atmosphere.

Dont get me wrong, I want as many people to succeed in as many ways as they can but it strikes me that Music (and the entertainment industry as a whole) is not a service. As such there is no 'right' that those people have to an income, whether it is at a subsistence level of 100's of years ago, the phenomenal levels of the 60's,70's,80's or the lower but still a comfortable amount thank you very much of today. If we got a service - medical aid, farmed produce etc then they would be justified to argue it was paid at a reasonable level or not. I agree that copying the entertainers work is wrong and in many cases illegal but that isnt my point. The industry needs to accept that its possible and react accordingly. If they are not happy that their sales are down and their incomes are lower then they are still at liberty to take a different career route - there is a shortage of nurses and teachers in many parts of the world. Their ability to do something creative and recreational can be passed on to people they encounter and may in time get them an income. If its not enough to satisfy them then they need to accept that 'fame' will not be knocking on their door.


Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with you here. But there is another thing to consider. Reading Ian MacDonald's 'Revolution in the head', it's clear that the beatles reached a point where they could no longer reproduce their complex arrangements and multi-tracked recordings in a 'live' setting.

In your scenario, it hardly seems fair that kids in Kilinochchi would be introduced to "your new teacher... Mr Ringo Star" :)


fatherjack said...

Its the development of the act into a 'right to make money' that gets me. It would indeed seem odd to have Mr McCartney the builder turn up to do your extension but that would only be if he still needed the £££'s. If he wanted to make music he still would (with or without the band), if he wanted money and as a live act couldn't do it, then the hammer and saw would become his money making service.


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