A Few More Words About “Pay” vs. “Free”

posted by Tom on June 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm
in , , ,

At the risk of flogging a rapidly-decaying beast, what follows are a few random thoughts prompted by recent rantings on the whole "Pay" vs. "Free" conundrum.....

Here’s hoping we’re not in for a whole summer of “Interns Say the Darndest Things.”

I’m referring to this notoriously conflicted (and thus confusing) blog post, by an NPR intern named Emily White, about the various ways she’s come to acquire digital music. Not many of them involve payment. It's prompted a hailstorm of responses – including a long (nearly 4,000 words!) and carefully considered screed by rocker David Lowery (of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker fame). Just reading the comments appended below those two pieces could set you back a few hours.

It’s possible to detect glimmers of reason on both sides of the Free/Pay debate, and until there’s a workable (equitable) structure in place for digital delivery, those arguments are pretty much just theoretical stances. What’s concerning me is the attitude of entitlement that has come to surround music in the digital age, a pervasive cultural mindset that’s shaped the thinking of several generations of young listeners now. This attitude, on unwitting display throughout White’s piece, is arguably a much larger problem than lost revenues. To grossly oversimplify:

We agree that recorded music is worthwhile. It has intrinsic value.

It’s not always possible to affix a dollar figure to this value.

Now that music is readily obtainable for free, the definition of this “value” has changed. Perhaps irreversibly.

This may seem momentarily advantageous for consumers, but it adversely affects creators.

Not just in the most obvious terms (like, oh, earning a living), but also in the unquantifiable stuff that falls under the heading “respect:” When your work is something the culture regards as free and there for the taking, what you contribute can easily be dismissed as insignificant, if not meaningless.

History offers many unfortunate examples of what happens to cultures where the contributions of artists are not valued.

Music itself has been devalued by our shortsighted gimme-gimme culture that no longer shares a sense of connection to – or responsibility for – the health of the arts. A quote about classical music is relevant: “The public today must pay its debt to the great composers of the past by supporting the living creators of the present.”

Music is so abundant, it is appallingly easy to take it for granted.

Music calls to the highest within us. We have responded in dismayingly low, craven, me-centered ways, grabbing whatever we can because we can.

One seemingly obvious starting point for transforming this intractable morass of foul karma: Listen deeply. Respect music. And teach respect.


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#1 from Sue Murphy, Minnesota - 06/22/2012 9:35

Well said!  I couldn’t agree more.

#2 from Robert Ardura, Alexandria Va - 06/25/2012 3:42

This is a great article! Experience counts in every field that you decide to get into. The ones without experience should try to learn from the ones with experience. When I hear about some hotshot new guy/girl try to tell the people who know what their doing what to do, my blood boils. It’s almost like the cycle of life. You listen to your parents because they have wisdom. They have seen the ropes. Kids can’t act as if they have more wisdom than their parents, because that wouldn’t make any sense. Anyway cheers to all the EXPERIENCED music journalists who KNOW their field.

#3 from Tony Lanman, United States - 06/26/2012 4:24

Well said, Tom.  It’s so difficult to even talk about this topic - it’s almost a no-win situation.  There’s always credible sounding arguments from both sides, and “evidence” that their position is the right one.  I myself am guilty of it.  Way back in the day (probably around 1998?) I downloaded several tracks for free from the then fledgling Napster.  In fact, my IP address was part of the law suit brought forth by Dr. Dre, and I was banned from Napster by him (it actually told me - I tried to log in one day and it said “You have been banned by Dr. Dre!).  I saw the fallacy of that system very early though.  It has created an attitude that, not only music should be free, but all creative content.  I have a good friend who is a film composer in LA, and in his early days, all the directors expected him to work for free.  Anyway - great article smile

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