Is it murder or nurture? Free access to music may not be as simple as giving power to the people
Anyone who has been following this blog would know that I'm a big fan of free access to quality music. I regularly point readers to no-cost webcasts and free-admission live concerts. I think of these things as free samples that may seduce the otherwise timid listener into a passionate affair with a composer or performer or, even, an entire genre of music. I also think of them as a way for people with limited means to access concerts and operas that they would otherwise not be able to afford.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to the members of an association of Toronto music presenters. Afterward, one member suggested I read a book: You Are Not a Gadget, by one of the American founders of the Internet (to oversimplify), Jaron Lanier. It was published earlier this year by Knopf (here is the link to the paperback edition, which is due out in February).
Unlike the rest of us, who are caught in the middle of it, Lanier has been around the Web long enough to get some perspective on it. And what he sees isn't pretty, especially in how it devalues news and music through people's demand that as much of it as possible be free.
Yes, new models of making music and news pay for themselves are supposed to arise from this new way of disseminating it. But, as Lanier points out, the average freelance musician and freelance writer still cannot pay for food or shelter from supplying content to the Internet.
I haven't finished the book (which I'm going through in little bedtime chunks in between required-for-work reading) and I don't know what to make of it yet. But Lanier is great at provoking thought.
Here's a sidebar passage to consider from Chapter 5: The City is Built to Music:
If we choose to pry culture away from capitalism while the rest of life is still capitalistic, culture will become a slum. In fact, online culture increasingly resembles a slum in disturbing ways. Slums have more advertising than wealthy neighborhoods, for instance. People are meaner in slums; mob rule and vigilantism are commonplace. If there is a trace of 'slumming' in the way that many privileged young people embrace current online culture, it is perhaps an echo of 1960s counterculture.
Here, to play us home, is classical guitarist Ronny Cameron, in the tunnel that connects the two Spadina subway stations: