Kyle Bylin, Associate Editor
Traditionally, we tend to think of FREE! music as good thing, the kind of thing that everyone wants. Yet, we largely miss many of complications that are intertwined with its appeal. After all, consensus among music executives seems to lean toward the idea that people only download music that they would’ve otherwise bought, which, as any pirate would know, is absolutely not the case. More often than not, people tend to download music that they would’ve never considered purchasing previously or music that they will never consider purchasing until having simulated ownership of it.
Of course, people still download music that they would’ve otherwise purchased too, but even that line slowly blurs as the practice of purchasing music is challenged by the advances in digital culture. Prior to file-sharing, the only music that could play on your computer was the music that you owned. After the fact of, now the music that you owned and uploaded lived side by side with the music that you downloaded and ‘stole.’ As the world’s music library became streamable from your web-browser, this further obscured the process of discerning which music would’ve previously been purchased or stolen.
"people tend to buy music they want now, but,
may not necessarily want to listen to
or grow out of in the following months..."
Previous generations grew up in an environment littered with physical media and accepted the "sunk costs" that went with their ever-changing taste. By their late teens, they would’ve already come accustomed to the fact that people tend to buy music they want now, but, may not necessarily want to listen to or grow out of in the following months. Hence the birth of the music collection, which in a sense just consisted of the music that’s now collecting dust. Having bought the music, you keep it in your collection even though you know you’re never going to listen to it again.
These established cultural norms trickled down from parent to child, until one day, it stopped. That what the smartest people in the world did was to refuse to accept that this is the way things ought to be done. File-sharing single handedly redefined the connotations of a music collection and the negative aspects of ownership. Suddenly, taste was no longer a finite development, but a fluid progression that was an interchangeable and forever evolving representation of curiosity. This, was unbound discovery in its purest form. Now, nobody was restricted to the same five songs and could question what lies beyond.
FREE! VS. "Set Free"
It took file-sharing to rewrite the rules, to democratize music, and to teach us that digital will never be the same as physical. As it would appear, FREE! didn’t rewrite the rules, it abolished them. That the rise of the music fan led to the downward spiral of the Recording Industry and stifled the economic growth of every single artist in its path. This much is true, that the heretics whom embrace FREE!, bring forth the fracturing of the media landscape with open arms. But then, to whom should Chicken Little cry to if everyone else is well aware that the sky is falling? These questions demand answers that aren’t so clear.
Should an iPod be built to play albums and organize songs or juxtaposition it in ways that we could’ve never imagined? Instantaneously, building its own albums and harmonious progressions that challenge us question whether or not the boundaries of music should exist at all. If indeed, Marshall McLuhan proposed that the phonograph was, “[a] music hall without the walls.” Then, perhaps, the MP3 is 'music without the walls' entirely. Not to say, of course, that albums as an art form should be abandoned, only that the advances in digital culture should be allowed to Manifest Destiny.
"Digital culture, begs and demands the same from us.
For, perhaps, we cannot yet see the potential it holds,"
John L. O'Sullivan once wrote that, “We must onward to the fulfillment of our mission -- to the entire development of the principle of our organization -- freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits, universality of freedom and equality. This is our high destiny, and in nature's eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it.” Digital culture, begs and demands the same from us. For, perhaps, we cannot yet see the potential it holds, because it was our established cultural norms, trickling down from parent to child, which brought us to where we are today.
FREE! music, isn’t so free after all, is it? Millions of dollars in marketing budgets thrown into a pool of fire once the music promoted touches a file-sharing network. Millions after that spent trying to track down and prosecute the person responsible for this travesty. Yet, we all seem to realize that neither side is right in their pursuits, nor inherit values, and that it’s wrong to assume that a middle ground can’t be built out of this new world. “In the shadow of the culture industry’s final crisis of the 20th-century, grows a larger portrait…,” The Pirate Bay Manifesto reads. However, I’m unsure if we all see the big picture.
In Did You Know, it says that, “NTT Japan has successfully tested a fiber optic cable... that pushed 14 trillion bits per second down a single stand of fiber. That is 2,660 CDs every second.” In other words, a person could download more music in a day than they could ever listen to in their lifetime. Couple that with that advances of the 3D printer and they could then in effect choose to print out exact physical replicas of those CDs. But, who has the time, the storage, and willingness to do that when obviously this means that by this time, all of that music will be searchable and programmable in every way imaginable.
Music does not want to be FREE! in relation to economic values, but it does want to be free in relation to the constraints that have been put on it by the industries that profited from its regulation and exploitation. If anything, piracy exploited an even greater modern day travesty: that some people actually believed that good music was defined by what appeared to be available to them. That if hip-hop music flourished on popular radio it meant that heavy metal wasn’t ruling the underground. That if MTV stopped playing rock music it was proclaimed in the boardrooms as dead, even though it lived on in the hearts of many.
"In the future, media ownership may take on a new meaning."
If it takes FREE! music to help “set music free” then so be it, but the reality is that nobody actually wants to own FREE! music. Not if they don’t have to. For most people, it’s too much responsibility to back up hard drives or prevent CDRs from getting nicked and scratched. No generation has currently lived from cradle to the grave with the ability to not own music and freely explore the limitless amounts that are actually available. Until then, who are we to say that up-and-coming generations should want to own it, just because everyone else before them did. In the future, media ownership may take on a new meaning.
Your right, scrolling though digital files hail in comparison to the feelings aroused when flipping through someone else’s physical music collection. Entering your credit card information on iTunes isn’t the same as skipping class and waiting in line to purchase the physical release. Let alone comparing the vibrant life of a record store and its posters with the flush white and red staleness of Target Electronics. Then again, kids today, more and more, will lack the established cultural norms, which allow us to make these social comparisons. They can’t imagine the world as it was, only see it as it appears be. With that, it becomes obvious we largely forget that to us the music industry is changing, but for them, it’s already changed.