Stevie Nicks And The Overconsumption Of Music

image from bmorrissey.typepad.com Before I continue my deconstruction of the viewpoints expressed by Steve Nicks in a recent interview with the NY Daily News, I wanted to take a moment and point you to a fantastic essay that crossed by desktop yesterday. A regular reader here and commenter over at Music Think Tank, T. D. Ruth—who is an entertainment attorney in Nashville—sent in this great piece; it adds an alternative perspective in regards to the one I’ve expressed here the day before and recontextualizes the arguments in a new light.

In this particular quote, Ruth expresses his concern about the effects of overconsumption on music and worries that we shouldn’t let history repeat itself at the expense of our cultural heritage. Citing such examples as the slaughtering of buffalo herds, the deforestation of our landscape, McDonalds and a national epidemic of obesity, and plunging into the cheap goods at Wal-Mart and killing off the local ecology of mom-and-pop stores in the process; he fears that we are on a similar path of letting our consumerist tendencies get the best of us as we frivolously devour the cornucopia of free music online. In the process of doing so, Ruth argues that we’ve failed to consider that soon enough, there may no longer be profitable artists to continue feeding our national appetite for free music.

You may remember that in the past I’ve argued that file-sharing is the equivalent of giving teenagers a credit card; it teaches them to consume more than they could ever possibly to afford without challenging them to think twice about how they will ever be able to compensate artists for the music that is now in their possession. Using either metaphor, it does make you question whether or not we’re in a position of resource-use that outpaces the sustainable capacity of the cultural ecosystem to replace it. Now, to be sure, music is not oil or buffalo, but the anxiety about the overconsumption of music does leave much open to discussion and challenge you to think about the current sociocultural evolution of our industry in a new way. Well I highly doubt we will have a shortage of music anytime soon, our historical affinity for thoughtlessness and wasteful habits and utter lack of concern for the impact that our destructive behaviors have on the environment and our society may have found their way into our cultural sphere.

"Far too many well-intentioned people, both within and outside the music industry, seemingly believe that consumers are always right and what they demand necessarily must be given to them.  However, as we have learned on so many other occasions, moderation is not instinctual in American society and music would not be the first thing we destroyed through over-consumption.

Give us buffalo and we’ll slaughter them into extinction.  Give us a forest and we’ll clear cut it until no trees remain standing.  Give us unlimited access to free music and we’ll download it until artists can no longer earn a living recording it.

It is foolish to dismiss Mellencamp’s and Nicks’ observations.  While their comments are full of hyperbole, the underlying concern is legitimate and we all would be wise to stop to consider what’s at stake.  As both industry participants and consumers of music, it is imperative that we not take music for granted and acknowledge that, just like the buffalo and the forest, we are capable of doing irreparable harm to the art of recorded music." (Rest the rest.)

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  1. that’s why your constant “deconstruction” of artists like lily allen and stevie nicks, to name just two, is so annoying. they have LEGITIMATE gripes and points and their “hyperbole” is frequently matched and EXCEEDED by you and/or the digital utopians that you frequently link to and/or publish on this site.
    by NO real measure or metric has this last decade been a great time for musicians. period. start there and then work forward, eh?

  2. “Give us buffalo and we’ll slaughter them to extinction…” Can we slaughter some musicians? PLEEEASE? I’ve got a little list… 🙂
    Where the buffalo analogy, and the other overconsumption analogies, break down is this: If we stop slaughtering buffalo, the buffalo will flourish; in contrast, if we stop listening to musicians, then we won’t have any musicians (playing for a public, anyway). Or, as it was phrased by others, obscurity is more of a threat than piracy to artists.
    We’re going to have to build a culture of patronage, because the pile of free music is not going away.

  3. The difference between music and buffalo or trees or oil is the renew-ability of the resource.
    I don’t disagree with Nicks or Mellencamp’s argument that the music industry has been changed, affected and damaged by people’s access to the internet. I do disagree with sitting back and accepting it as the destruction and end of the industry and I further disagree with trying to force consumers into a model that looks even remotely like the old paradigm of market music to radio and expect people to go to a store and buy – it’s just not going to happen that way.
    These articles may be warnings but they give no actionable intelligence. Artists need to get more involved in their careers, put on better shows, create better products (the total product, not just the music) and give people a reason to want to own music.
    I think the internet didn’t kill the music industry, it encouraged it to get more creative – unfortunately the industry didn’t notice until it almost died from not rising to the occasion.

  4. While I respect his opinion, I think it is a bit like the Mellencamp and Nicks comments on how the Internet is harmful to music. What I think is missing is the understanding that we come from two different generations. Bands like Fleetwood Mac and Mellencamp’s own career were built on solid radio play and exposed them to a giant audience through that medium. Today the equivalent is Pandora or Jango, where people are not only exposed to their favorite bands but bands whom sound like them. I think the root of this problem is how the two generations understand one another. It is two different kinds of musical generations and both sides choose to attack one another instead of understanding that at the root of the argument is the truth. I don’t think Nicks’ opinion is relevant because she has stated she is a technophobe who does not embrace technology (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/09/stevie-nicks-rails-agains_n_185077.html). It takes walking in one’s musical shoes to understand one another. Arguing and ensuing arguments are not ways to solve the problems the music industry faces. Instead it is taking the advice of people like Nicks and Mellencamp and their careers and implementing them for the future musician generation in an internet and technology sound way.

  5. Thanks for the post, Kyle! 😉
    wallow-t, the point of the over-consumption analogy was to show how we, as a society, tend to exploit things to the destruction point. Of course we want access to the most music in the cheapest way possible – nothing wrong with that. Question is, at what point has our demand – and the meeting of that demand – made it impossible for artists to sustain a career?
    Cory, I was in the digital distribution business in 2003, offering up lossless FLAC formats, no DRM, etc., so I’m no stranger to technology and am not of Nicks’ generation. And I agree there’s nothing lamer than blaming the Internet – as if it were a single thing – for the demise of music. However, while digital technologies are undoubtedly making great contributions to recorded music, the point is to acknowledge that it isn’t all roses. After reviewing the positives and the negatives of all these technologies, where do we end up?
    Check out the example I give in the original article about a client’s recent experience. It’s not a one-size-fits-all story but gives a glimpse at real-life consequences of the current state of affairs.

  6. There was a culture of patronage amongst (some) labels for a while, along the lines of the labelheads saying “OK, we don’t know what this music is and we do not like it ourselves, but we will sell it”. Then, as the records did sell, labels got credit from the banks and amassed debts. Next, the so-called bean counters entered the business. Labelheads whose goal it is to pay back debts. They have realized several things are good for business that have turned out to be a major turn-off for real music fans:
    -the old busker’s wisdom that a song sells best if it is so cheesy and overplayed that a busker does not like it himself, resulting in lots of watered down lowest common denominator music such as your HypeBot song aims to be an example for.
    -repackaged old songs sell better than new songs unknown to the public, even more so when they add a little bonus track to it as a so-called must have so the customers will buy again without the label having any further production costs.
    -more people like celebrity culture than music so why wait until musicians get famous for their music to be able to
    capitalize on them when you can get any celebrity into the studio, have them pose in the video and let the producer do
    the rest
    -the old labelhead’s wisdom that you better not promote the music of a new signing by his predecessor on the CEO chair, otherwise that will make the predecessor look better than himself in the eye of the shareholders, as beauty is a dollar sign that lies in the eye of the shareholder.
    -a labelhead’s belief that there is no need to help artists reach the point of recoup because even when they are making a loss, they will have to pay it off later during a timespan whilst they are still under contract and no longer any competition to the lowest common denominator music. So the labelhead tells the promotional department to cut costs and therefore, they don’t do their job properly, sinking many a great album by always picking Track 1 as the single without ever listening to the album and not bothering with innovative ways how to promote it either.
    These are some reasons why Napster was more popular than turning on the radio. Since the old Napster went offline, I quit p2p because the successors filling its void just did not offer the b-sides and out-of-print stuff I was interested in. I’ve bought less and less music since then because of the practises listed above, most importantly because of the bonus track policy (which is pointless because there is absolutely no need to deliberately create a rarity for any type of mass produced goods), the ecopak (crappy packaging that damages the disc for the sake of cheaper shipping) and the promotional boost for mp3 with its outdated sound quality or lack thereof.
    So my point is that it was not piracy that has decimated the number of new releases by labels that are deemed rather less commercial by the labels themselves, but rather that it was a concious decision by the commercial departments of the labels themselves.
    To quote Ruth: “It does not require an active imagination to envision a world where our rock music landscape includes an endless churn of “indie” artists who can’t survive in the business longer than a record or two, while the only artists with sustainable careers are a select few of the most contrived, formulaic pop monsters imaginable.”
    The Fame Monster anyone?

  7. I agree with your point about how humans “tend to exploit things to the destruction point.”
    I think you’re probably being too cautious with your phrasing, though. I would be interested to see an example of a resource we do not strip-mine into oblivion. Can’t think of a single one right now.
    If we used solar power…
    But, we don’t.

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