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.)