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Culture and commodity

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - 10:31am

Those are two very different entities, and I'm not sure how they're both feeling. Lately in interviews I've started saying nice things about Spotify because they’re not the biggest problem for artists. The biggest problem is YouTube, and all the the user-generated, unwrangled content. If you’re the Universal Music Group, you have content ID systems and dedicated anti-piracy teams that help make sure your streams are getting counted and that you're getting paid. But if you’re an indie artist, YouTube is a much bigger problem. The rate they pay you is much lower that Spotify and there are are a lot of streams that don't get caught, which means musicians don't get paid. So, from my perspective, their having some competition is a good thing.

Again, Youtube and Spotify aren't the entities to be concerned about, though the focus on them is indicative of something else. That's only part of the interview with UGA lecturer and popular musician David Lowery, so please read the entire conversation. But you almost have to read between the lines to get any sense of who/what is most vulnerable in the present scenario, where art is commoditized and the conversation about its distribution and access is almost completely sealed off from those who make it. How we arrived at a place where there is so little consideration about where our art comes from is probably most easily seen in its analogy to food. Very few people understand what it takes to grow vegetables, slaughter animals, or make beverages from crops, and this is all a function of our elevated standards of living. We're blithely unaware, and it is a luxury not to worry over these things until we peruse the shelves at FreshWay and likely not even then. But where does all the stuff in the cans and boxes come from? Leaving the mystery of our cultural nourishment up to the conglomerates is no different. Packaging is one thing; what is inside has to come from somewhere. In the case of food it involves dirt, seeds, someone's sweat, another's toil, and probably the back pains of a third. The soil itself can be spoilt; the seeds can go bad. You need water, fertilizer. There's a danger of too much nitrogen. Oh, and sunlight, lest we forget.

If algorithms could create the great stories or the music that moves us, this wouldn't be a problem. But now that the issue has become primarily one of delivery, our demands for convenience and ease are catching up with us - and that is to say that, though it may be easy to blame the corporations, ultimately it is the reader and listener who should be most concerned. Free music might sound very agreeable (sorry). But who makes what they give away?

Sermon not over, not by a long shot.

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