Just because you’re a rock star doesn’t make you right.
In case you missed it, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters railed against techies in the London Times behind a paywall, accusing Silicon Valley and the music industry of “stealing every f–king cent anybody ever made.” And now we’ve got to see his inane opinions trumpeted across all media because he was once a star, and you know stars — we’ve got to listen to them.
But the tech companies did not steal your business, did not steal your opportunity, did not make you broke.
The customer did. Which way do you want it — do you love your fans or hate them? Love those who wanted everything you ever released, or hate those who now have access to everything, and don’t want to listen to you.
Let’s state some rules.
1. It’s the best time to be an artist in the history of the world … especially if you make popular music, and you’re willing to do it yourself. There are no barriers to entry.
2. Major labels push what sells. They’re businesses, not museums. You can excoriate the Top 40 all you want, but if klezmer music was the new rage, the majors would pick it up.
3. When everything is available, there’s a race to the top. “The Long Tail” and other books perpetrated the fiction that we’d all get rich in the Internet economy. Tech helped grease the skids by providing access, but it’s the public that chooses what to listen to.
4. Change happens. Live went to wax cylinders went to shellac to 45s to 33s to cassettes and CDs, and then files and now streams. Embrace the new.
5. Radio is not forever. One day music radio is gonna crash, the same way AM has.
So Roger Waters blows hard, but railing against change is like complaining that you can now call across the country for free. Used to be expensive, with long-distance tolls. But I don’t see anyone taking up the cause of the telcos, who all saw the light and moved on to wireless, and when talk declined, moved on to data. Techies glommed on to music because it was desirable. They wanted to hear it; they wanted others to, as well.
The truth is that despite Waters’ going on that today’s music is as great as it was in the classic rock era, it’s not. Of course there are talented people working. Of course there’s money to be made. But once upon a time there was more experimentation, and music was front and center in the culture, moving it. Waters’ experience is about what happened in the ’70s. If he wants to tell us how he did it, we’re all ears. But if he just wants to complain that someone moved his cheese, tune him out. The truth is, he’s not on good terms with David Gilmour, and separately they’re not desirable.
We live in a wild, woolly time of cacophony, where the greats are at our fingertips for the same price as the dreck. And to be able to hear everything ever recorded is a boon to the listener, albeit overwhelming. As a result, there’s a shifting revenue picture. It used to be those who jumped through the hoops made money, and those who didn’t didn’t. But now that everybody can play, the revenue is tilting toward the winners.
And everybody can’t be a winner.
But tech is inert. Software and devices are tools. The audience is always ready, the techies have provided the pipe, and there’s plenty of money. That’s a good thing.