20 votes

"What has been happening across the arts is not a recession. It is not even a depression. It is a catastrophe."

17 comments

  1. [16]
    joplin
    Link
    As someone who once made a small amount of money from the arts, and whose spouse worked in the arts for many years, I'm very sympathetic to the plight of artists. That said, I'm sorry but I can't...
    • Exemplary

    As someone who once made a small amount of money from the arts, and whose spouse worked in the arts for many years, I'm very sympathetic to the plight of artists. That said, I'm sorry but I can't get past this premise:

    There is another thing the rest of us, the audience, do not fully appreciate: the crisis is rooted in the destruction that was visited upon the arts even before the pandemic—that is, in the scandal of free content, which has been going on for more than twenty years and which implicates us all. The trouble began in 1999 when Napster came along, creating not only the possibility that music could be free, but the belief that it should be. First the price of music was driven to zero or near zero, then so was the price of work in nearly every other medium: text, images, video.

    Bullshit! Audiences were copying music long before Napster. First we used cassette tapes and VHS tapes, and eventually when hard drives became large enough, we'd rip stuff from CDs and DVDs. It was only once the Internet became fast enough that people started using Napster and the like.

    This is another case of blaming end users for what corporations are doing. Music, for example, has been dying a slow death since the early 90s. As radio stations consolidated and homogenized and became almost completely ad-filled, people looked for other less user-hostile ways to get their music. Guess what? Paying $30 for a CD with 3 good songs was only slightly less user-hostile, as was paying $100 + hidden fees to TicketMaster to see your favorite artist live.

    It's the same thing as with the DVD experience vs. pirating. With a DVD you had to sit through unskippable ads and previews, use clunky menus to access the content, etc. With a pirated version, you just press play and watch the movie.

    This is like large environment destroying companies telling you to "reduce, reuse, and recycle!" as they encourage you to buy more of their planet-destroying products. The few companies trying to get music into the hands of listeners legitimately are hamstrung by licensing deals that give the majority of the profits to the middlemen. Quit blaming end users for the broken system. There's not a whole lot they can do about it.

    38 votes
    1. cardigan
      Link Parent
      I make a living as an artist. Growing up where I did, my getting an artistic "education" would have been absolutely unthinkable without peer-to-peer networks. I lived miles away from any sort of...

      I make a living as an artist. Growing up where I did, my getting an artistic "education" would have been absolutely unthinkable without peer-to-peer networks. I lived miles away from any sort of library system, let alone one that stocked the things I needed to see. No one in my family attended college, and I dropped out of high school. Without the Internet, I have no clue what type of person I would have become. Sharing those files made and saved my life.

      Anyone who writes the phrase "the scandal of free content" in earnest, as this author does, is guilty of the most reprehensible classism and should be ashamed of themselves.

      18 votes
    2. [3]
      skybrian
      Link Parent
      It seems too easy to blame unspecified corporations without saying what you think a fair price for music should be and how it should be sold. After Napster came iTunes songs and then Amazon mp3's...

      It seems too easy to blame unspecified corporations without saying what you think a fair price for music should be and how it should be sold.

      After Napster came iTunes songs and then Amazon mp3's for around a dollar. I thought that was a fair price. Maybe a larger chunk should go to artists, though? Then we got YouTube and Spotify, which seem too cheap. They are a fantastic deal for consumers and not so great for artists.

      To get around that there is Patreon's pay-what-you-want scheme, which works for some. Is Patreon evil? What should they do differently?

      Also, online music sales seem pretty eco-friendly compared to most products that need to be shipped.

      8 votes
      1. joplin
        Link Parent
        Yeah, I think $1US per song is reasonable. I definitely think the problem is the payout to artists, not what end users are paying. Music licensing has been a mess for decades. It's full of bizarre...

        Yeah, I think $1US per song is reasonable. I definitely think the problem is the payout to artists, not what end users are paying. Music licensing has been a mess for decades. It's full of bizarre rules like songs played on the radio don't pay out to the performers, but do pay out to the song writers.

        I've not used Patreon, so can't comment on them. I agree that online music sales are more eco-friendly. Less packaging, less manufacturing. Seems like a good thing overall.

        12 votes
      2. Octofox
        Link Parent
        It doesn’t seem to me like there is any kind of pricing problem here. Streaming has been around for a long time now and yet there is still an abundance of new great music coming out. There is...

        It doesn’t seem to me like there is any kind of pricing problem here. Streaming has been around for a long time now and yet there is still an abundance of new great music coming out. There is perhaps even too much content being created.

        If the payout was unsustainable you would expect to see artists move to other things that pay better but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems that we have even more artists now because streaming opens the door to more artists that would normally have never succeeded.

        5 votes
    3. [5]
      teaearlgraycold
      Link Parent
      The internet shook up the music industry in a way that was never going to be good for individual artists. Being forced to buy in bulk was an artifact of information transfer being expensive. It's...

      The internet shook up the music industry in a way that was never going to be good for individual artists.

      Paying $30 for a CD with 3 good songs was only slightly less user-hostile

      Being forced to buy in bulk was an artifact of information transfer being expensive. It's easy to add a margin onto the cost of your good when you also need to be involved in distribution. For works that can be serialized into digital information you now have no power over distribution. Whoever owns the licenses has the power, because that's the only thing needed to get the works into the hands of millions.

      The wants of the population are far better met today than they were decades ago. The creation of art wasn't the problem before, it was distribution. Apparently we don't need as many artists as we used to.

      That said, people shouldn't need to work on whatever few problems society values in order to live comfortably. But this article's not arguing against capitalism.

      4 votes
      1. [2]
        stu2b50
        Link Parent
        Reminds me of what happened with newspapers. In the old days, there was, in many ways, a lot of overlap in what all the newspapers reported - but that was okay, because they each had a local...

        Apparently we don't need as many artists as we used to.

        Reminds me of what happened with newspapers. In the old days, there was, in many ways, a lot of overlap in what all the newspapers reported - but that was okay, because they each had a local monopoly. You bought your local newspapers to both read local news, national news, and maybe even international news, plus the columns and all that.

        But once the internet started to gain traction, everyone could get their national news, the most well known columnists, etc from the NYT, or CNN, or WaPo. Which left just actual local news. Inevitably many newspapers just can't compete with the bigger players. And I'm not sure there's a way to fix that.

        10 votes
        1. teaearlgraycold
          Link Parent
          Turns out revolutions just kinda... fuck everything up. Some people win, others lose.

          Turns out revolutions just kinda... fuck everything up. Some people win, others lose.

          10 votes
      2. [2]
        joplin
        Link Parent
        I think there's still value in having a lot of variety to choose from. It's interesting because TV show quality appears to me to have increased significantly since streaming took off. I can't...

        The wants of the population are far better met today than they were decades ago. The creation of art wasn't the problem before, it was distribution. Apparently we don't need as many artists as we used to.

        I think there's still value in having a lot of variety to choose from. It's interesting because TV show quality appears to me to have increased significantly since streaming took off. I can't prove it's related, but I certainly remember the days of "57 channels and nothing on." Now that people are paying directly for what they want instead of watching whatever advertisers want to pay for, the quality seems better and there seems to be more variety. And I'm certainly able to find a wider variety of music on streaming services than I ever was on the radio or at the record store.

        8 votes
        1. teaearlgraycold
          Link Parent
          It seems film and TV used to be hyper-centralized but music was relatively open. Increased access to data pulled them both to some common golden mean.

          It seems film and TV used to be hyper-centralized but music was relatively open. Increased access to data pulled them both to some common golden mean.

          3 votes
    4. [4]
      babypuncher
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Napster made piracy considerably more accessible, and eliminated the drawbacks that came with making copies of analog mediums. To say it and other file sharing platforms didn't make piracy more...

      Napster made piracy considerably more accessible, and eliminated the drawbacks that came with making copies of analog mediums. To say it and other file sharing platforms didn't make piracy more mainstream seems inaccurate.

      I understand where the author is coming from, even if their own anti-piracy rhetoric leaves out pieces of the story. We as a society considerably under-value art. People expect most of the art they consume to be free or almost free, which just doesn't seem sustainable. Our appetite for free content is directly responsible for the privacy-hostile internet economy we have today. I regularly see people scoff at the idea of spending less to watch a TV show than they probably spent at Starbuck's this morning. Services like Spotify seem like a downright bad deal for many musicians.

      3 votes
      1. [3]
        joplin
        Link Parent
        I agree it made an already existing situation easier and more mainstream. But I have read that once services like iTunes came out, mainstream use of Napster and similar services dropped off...

        Napster made piracy considerably more accessible, and eliminated the drawbacks that came with making copies of analog mediums. To say it and other file sharing platforms didn't make piracy more mainstream seems inaccurate.

        I agree it made an already existing situation easier and more mainstream. But I have read that once services like iTunes came out, mainstream use of Napster and similar services dropped off significantly. Between the better quality, lack of malware, ease of use, and relatively low cost of buying just the songs you wanted, it was a no brainer for most people. People were more than willing to pay, but not to have to drive to the store, wade through shelves and shelves of unwanted stuff, stand in line to wait to pay, and then drive back home to listen to it, when there was clearly a much easier way that was better for everyone involved (well, except for the record stores).

        FWIW, the TV industry had conniptions when VCRs came out, to the point of suing the makers to stop it from going mainstream.

        2 votes
        1. whbboyd
          Link Parent
          Gabe Newell has somewhat famously said that "piracy is a service problem"—i.e., people pirate products because they are annoying to purchase, not because they are expensive. This is, of course, at...

          Gabe Newell has somewhat famously said that "piracy is a service problem"—i.e., people pirate products because they are annoying to purchase, not because they are expensive. This is, of course, at most partly true (broke student me certainly pirated a significant number of games I absolutely could not have afforded to buy because it was free to do so—though that puts the lie to the anti-piracy argument that pirated copies are lost sales, since I certainly couldn't have spent money I didn't have to buy them if piracy had not been an option), but highly illustrative. Very, very few people pirate media out of principle. Instead, they pirate because legitimate channels are too expensive, or too inconvenient, or the blistering lack of respect for customers shown by oppressive DRM schemes is intolerable.

          Newell himself made unimaginably large piles of money by running Steam on essentially that principle—if you make it easy to buy games, people will happily give you money rather than pirate them.

          5 votes
        2. babypuncher
          Link Parent
          I agree that Napster had a net positive effect on the music industry, as it accelerated the adoption of a more equitable business model. I was just saying that the author's argument was not...

          I agree that Napster had a net positive effect on the music industry, as it accelerated the adoption of a more equitable business model. I was just saying that the author's argument was not without merit.

          2 votes
    5. [2]
      Eric_the_Cerise
      Link Parent
      I just wanted to say, Louis C.K. Lots of other artists have done things like this, trying to break the corporate business model. Remember them.

      I just wanted to say, Louis C.K.

      Lots of other artists have done things like this, trying to break the corporate business model. Remember them.

      1 vote
      1. joplin
        Link Parent
        Yeah, I was going to mention that exact case, but didn't want to trigger anyone by talking about him. Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails has done a similar thing in the past, as well.

        Yeah, I was going to mention that exact case, but didn't want to trigger anyone by talking about him. Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails has done a similar thing in the past, as well.

        6 votes
  2. MimicSquid
    Link
    Yeah. Anecdote time: Prior to the pandemic, I had three performing arts non-profits as bookkeeping clients. One has held on, one has fired basically everyone but the creative director who's being...

    Yeah. Anecdote time: Prior to the pandemic, I had three performing arts non-profits as bookkeeping clients. One has held on, one has fired basically everyone but the creative director who's being paid a pittance to keep the lights on and is hoping for a renewal of their grants even as they have no idea when they can actually perform in public again, and one is closing up shop. This is a tragedy, the last one many of them will ever perform.

    9 votes