It seems that everyone in the music business is expected to have one, single, unassailable viewpoint of the filesharing issue. Perhaps there is some self-destructive urge in the collective that is the industry, and that all this Lily Allen Vs Billy Bragg public fighting is the self-induced death-rattle of the old guard. I hope so, I think a new musical contract between public and industry will be beneficial to all. But it can’t all come from the industry side either. I, speaking as BlancoMusic, can’t bring myself to stick to just one solid attitude on this. It would be much easier if I could. Robin, Rawle, and all the other musicians we work with, are very clear that filesharing is damaging them in the most obvious way – they see their income degenerating on a monthly basis and point straight to fileshare sites as the culprit. Question them further and additional factors come into play. People conduct mobile phone conversations in the middle of gigs, hit ‘play’ on Last.fm playlists that friends sent them but never read the names of the bands thereon, download the free tracks from websites but never think of buying the album. Music is looked upon differently now to how it was a decade ago. One reaction to that is to whine about it and wish it were 1990 again, the other is to try to figure out how to work with the new landscape. Personally, I don’t think filesharing is the problem, but I do think that the erosion of the idea of music as a valued artefact is more of a threat.
It’s linked to people’s self-worth, which is unfortunately a difficult value to maintain in a monetary society which has been exploiting people for generations and which people naturally distrust. When an artisan can look at a piece of his work and say: ‘that is a fine piece of craft, I am proud of that’, he can, in good conscience charge a good price for it. He doesn’t have to sell three for the price of two, or throw in a free gift. And the buyer with self-respect will say :’There is a fine piece of craft, I will pay a fair price for it’, and be satisfied in mind and soul. The music industry has squandered that mutual respect with substandard product and the consumer has punished them for it. Now we have to win that respect back with good music at a fair price. It works two ways, in everything. Demanding cheaper and cheaper food is the reason why you can buy a battery chicken for two quid at Tescos. A chicken that is stuffed full of hormones and chemicals and makes your conscience hate you for being an accomplice to animal cruelty. Quality costs money, but cheap shit costs you more in other ways.
If you can appreciate an act like Mil i Maria. If you can hear that seen-too-much-pain quality of Rocio’s voice and be brought to breathlessness by the way she hits the high notes, then you know music piracy is wrong. It’s just so bloody obvious that a voice like Rocio’s needs to be heard, and that the world would benefit from more music like that. There’s an entire generation out there who think that Madonna’s got a good voice, or that Mariah Carey’s ‘hit-it-but-never-stick-it’ vocal range is something to be admired. For every ten people who hear Rocio, at least some of them will realise that there’s a world of difference in quality between her and Carey. That re-education is going to have an impact, it’s inevitable. At some deep level people know that talent has to be nurtured artistically and, yes, financially. At some point, people are going to realise that stealing music off the web might not be as clever as they thought.
People wouldn’t do it if they could see the damage they’re doing to themselves. Forget what they’re doing to the musicians, that’s something else. The illegal downloaders are a part of something that’s really lacking in the world right now, it’s a real sign of people just being totally lost. We’re all being seduced by the easy option without realising that the human soul needs challenge. It’s visible in everything – the spiritual sluts who decide to be Buddhist because it looks exotic and undemanding; Christians who do Christmas but not Lent; Muslims who don’t bother with Ramadan; Madonna going for Kabbalism without studying the Torah. It’s so seductive to try for the benefits without doing the unpleasant parts – like never giving Christmas presents but being happy to take them. There are millions over the course of history who just got so lost in that approach. Eventually it becomes the equivalent of jumping on the tube so that you can finish the London marathon. Sure, you get the space blanket and the mars bar, but every time you see the medal afterwards your soul just shrivels up into something loathesome, and you know it. People are just addicted to the easy option and the worst thing is that they loathe themselves for it. It might be well-buried in their subconscious, but they’re just full of self-hate. OK, so illegal downloading is just a small part of it, but it’s part of it nonetheless. It’s that part that hates the fact that you didn’t tell the bloke down the pub that he was being a racist wanker, or that you didn’t go and protest against Israel bombing Palestine, or that you bought the battery eggs instead of the free-range. It’s really hurting us, this moral flippancy. Can you think how much nicer the world would be if we didn’t hate ourselves so much?
Here’s a Mil i Maria track to listen to: