Something to hold you over

Hi all,

Just for the moment, I’ve been concentrating on writing big posts, about one a week. Mainly because I’m not in an office environment right now and won’t be until mid-September. It’s easier for me to jot down thoughts in a notebook on the fly, and work them up into a blogpost when I get a  chance. That said, I have been getting online as often as I can, and I just can’t seem to stop getting into online rows with people I should know better than to engage with. This week, I couldn’t resist having a pop at Gabriel Casey, a commentator on Helienne Lindvall’s ‘Behind the Music’ blog, which can be found on Guardian.co.uk’s website. It’s about filesharing (again, I know), and some might think he got the better of me, others might think the opposite. Anyway, I’m going to paste it in here, and you can make up your own minds. Just before I do though, I would like to point out that although I do correspond with Rhodri Marsden and Steve Lawson, I have never actually met either one of them. Also, Casey’s version of how ‘most’ songs are written has no similarity to any songwriting session I’ve ever witnessed. Anyway, by putting this interchange up here today, it means you have something to read whilst I go and write a blogpost that has nothing whatsoever to do with filesharing. Really, I do write about other subjects, it’s just that the filesharing thing has come up quite a lot lately. Here’s the exchange, it comes in at the point where Casey brings up filesharing in his response to the blog’s author :

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Posted by gabrielcasey
….Come on Helienne. Redeem yourself. Who are the real enemies of music? Prince? Thom Yorke? Some stoned 17-year old downloading a few albums from Pirate Bay? Or is it the people that actually wield the power in the ‘music industry’ like the thug that you are too polite to out?
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Posted by helienne

30 Jul 2010, 11:13PM
Contributor Contributor

@gabrielcasey

You are being unfair. I’m not protecting the person who said this, but respecting the wishes of the person who was on the receiving end. Surely you must understand that.

Why does criticising the actions of some people who work in the music industry (and, no, not all people who work in the music industry are major label and corporate – actually, the person who was on the receiving end of this threat also works in the music industry) mean that I should not be allowed to criticise illegal music services who make a business out of artists work without in any way compensating them? Should artist being screwed by a label justify them being screwed by everyone else? If filesharing is the liberation of artists, how come so many creators I know are struggling more than ever?

This isn’t even a blog about filesharing, but you brought it up.
*
Posted by gabrielcasey

31 Jul 2010, 1:25AM

@Helienne

…your articles implicitly criticise everyone that participates in illegal-filesharing and we are not all corporate you know, many of us do it for the love and discovery of music) while you adopt a much tamer, and sometimes completely indifferent attitude to the suffering that the corporate music industry inflicts on artists and, I would argue, on art itself. Of which the incident in question is a perfect example.

Should artist being screwed by a label justify them being screwed by everyone else?

First of all you preach a lot more about the latter than you do the former. Secondly, is the latter even faintly comparable to the former in terms
of its severity? How hard am I screwing the ‘artist’ when I BitTorrent their album in order to hear something they designed in the hope that it would be heard?

If filesharing is the liberation of artists, how come so many creators I know are struggling more than ever?

Filesharing is not the liberation of artists. It is the liberation of art. However, in light of this artists could be increasingly pressed to decide
how important the label ‘artist’ is to them – which I think can only be a good thing in a culture where that word has become so meaningless as to be attachable to Fergal Sharkey (your last blog). Besides, ‘creators’ (you mean ‘artists’ right? We are not including God are we?) have always always always struggled financially. And I doubt you have anything but very limited anecdotal evidence to suggest that they struggle, today, ‘more than ever’. They probably don’t generally. And if the limited selection that you ‘know’ do then I suppose it is anyone’s guess ‘how come?’ Maybe God hates them particularly.

And you are, as usual, taking for granted the idea that file-sharing is responsible for the downturn in music sales in recent times which, as we
have discussed at length many times before, neither you nor anyone else has serious evidence for. That’s still just a hunch you have.
This isn’t even a blog about filesharing, but you brought it up.
I know I can’t help myself. Write another blog about filesharing please. They are great.

Posted by BlancoMusic

1 Aug 2010, 3:32PM

How hard am I screwing the ‘artist’ when I BitTorrent their album in order to hear something they designed in the hope that it would be heard?

Depends, mostly upon whether the artist involved designed that album purely in the hope that it would be heard, or whether they were considering making some money out of it. If you can convince yourself, and I’m sure you’re quite capable of doing so, that every piece of music that you have fileshared ‘for the love and discovery of music’ was put onto the internet solely in ‘the hope that it would be heard’, well I’m sure you’re just morally untouchable.

I have yet to actually meet a career musician who is happy that their music is being illegally downloaded without their consent. I’m not claiming
that there aren’t musicians who are fine with it, I occasionally swap tweets with Steve Lawson and Rhodri Marsden, who both seem absolutely fine with the idea. So there are precedents. Both Lawson and Marsden have embraced the free music idea, and the possible devaluing of their music that comes with that. They’ve built it into their business plans and are, quite possibly, examples of how the business will end up. But they consent to the giveaway. They may be the future of the business, they may not. Either way, they have chosen their approach, not had it imposed upon them by illegally-operating individuals who, whether they are 17 year-old students downloading albums or latter-day ‘heroes’ such as PirateBay, are distributing the intellectual property of third parties without their consent. And even the kid in his bedroom downloading a mere album is doing more than financial damage – he is normalising a process which propogates the notion that music is free and valueless. As is using music as a tool for creating an aura of attractiveness around an act in order to sell t-shirts or box-sets.

At some point, maybe because it is so attractive to have unlimited music for free, it became the responsibility of the music industry to explain to
the public that taking something without the owner’s consent is wrong. Unfortunately, the music industry didn’t do so very well, possibly because it is a music industry, not an arbiter and teacher of simple ethics, and as such, lacks the resources, techniques or motivations of a philosophical institution. I have yet to be presented with an argument for the practice of filesharing that could not be boiled down to, or disregarded as a screen for: ‘I do it because I want to’. Blaming it on the music industry, using the music industry’s many, many examples of unethical or just plain bad behaviour as a justification for it, is nothing more than a self-applied salve to the filesharer’s conscience. I could conjecture on the long-term effects on the individual and on society of knowingly doing wrong; on the detrimental effects it has on the individual’s self-worth and on the self-confidence and energy of a society, but I won’t do so here. For one, this is Helienne’s blog, and it’s not fair to hijack it. Mainly though, because I don’t feel willing to subject myself to the barrage of nit-picking and bluster that I’d be subjected to if I were to do so. If there’s one thing I’ve figured out in the filesharing debate, it’s that the filesharers shout loudest.

Posted by gabrielcasey

2 Aug 2010, 2:08PM

@Blancomusic

Thanks for your thoughtful reply Blanco – I was worried that all my fretting and typing in that last comment was going to go unregarded (God knows I didn’t hold much hope that Helienne was going to give me any substantive response). So…

Depends, mostly upon whether the artist involved designed that album purely in the hope that it would be heard, or whether they were considering making some money out of it.

Actually it depends ‘mostly’ on whether downloading their work for free actually has an overall negative impact on their sales. I have never been
convinced that it does, and why should I (or you) be? There is no serious evidence that illegal file-sharing impacts sales. Still – you seem convinced, so maybe you have some? If so let’s see it, otherwise you will simply have to stop taking that proposition for granted before you begin arguments which depend ‘mostly’ on it being true.

If someone is writing a song and is thinking about money at the time then they are creating product, not art. This is fine, but they shouldn’t
propose themselves to be ‘an artist’. Inevitably we are going to disagree over what ‘Art’ is (I would like to hear your definition) but I should say that I am offering my definition not merely as a BitTorrent-hugging moral evasionist but as a songwriter, musician, and performer myself who has known and still knows plenty of songwriters and musicians and performers. I believe, honestly, that ‘art’ is created for its own sake and no other substantive purpose. After it exists the artist often tries to sell it. That’s fine. But money was simply not an issue in the creation of that work, which came about compulsively and, most songwriters would say, as a outlet for personal expression. That’s art. Now let’s talk about how most songs are actually written. Typically someone sits down at a piano or a guitar and thinks ‘Hmm, what would sell and make me rich and/or famous? What do the radio stations play? What do the major labels invest in? What are the public buying and sending into the Top Ten at the minute?’ That’s not a reasonable account of the creation of ‘art’, is it? Surely that is simply manufacturing a product for a target market? Is that the work of an ‘artist’? You tell me.

If you can convince yourself, and I’m sure you’re quite capable of doing so, that every piece of music that you have fileshared ‘for the love
and discovery of music’ was put onto the internet solely in ‘the hope that it would be heard’, well I’m sure you’re just morally untouchable.

Thanks. Although I am sure God could still get me for other things. I think that file-sharing a piece of music actually constitutes an act of
goodwill toward the person that made it, by my assuming beforehand that they are an artist and not a poser who simply wanted to get paid all along, and by listening. But I should be more careful about the way you are putting it: you proposed that it couldn’t have been ‘put onto the internet solely in the hope that it would be heard’. I am sure it was if I am BitTorrenting it because the ‘artist’ simply didn’t put it there, someone else did. But let’s not forget either that massive quantities of work are available for free listening on outlets like Spotify, MySpace and YouTube – that is to say artists put their work ‘onto the internet solely in the hope that it will be heard’, all the time. So the issue isn’t willingness to be heard, the issue is ownership.

What makes BitTorrent and other illegal methods of ‘hearing’ different from these others is that when you download, as opposed to streaming, you are thought to ‘own’ something that you could have otherwise paid for by legal means (iTunes perhaps). But in fact that idea still represents a huge philosophical grey area in debates of this sort. With an mp3, as opposed to a physical release, you have nothing resaleable (because you have nothing physical); given the nature of an electronic ‘file’ you don’t really ‘own’ anything except the ability to access the music on demand, quickly, and at a reasonable listening quality – but then a phone with a connection to youtube or spotify gives you essentially the same access without asking for 79p a track doesn’t it? You are probably thinking ‘If it is such a jip then how does your theoretical ‘artist’ maintain artistic integrity (upon which the moral justification of your digital robbery depends) while putting their material on iTunes?’ Good question, well done for thinking of it. The simple fact is that the only reason the artist has put their material on iTunes is because, apparently, lots of people do pay 79p a track for work that is displayed there. The artist, if they had any ambition to make money from what they have created at all, would have to be mad not to try and get a piece of that market. That still has nothing to do with why they wrote the track in the first place. Bottom line: writing songs to make money is not the same as selling them for money.
*
Posted by gabrielcasey

2 Aug 2010, 2:17PM

cont…

I have yet to actually meet a career musician who is happy that their music is being illegally downloaded without their consent. I’m not claiming
that there aren’t musicians who are fine with it, I occasionally swap tweets with Steve Lawson and Rhodri Marsden, who both seem absolutely fine with the idea. So there are precedents.

In other words: ‘I have yet to actually meet a career musician who is happy that their music is being illegally downloaded…no wait…I have. Nice
work.

They may be the future of the business, they may not. Either way, they have chosen their approach, not had it imposed upon them by illegally-
operating individuals who, whether they are 17 year-old students downloading albums or latter-day ‘heroes’ such as PirateBay, are distributing the intellectual property of third parties without their consent.

Consent is implicit insofar as the creator of the work cares to characterise themselves as an ‘artist’. Which they all do. I agree with you that
some of them are lying, but if they don’t come out and confess then how are we to know who is and who isn’t? That is where I really see the problem: in all honesty if one of my downloaded musical heroes came out tomorrow and said ‘It was all about the money from the start, I don’t give a toss whether you go are going out of your way to listen to it or not, I want money for it’ then I would gladly recycle bin all their work and never download them again (actually I probably own physical copies anyway if their music means anything to me at all). But no one says this. I gather they think it would look bad.

I think musicians have been spoiled rotten for a long time being allowed to absorb the grand ego-sating kudos of the label ‘artist’ (and the social perks which go with it) along with the financial bottom line of bankers, these things considered: being a rock star must feel very much like being God, so I do not think that the humble challenge presented to that status quo by illegal downloaders (among others) is morally wrong. In fact I think it does music, art, future ‘artists’, and particularly future listeners a great service. And God as well – I think he is happy. As for the ‘future of the business’ – I am happy to let businesspeople with no artistic or musical ability (of the sort that the ‘music industry’ is full of) worry about that.

And even the kid in his bedroom downloading a mere album is doing more than financial damage – he is normalising a process which propogates the notion that music is free and valueless.

Free is not the same as valueless. Besides, the hypothetical kid is not a face in a protest march, he is sitting alone in his bedroom – I question
whether he is ‘normalising’ and ‘propagating’ to anyone but himself.

As is using music as a tool for creating an aura of attractiveness around an act in order to sell t-shirts or box-sets.

I have no idea what you mean here. I always thought the music and the ‘aura of attractiveness’ were inextricable. Are you saying that it is possible for a band to make great music and still be a completely culturally unattractive (I guess you mean this rather than physically attractive) entity? Or do you just think that bands should not try to sell t-shirts and box sets? What an odd detour for your argument to take.

At some point, maybe because it is so attractive to have unlimited music for free, it became the responsibility of the music industry to explain to
the public that taking something without the owner’s consent is wrong.

I think that has been done (famously) many times before. I might think of Moses for example. However, no one has ever made it clear why creating a copy of something is wrong except to say ‘It is illegal because it violates Copyright law’. The ‘owner’ loses nothing when a digital copy is made, and gains a listener, which, as I have already argued, is all that an ‘artist’ can reasonably expect.

Unfortunately, the music industry didn’t do so very well, possibly because it is a music industry, not an arbiter and teacher of simple ethics, and
as such, lacks the resources, techniques or motivations of a philosophical institution.

Or of God.

I have yet to be presented with an argument for the practice of filesharing that could not be boiled down to, or disregarded as a screen for: ‘I do
it because I want to’.

Well, now you have. Tell your friends

Blaming it on the music industry, using the music industry’s many, many examples of unethical or just plain bad behaviour as a justification for
it, is nothing more than a self-applied salve to the filesharer’s conscience.

I do not blame the music industry for illegal downloading. I am not interested in apportioning ‘blame’ for something which I do not think is wrong
or even harmful. Obviously. What I do blame the music industry for (and this has nothing to do with filesharing) is the abuse, degradation, humiliation and exploitation of musicians for profit. Am i wrong?
*

Posted by gabrielcasey

2 Aug 2010, 2:22PM

cont…

I could conjecture on the long-term effects on the individual and on society of knowingly doing wrong; on the detrimental effects it has on the
individual’s self-worth and on the self-confidence and energy of a society, but I won’t do so here.

Please don’t anywhere, it sounds like it would be awful stuff and yet still irresistible to someone like me who gets their cheap and ultimately
unrewarding thrills from pulling nonsense apart.

For one, this is Helienne’s blog, and it’s not fair to hijack it.

It is true that this blog about miming (and peripherally about the monstrous abuse of musicians by the music industry) has been hijacked by a
filesharing debate which has only tenuous links to the original material. But Helienne, as you can see from her comment before my last, is unshirking when it comes to the fight against filesharing propaganda and apparently happy enough to at least sponsor this more or less irrelevant debate, even though she isn’t really participating in it.

Mainly though, because I don’t feel willing to subject myself to the barrage of nit-picking and bluster that I’d be subjected to if I were to do
so.

Too late.

If there’s one thing I’ve figured out in the filesharing debate, it’s that the filesharers shout loudest.

I actually imagine my narrative voice as a slightly pompous, but essentially friendly and even controlled banter. I am usually careful to use
capitals in those moments when I wish my loud ‘shout’ to be noted. Luckily the material of your arguments was insubstantial enough to deserve the occasional italic, but not stupid enough to earn shouting and exclamation marks. Well done. Though I can see why some people would want to go down that path.

I think that is the longest reply I have ever made. Apologies if I am taking up too much of your time – your very thoughtful comment did call for
depth in reply.

Cheers.
Posted by BlancoMusic

2 Aug 2010, 4:59PM

@GabrielCasey

There’s far too much in your posts to respond to in any depth here. As you so rightly guessed, I do have constraints on my time. Anyway, the
unassailable tone of your ‘slightly pompous, but essentially friendly and even controlled banter’ does give the impression that your posts on here serve more as an exercise in smugly demolishing the valid opinions of your fellow commentators, or feeling that you have done so, than they are an attempt to enter into any sort of exchange of opinion. My interpretation of your multiple-post reply, is that the definitions of the words ‘art’ and ‘artist’ are critical to your worldview. These words, if defined to your satisfaction, would provide you with a two-pronged attack on the music industry, and the people who work in it. I think it would work thus:
If they do accept your definition of ‘artist’ as their title, and their work as ‘art’, then they instantly lose that status by demanding that their
intellectual property is defended. Your way of putting it is thus:
a poser who simply wanted to get paid all along.
However, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If, rather than get involved in the grubby business of deriving payment for their work (like Caravaggio, Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Nureyev, Joyce or Rembrandt – or is the creation of art to be limited to only those of independent means?), they choose to accept that payment might be a happy side-effect of the artistic process, but that they must not expect it. By choosing to be known as artists, they, as arbitrarily decided by you, lose any right to expect their work’s monetary value to be defended, and have given their consent that it should be freely distributed. Or as you put it:

Consent is implicit insofar as the creator of the work cares to characterise themselves as an ‘artist’.

Why is that consent implicit? Who decided that? You haven’t even defined art yet, but you’re applying conditions to that definition anyway. You say you want to know my definition of art. Why? What if it differs from yours? Will you accept and debate that difference or just tell me that I’m wrong? My definition of art does not imply any consent to unfettered distribution. That would disqualify every piece of art that resides in private spaces.
With an mp3, as opposed to a physical release, you have nothing resaleable
I’ll mention that next time I decide I don’t want to bother paying for a taxi.

Free is not the same as valueless.

I was thinking about the powers of suggestion and implication. Am I allowed to do that?

Besides, the hypothetical kid is not a face in a protest march, he is sitting alone in his bedroom – I question whether he is ‘normalising’ and
propagating’ to anyone but himself.

Damn, this is where it becomes obvious that I’m just an industry fatcat that’s out of touch with ‘the kids’. I was told that they had peer-
interaction with something called ‘friends’ and that they talked about stuff.
I have yet to be presented with an argument for the practice of filesharing that could not be boiled down to, or disregarded as a screen for: ‘I
do it because I want to’.

Well, now you have. Tell your friends

Have I? Where was it again?

With regard to the impact of filesharing on sales, who can say? I only work with one band who have been around for long enough to have preceded the existence of filesharing. There aren’t many 80s bands out there who could expect to sell the same amount of records per year, every year, for thirty years. It’s all guesswork really, and anecdotal eveidence from the people who are in a position to notice sales trends and the fluctuations therein. Can’t help you with sales data, I’m afraid. It’s just not my information to give. Why should it matter? If a musician makes it clear that they do not wish to have their music distributed or downloaded without their consent, no amount of laborious struggling with the semantics of the words ‘art’ or ‘artist’ take precedence over the wishes of the artist in question. That seems quite simple to me.

Extract ends.

You can read Helienne’s blog here

You can hear Gabriel Casey’s music here

You can hear our music here

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