Thursday, April 22, 2004

Quite often, "news" pieces in alt. weeklies would more reasonably be tagged "analysis" (and so often they seem simply to be preaching to the converted). This isn't meant to trigger some grande debate on the issues of objectivity, politics and responsibility in the media... simply to draw your attention to this piece by Adria Vasil in the latest issue of NOW.

Using the Harvard study as motivation, Vasil attempts to debunk the music industry's "big lie" (I know, I know... writers don't have much to do with the headlines, but still...). Which is all fine and good and slanted. That an alt. weekly would support downloading is more than reasonable (if again, they're simply preaching to the converted - or merely fighting record industry propaganda with their own).

Trouble comes only when pro-downloaders fall into the same trap of over-simplification that they so demonize the record industry for.

Take, for instance, Vasil's contention that "the biz hasn't had a massive crossover hit in years."

"Massive" is a rather vague term. So it's tough to refute. But Norah Jones and the 20 million records she's sold, would likely argue otherwise. As would Eminem, for that matter. And of course it wasn't that long ago that NSYNC, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears were selling millions upon millions of records - none of them what you might consider "crossover" hits, but lucrative all the same.

Granted, the days of mega-deals for best-selling artists are probably over. Blame Mariah. Or Jacko.

But also consider that there were likely few record executives who could have predicted the worldwide success Norah or Eminem would enjoy. There are a number of lessons in that, none of which we're going to review here, if only because this subject bores us to tears.

But one last question: Had the Harvard study shown that downloading was dramatically affecting the music industry and leading to lost sales numbering in the millions, would we (the pro-downloaders, among whom I count myself) been so eager to accept and promote it? Would we have admitted some degree of fault for the decline of the music industry?

Answer: No, of course not. We simply would have argued that our downloading was only punishment for all the years of high-priced, bland, over-commercialized pap we'd been fed by a greedy industry.

Follow-up question: Well then, why so quick to herald the Harvard study? If downloading was already a justified action because of the record industry's indiscretion - if this has really always been about rebellion and freedom and fighting "the man" and changing the industry - it shouldn't matter. In fact, maybe we should be thinking up different ways to punish the music industry because apparently the current method isn't having any effect.


(Previous thoughts)

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