DIY: When Blogs React

Over at popmatters.com, the Crazed by the Music blog written by Jason Gross commented on my article. He seems to understand the essence of my argument:

Right now, my favorite two articles are Chris Ruen’s "The Myth of DIY" (Tiny Mixtapes) and Glenn Peoples’ "Analysis: Everything Is Wrong With Free Moby MP3 Story" (Billboard). It’s probably no coincidence since both deal with the same subject- challenging the idea that free music is the best thing for the industry now.

In Ruen’s article, he questions fan’s commitment to artists that they supposedly love when they download their music for free.

“If you find meaning and beauty from a musician’s work and you want them to continue creating it — then you are obliged to support them. If you like the idea of record stores, the people they employ, the values and spirit they promote — then you also are obliged to support them. If you’re consistently doing one without the other, then on some level you, not Metallica, are the asshole.”

You could easily laugh off Ruen as a fogey who’s impossibly trying to turn the tide of the online revolution since we’re obviously only going to support bands by NOT buying their music, right? But he does have a point. Even if millions of people aren’t paying for it, why shouldn’t you still support bands and performers you love? It’s OK to buy tickets to their shows or their merchandise but it’s not OK to buy any of their music just because other people aren’t? I like paying out for albums by bands that I like and I don’t feel like a sucker for doing it (though I’m not thrilled that artists still get only a tiny bit of my money if they happen to be on a major).

Thanks Jason. Over at Well Respected, they have a more critical take, and one that partially misunderstands my argument. In my view, their post is an example of how easy it is to get caught up in, as they say, the macroeconomic issues. When this is the case, the discussion becomes very abstract and usually ends with people throwing their hands up in confusion. My point is simple, but not so simple as "Don't Pirate." What I hope Well Respected takes from the debate is that we all, as individuals, have a say in what this music culture ends up looking like. And as much as pirating will never go away, it doesn't mean we can't support those artists and institutions we value. And I disagree entirely with the fatalistic, "Genie out of the bottle" non-argument. All one needs to do is take a look at some of the letters in earlier posts to see that minds are being changed. It turns out that our personal actions are meaningful, and we can change things if we first recognize a value in doing so. Support the music you love, respect the artists who made it for you. What Well Respected said:

The ethics suggested by the author of this article regarding music piracy is essentially: don’t. It isn’t helping anyone - the artists, the local record stores, and most likely you, too, because you’ve probably become more flippant and noncommital in your acquisitional habits.

It’s a well reasoned and impassioned piece, but also very anecdotal and it largely glosses over and/or ignores several macroeconomic implications of buying records versus illegally downloading (who actually profits from the sale, what’s the role/significance of record labels these days, what’s the monetary value of an mp3 file and who “owns” it, is there a financially viable alternative to the current model of selling music, etc.). Considering the source of this article, Tiny Mix Tapes, those seem to be major omissions — and I only say that because TMT generally does a great job keeping abreast of important business and copyright developments surrounding the music industry, but they also do more than almost any other site to demonize and lampoon the RIAA and big, bad record industry execs.

The myth the author is disspelling, I think, is the notion that by not paying for music we’ve become righteous bandits who are sticking it to The Man and finding our own way of supporting indie bands directly on the road, when in actuality we’re just cheap, selfish geeks who are making it next to impossible for the musicians we love to make a living making more music we might possibly love. Fair enough. But what’s the solution? Only buy new music and only buy it direct from the band or your favorite local record shop? It’s a nice goal, and something like that may have worked 20 years ago (although I suppose it’s debatable how many indie artists made a comfortable living + retirement savings on their DIY releases in the pre-Napster era), but the proverbial genie is already out of the bottle and simply arguing “Piracy: Don’t Do It” isn’t going to change much when everyone and their brother is already music blogger who think they’re entitled to the internet’s neverending supply of “promotional” downloads. But maybe it’ll help us to think twice before right-clicking in the future?

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