read, think, evolve

Volume 1 Number 19                                                                        October 14, 2000

Seven months of marketing the web site and the related rejection has taken its toll on my psyche.  (e.g., I haven't answered my email in a several weeks now.  (Sorry people!))  (e.g., I haven't been keeping up on this project.)  The web site's traffic isn't any different than when I started, so besides screwing up my mind it hasn't done any good.  If the Goddess wants people to come here and read, she will bring them.  I'll be homeless soon, but I'll try to get back to posting weekly columns until then.

While I've been lost in the fog of marketing one of the big debates has been about Napster.  In an ideal world I think all Art should be freely available to everyone.  Art isn't a commodity to be sold, it needs to be brought to and valued by everyone, and we need to value all of our Artists.  Realistically, that isn't going to happen any time soon though.  (For example, in the USA we don't support the National Endowment of the Arts like we should, and politicians are obsessed with censoring Artists.)

The current system is totally screwed up though, and I have been pondering on how to change it.  Since Napster is about music I'll use that as an example and since my experience is in the USA I will be talking about how things are here, but I think the discussion can be generalized to most of the rest of the Art world.

Under the current system, at any given point in time, a few dozen musicians receive most of the attention and money.  At the same time thousands (if not millions) of song writers and musicians have either abandoned music or are living in poverty while they play in bar bands and such.  That just isn't right or fair, and I think that technology provides us with the opportunity to correct that injustice.

It gets cheaper every year to record music and even bar bands in Montana are now able to afford to record their music.  (The quality isn't as good as what a big corporation can produce, but they are still good.)  The trick now is how do we market and distribute their music?  How does a local bar band like Nine Pound Hammer here in Missoula, Montana sell their music to people in Sidney, London and LA?  I think Napster and similar sites hold the kernel of the answer.  

I suppose this could mean that national and international celebrities could make less money and be less powerful, but I am not convinced that it will.  Ultimately those musicians are getting only a small percentage of the money consumers spend on music, and the people who will be the big losers are the stock holders in big corporations that are currently packaging, marketing and distributing music.  I don't think that the goal is to take money from the pockets of musicians, but to take money from the pockets of corporations and give it to even more musicians.  Evolution is painful and corporations will lose money, but I think this step will empower more musicians and encourage the spread of music.

One problem I see with Napster and with using the web to distribute Art is that people have to move past the idea that if it's on the web it's free.  Until we move to a point of enlightenment where Artists are underwritten by the government (or something / someone else), consumers of Art need to tip the Artists and provide them with the resources necessary to pay their bills, so that they can devote their lives to creating more Art.  (I know lots of good Artists who have either had to give up Art or who do it in limited spare time, so that they can hold down jobs that will pay the rent and put food on the table.  (I know I would have written thousands more poems if I hadn't had to crunch numbers to pay the bills.)  (Those jobs steal time that could spent on Art, the jobs often times suck the life from the Artist, and not receiving external validation undermines the Artists confidence and discourages them from creating more Art.))

Another problem I see is marketing.  If the current trend continues large corporations will control the web.  If the only way to get noticed on the web is to be associated with a large corporate web site, then we won't evolve beyond the point where a few musicians sponsored by large corporations get most of the money; and the vast majority of musicians will continue to either live in poverty or abandon music.  The goal has to be to cut out the corporations and connect people to the Artists.  (Let the corporations have their factories filled with robots and machines, and let humans get back to creating and consuming Art.)

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