What kind of impact does music have in our world?
Music is the art form that travels with us through every aspect of our lives. We listen to music while we grow, while we learn, while we play. We hear music while we shop, while we clean, while we drive. We listen to music while we work out, meditate, fuck, sleep. There is music for working, music for reading, music for cats. We can listen passively or actively, we can switch between those two modes at will. Music changes the shape of our brains, it engages us even when we don't know we are being engaged.
Music is so important to us that we forget how valuable it is. It has become like water, like air, always around us. And like water or air we are are starting to consider it a human need and a human right. And we should! But music needs musicians too and musicians can't survive on water and air alone.
What can we do to ensure that artists' voices are heard?
Stop giving corporations all the power (a.k.a. your money.)
Part of what gets lost in the conversation about what is better for musicians is that we all want a world that is also better for listeners. You really do not want all your music coming from one or two or ten companies. That would be horrible. And yet, that's what we have.
Streaming is amazing technology but there are only a handful of streaming sites. They are all owned and controlled by corporations who do not care about music (except maybe TIDAL? - for now) The individuals within those organizations may care about music, they may care a lot, I'm sure they are all wonderful people with vibrant and nuanced personal lives and feelings, but the corporate mandate is to make money. If streaming sites could make more money with less music they would. If they could make a trillion dollars selling a single song to all of us they would not hesitate for a second to strip the world of anything but that single song.
Even the dubiously moral torrenting sites are turning into 100% corporate leeches making millions in advertising off the enabling of payment circumvention. Turns out major labels were the nicest corporations ever to make money screwing over musicians.
Content corporations are only part of the problem though.
When artists can't make enough money to support themselves directly through their art they turn to corporate cash. We make money from licensing deals and product placement. We sell toothpaste and insurance and GMO corn, anything that will get us the cash to keep making music, to keep eating.
Corporations hold the power over what musicians decide to make based on what is being licensed these days. Will indie banjo music bring in the personal hygiene money? Will folk-electronica sell a car? We're letting corporations dictate what gets made because licensing is the only money left. Unless you "win" the streaming lottery. And good luck with that.
Sure, a few talented people with clear artistic visions will break through every now and then, keeping the old chestnut of "talent and hard work" alive, but that's not enough. Why squander the talent and diversity of the voices we have access to now by rebuilding the same structures we sought to dismantle a decade ago? The corporate content hegemony is worse than ever and we're stuck squabbling over the pitiful amounts of money our streaming overlords let slip through their grasp, or clinging to ad agencies and music supervisors like life rafts.
Moral of the story = give artists cash, and lots of it, at every opportunity. Go to shows, pay for downloads, buy merch, subscribe.
Compliments are nice, but cash is better. Compliments reflect the past, but cash ensures the future. And we all want to survive.
By Kim Boekbinder, distributed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license.
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