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how appetite for free content starves creativity



So Chris Ruen has written a new book and I listened to his interview on Monocle Weekly, where he makes a point that "our insatiable hunger for free content starves creativity" (right as on the cover). 

Another day, another book on how free is destroying culture. You know what, I kind of agree, but only kind of. He didn't really offer a solution in that interview. That's wise, the digital transition is a very recent thing. But it won't make me buy his book.

Chris Ruen is quick to blame tech giants such as Google for this (boy did I feel the same when Aquanaut hit the interweb). In the mean time, Apple are running a "What will your verse be" campaign with the voice of none other than Robin Williams (RIP) so, yeah, you get the vibe.

He says the culprit is not specifically free culture, but that "we're dealing with a black market for creativity". I feel the same when I see content trafficked across sites (internet-digitally-geographically-speaking). Before you say that is a stupid statement, I'll give you an example: I put something on Bandcamp - free to listen, paid to download, no ads. I put a copy of that same thing on SoundCloud - free to listen, no ads. Now whatever else you find for free to download (many) or stream (yes indeed!), is paid for by ads, and I've checked (n/a to rss-torrent and ftp-era species). All kinds of imagery, from innocuous stuff, all the way to obscenities, pushed before my, your, everyone's eyes. This is time, energy, mood, to process, ignore those banners, or close those popups. Before you point out Adblock, read on their site - "we let some ads get through because that way we get paid". It does costs *you* nothing money-wise, but times a thousand, it's a dollar in someone's pocket, that someone not being the artist.

Ruen says paywalls work. Maybe they do, but I doubt they do for music. Otherwise I would know at least one artist who recommends publishing work on Rdio or Spotify. So maybe they need to be individual paywalls - no long tail in the middleman's business plans?

The powerful play goes on and on and, I'm told, I may contribute a verse. 

And so Chris Ruen says we, artists, should speak up. But I heard no mentions of, say, regulation that Ad networks should not publish on file lockers, which to me makes much more sense. Or maybe that artists get better educated about major labels. Only an accusation that the tech giants are ruining the party for everyone - the same crap that's been in circulation for years. It's obvious that listener culture, education, these are required things (no question). Maybe a few laws that haven't been corrupted from the get go (probably). Some decency from the tech companies (impossible). So who should we, artists, speak up to, or about? I love my audience for buying my music (they do). I like Google for making my site discoverable. If I'd like to speak up, it's to people that never replied to my emails asking them to be nice and exclude me from their piggybacking business.. but they don't listen.

Maybe we should recognise the delicate position of the publishers - investing into flooding the media leads to profit, including on proportional payout basis. But high quantity of content translates to either lower quality or poor relationships between the originators and agents of content. Evidence of this is everywhere. But companies are profit-driven so to screw the artists makes sense from a business standpoint. Look at the new artists and new listeners queues if in doubt. 

Ruen makes an argument that the artists deserve a cut from ads. You know what? They deserve the revenue of any ad that started playing instead of their track. But even if that is the case, going back to flooded catalogues and bespoke deals, unless the pay scale is very non-linear, you can see that's no solution either.

A short interview, but I don't remember hearing anything about middlemen, only blame on tech companies (being unwanted dealers) or the audience (being uneducated about the perils of free downloading).

What I've found over 15 years of getting music out to people, is that always some middleman wants to get in. And then, sooner or later, they fuck up the ecosystem. Not that historically the ecosystem has been very well.. 

No, your appetite for free content is just fine. But please do me a favour: next time you're in the middle of a transaction, paid or not, look at your favourite middleman, and ask yourself if they have the artists' interest at heart?


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