Music: Teach your children that music isn’t free
Free Press Music Columnist
Parents of the world… Grab your coffee. Have a seat. I gotta rant.
Your children — yes, yours — are growing up under a grave misapprehension. I wrote here a couple weeks ago about the plight of songwriters in the modern world, how they increasingly cannot make a living thanks to an antiquated royalties system that hasn’t changed since before iTunes was a thing. But the problem is even greater than that. We are on the verge of a musical armageddon. A rock n’ roll Ragnarok. It may already be too late. If there’s any hope at all, young mother or father, it is up to you.
You must teach your children: Music isn’t free.
I know, I know. You love your Spotify, your Pandora, your Rdio or Beats Music or Google Play Music or any of the other seemingly countless cloud streaming all-you-can-eat model music services that are sprouting up like goathead in a vacant lot. The convenience, the variety, the ubiquity. I know you don’t miss having to get up to drop a CD in the player. I know you don’t want to have to flex your index finger muscles a few times to load an MP3 player — because jeez, why should you? Not when one swipe on the ol’ Spotify icon can keep you rolling in tunes all day.
But your children are watching. They are watching you destroy music.
There are kids today who don’t understand the notion that YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO PAY FOR MUSIC. First there was commercial radio, then Napster, then YouTube, and now there is Spotify and its ilk. Nearly two decades have passed since people routinely forked over bucks for songs. Our culture has been slowly, ever so slowly, chopping body parts off songwriters and musicians like they were characters in the longest “Saw” movie ever.
I’ve heard the arguments from the other side: That the music industry was a bloated pig before. (It was.) That musicians mostly make their music from concert box office anyway. (They do.) That information wants to be free. (It does.)
But all of these retorts fail to acknowledge the complexities of the musical ecosystem. You may be saying: “Wait a minute. Some of us pay for our Spotify!” What? Eight bucks a month? Not even the cost of one album for unlimited music? This past week, Van Dyke Parks, the great songwriter, said that in the past, if he wrote a song with Ringo Starr, it would pay for a new house. Now, at the rate of return on streaming revenues, it would net him approximately $80.
The bottom line is: If songwriters can’t get paid to write songs, songs will not be written. Not, at least, in great number. The golden age of popular music will be a distant memory. That which was thriving and churning and roiling with life will become desiccated and inert and, eventually, begin to smell bad. (Maybe we’re already there.)
So what can be done? Bills have been introduced in both the Senate and the House to modernize the rules governing songwriting royalties. That’s a start. But it won’t matter unless you — YOU — teach your children that music isn’t air, that someone labored greatly to produce that spectacular combination of notes and harmonies and beats, and that such labor deserves to be fairly compensated. Teach them that or, the Village People to the contrary, they will learn you CAN stop the music.
Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog. He also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog: http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog. You may find him on Facebook as well.
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