|Cheaper than everything but outright piracy|
The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug-collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
Like, everyone is sitting on mountains of free and illicit stuff they're never going to have the time to use, but they've gathered it because they can. Following are some thoughts on what this means to professional musicians, and the economy of our business:
Internet music is infinite, you are finite.
Wonderful, you have a couple of terabytes of music you got for free, and unlimited streaming of all the music in the world, for free or for a pittance. You're still one individual linear consciousness with 16-18 waking hours in a day, with a limited amount of time available for serious, focused listening. Professionals are focused listeners. You don't need all that, and you're never going to use it.
Streaming is not acceptable for professional musicians.
I don't care if you can pull up the entire Red Garland catalog instantly for no money on Spotify, you have to have a library. You can't have your library existing on a server somewhere, at the pleasure of whatever streaming service, who can change the rules any time they want, as can their licensors. If you've used Netflix streaming, you are aware that movies are pulled from circulation seemingly at random— either Netflix decided not to offer them any more, or a licensor pulled them, or a contract expired or fell through. An author who doesn't own any books, who just uses a Kindle, would be deeply suspect. You're supposed to be a serious musician, which means your studio is full of music stuff.
You have to pay. And you have to pay the right people. And as much as possible, that should be local people. Yes, you are a poor artist doing God's work by dedicating your life to music, but there is a cost of admission. And that cost is all your money during your youth— other than what you spend on food, beer, rudimentary body-coverings. You can put that money into your local economy, where it will get into the hands of people who may come to your shows, and talk about you, and it will mean something because you have a thriving local music scene, because you put your money into it... and so on. Or you can send your money, never to be seen again in your community, directly to some people in Sweden, or Seattle, or Denmark, or Silicone Valley— who may know/care jack squat about music, but who wrote some computer code. Meanwhile your local scene has starved to death, because the myriad small transactions that are its lifeblood have dried up— the people who used to have music-related jobs are all doing something else for a living, and don't have time hear music or talk to much of anyone any more.
Music costs money, but it doesn't cost that much money. I don't care how broke you are, you can afford all the CDs you will have time to listen to seriously. I bought a used LP of Nefertiti in 1983 for $3, and then this new CD of it in 2015 for $5. That's a pretty small price for something you're going to listen to for the rest of your life. A record store I frequent has hundreds of scuffed copies of great, essential CDs for $2-4 each. With the massive CD reissuing of the entire modern history of jazz over the last 25 years, you'll find just about everything you want sooner or later, if you adopt the scavenging, record store-loitering habits we all used to have.
What's really going on, part 1: selling at a loss to starve the competition
What companies like Spotify are trying to do is drive the cost of recorded music down to near zero, to drive everyone else out of business, at which point they can charge you whatever they want. And their advertising revenue will skyrocket— you'll be paying to be advertised to, just like with cable TV. Which, if you haven't noticed, sucks. The clearest evidence of this is that, as successful as Spotify and Pandora have been, they are not making money. They're just trying to hold out selling music wildly below cost— they're undercharging the public, and underpaying artists— until everyone else dies.
What's really going on, part 2: no, spend all of your money on hardware!
Companies like Apple— which was always a hardware company— want media to be free, so you can spend all your money on their newest techno-bauble device every eight months. And, transfixed as everyone is by that little touch screen, they're doing it. Finding myself with time to kill in a shopping mall recently, I could not find a book or record store, but there was a bustling Apple store, full of diffused white light, and a lot of excited, energized people for whom this was clearly the best day of their year; when they can finally get a NEW DEVICE, which temporarily satisfies some non-specific desire to see MORE DAZZLING THINGS appear on the micro-fairyland of the touch screen.
The point here is not to demand that we go back to the golden age of my teenage years, when everything was great; it's to be thinking about what our real needs are as professional musicians; and to illustrate how the current thing is at odds with what serious musicians have always done; and to be thinking about economy of the business we're in, and about how we participate in it in a way that serves our interests. In these discussions people will say, as if on cue, what tech companies are doing now = the future, and to be opposed to those companies means just absurdly trying to turn back the clock. That's untrue. These companies are just the latest iteration of a long history of self-interested people trying to grab other people's money. Some of them are making the world a better place, some of them are outright evil, none of them were anointed by God almighty to be the guaranteed future of everything.