Sunday, June 9, 2013

why he no longer gives away his music / make yourself scarce / "stop working for free"

The "decommodification" of music - it sounds like such a good thing, doesn't it? At least to your average Left-minded sort. Sticking it to the corporate Man; freeing what should be literally price-less from its reified husk. But it hasn't really worked out that way, let's be honest....

Viz. the testimony of avant-gardist Bob Ostertag, who decided to put all his music online for free seven years ago, but has now concluded that this wasn't such a good move:

"... I have learned that “accessing” music and actually listening to it are two different things.
Free downloading has created a kind of collector or hoarder who is unique to the digital age. In
my university classes, I query my students about their downloading habits, and everyone who is
deeply into music has figured out how to download music for free, despite the best efforts of the
record business to stop them, and have far, far more music downloaded to their laptops and iPods
than they will ever have time to listen to in their entire lives. Gigabytes and gigabytes of
meaningless data. These same students invariably report that they have actually listened to all the
music they paid for

"If a virtual tree falls in a virtual forest and no one opens the file, does it still make a sound?
This is a real conundrum. If by “commons” we mean, say, communally owned pastures in
England, we are talking about finite resources that were valued as such and cared for accordingly
by the surrounding community. But if by “commons” we mean a vast expanse of server farms
that seems capable of expanding without meaningful limit, then we are speaking of something
very different. Have I cheapened my music by not monetizing its recorded artifact?

The value of scarcity is that scarcity creates value. That applies whether it's a limited edition print or it's a performance that only a certain number of people can get to attend. It also applies to the lifespan of an individual. Even when there is a potentially unlimited number of copies available -- a priced musical recording, or a book, or whatever, that goes into reprint - the scarcity-value is still created, in relation to the scarcity of your economic resources. (People who don't  have limits on their spending power quickly discover that value becomes voided -  viz, Citizen Kane / William Randolph Hearst, buying up all those treasures and art works and antiques from Europe, getting them shipped over in giant crates, never opening them up or enjoying them).
There might be other ways of creating value, but simply removing an existing apparatus of value and hoping for the best, well it's not really worked out with music. 

All this chimes in with this week's much-talked about manifesto from Barney Hoskyns exhorting culture-workers not to give their work away for free:


Calling all freelance content providers (musicians, writers, actors, photographers, designers etc):

Join me in WITHDRAWING UNPAID LABOUR from the creative and media industries.

The exploitation of freelance content providers has gone on too long, and we are all responsible for letting it happen.

Please do not:

• Write, act, photograph or design for free

• Provide images, music or performances for free

• Do radio or television interviews for free

If a company or corporation asks you to provide your time and skills for nothing, TURN IT DOWN. You have nothing to lose by saying NO.

If you have any concern at all for your economic future as a content provider – and for the future of subsequent generations of such providers – please don't ignore this issue.

PASS THE WORD ON to any content providers you know – and join the Facebook page Stop Working For Free

Further thoughts for those with a slightly longer attention span…


• If you allow yourself to be seduced by the myth that your unpaid labour will "look good on your c.v." (or equivalent blah), please try to see that you jeopardise not only the welfare of your replaceable elders but your OWN long-term economic future.

• You set up a paradigm whereby you in turn become replaceable. The rolling exploitation of unpaid workers and perpetual interns is based on a false notion of deferred reward.

• If we do not start demanding recompense, ultimately humans will have no value. As Jaron Lanier states in his essential new book WHO OWNS THE FUTURE?, "Capitalism only works if there are enough successful people to be the customers."

• How is it that our online habits have huge big-data value to tax-avoidant entities like Google, Facebook and Amazon yet NO VALUE WHATSOEVER when we request payment for our contributions to the networked information economy?

• We must return to the core humanist principle of valuing not just institutions and material things but actual living humans.

• If the present economic paradigm prevails, it will vindicate Margaret Thatcher's contention that there is no such thing as society. Wouldn't it be nice to prove her wrong?


• If you are making money from the labour of others, then you should share that wealth with them.

• If you knowingly exploit somebody while telling yourself, "Why would I pay someone if s/he's willing to work for nothing?", how do you sleep at night?

• If you habitually hire interns, at what point does their work experience end? At what point does somebody actually become WORTH PAYING?

• The culture of internship and work experience sustains class inequality, because only privileged kids can work for free. Only THEY receive the economic subsidy the government withholds from those born poor and with little hope of educational betterment.

• This is not only a moral but a MARKET imperative. In the long term markets will collapse if there aren't enough people sharing in the wealth.

[further discussion of the manifesto at its Facebook page]

(Of course, this blog - these blogs - are a form of unpaid labour, arguably. Except I don't really see it as work. More like mental hygiene)

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