Returning to a Pre-Print Culture Understanding of Music

Returning to a Pre-Print Culture Understanding of Music

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Returning to a Pre-Print Culture Understanding of Music

If the Web technology like Napster is eventually incompatible with the current print based recording industry, which values individual works (i.e. records, CD’s, videos) as commodities, then the paradigm of the current music industry will have to be changed drastically. To bridge the gap, something akin to cable service, which uses a flat rate for basic service and then has add-ons like pay-per-view might be used to curb or at least contain free dissemination of files while still remaining lucrative. This does not change the current industry paradigm so much; it simply awards more commodity status to access than product. Last July, Bertelsmann and Napster CEO's met to discuss a subscription partnership. "Between the two of them, the price for a subscription to the new Napster was floated at somewhere between $4.99 and $15 a month" (Alderman, 171).

The problem with this solution is that many people may not be willing to pay for something that they have in the past acquired at no cost. It has been relatively easy to bypass security limitations placed on Napster, and in addition, similar applications have appeared to compete with Napster, or replace it in the event that access is blocked (i.e. Morpheus, Gnutella, Aimster [2]). A more effective solution might be one similar to what Grateful Dead lyricist John Barlow proposed in a 1994 issue of Wired: "Intellectual property law cannot be patched, retrofitted, or expanded to contain the gasses of digitized expression… We will need to develop an entirely new set of methods as befits this entirely new set of circumstances" (Alderman, 20).
To completely change the paradigm might involve going back to a pre-individualist, pre-high capitalist system. To keep the industry lucrative, the question that record labels, musicians, and other industry types should be asking themselves is not “How can we make money using existing copyright laws in the networked environment?” but “How can we still survive as an industry in an environment where copyright does not?”

A possible alternative, and an option that hearkens back to pre-print culture, is that musicians might be salaried on the basis that they provide a service. Their art would be free for public enjoyment, but the musicians themselves would be compensated on salary to ensure that music continued to be made at its current rate.

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Related Searches

This is not to say that the impetus for music is solely money; many musicians make music for no compensation whatsoever, and obviously, music existed before money could be made from it. The "Big Five" record companies, (Time Warner/AOL, BMG, Vivendi Universal, Sony Music and EMI) are close to guild structure already. Though not outright monopolies, in the near future Big Five are expected to coalesce into two major online services. Assuming that the services will function above the reach of piracy and in a profitable manner, then it might be possible to pay artists from consumer access fees rather than from content rights of copyrighted music. As Aldermann concludes, "There's a chance that the industry will live up to its own words and craft a solution that pays artists fairly, is not overly restrictive of fair use, and leaves the market open for broad tastes" (187).

The Internet is a medium, but a place as well. This relies on understanding the network environment as space created by computer to computer connections. Hence, the word cyberspace, first coined by author William Gibson. The physical intangibility of the cyberspace environment makes property a questionable concept, just as it's speed and interconnectivity as a medium undermine copyright. As we log onto the Internet, and move from page to page, sometimes intentionally, sometimes aimlessly, there is a certain nomadism in our actions. We pick up and collect information freely. It seems that software applications such as Napster, and the even more decentralized Morpheus (and hence better suited to defend itself against accusations of piracy complicity), serve to settle the nomadic urge of the user, as long as good services are provided. By scanning another user's files, we can not only download songs specifically searched for, but also download other songs from a person with similar taste, and more easily discover music and expand markets for genres and artists that go unnoticed. Metaphorically speaking, applications like these may help the record industry teach digital consumers how to farm for their music instead of scavenge for it. At the very least, expensive but expansive applications might serve put up some fences but also supply attractive features to the consumers who have already taught themselves "digital farming" on Napster and similar programs. At the same time, royalties might be taken from the sales of these programs and given to artists, much like the royalties collected from the sale of blank cassette tapes.

If we recognize that the nature of the Web as a medium and space that undermines concepts belonging to print culture such as authorship and copyright, then a case can be made for arguing that we are entering an era of what some theorists call "secondary orality". Oral culture's primary medium was speech; we look to a future with nominally one medium, the Internet interface that will eventually include all types of media. If the computer creates space, it is logical to believe that sensory extensions (technology) of types will be developed to experience that space more fully, just as our five senses allow us to experience our real life surroundings.

The survival of print-based capitalism depends on using the multimedia future as virtual performance. A full sensory (and hence full media, if all media are extensions of our senses) holodeck might fully realize this secondary orality. The music fan might still buy records and tapes, but these media would be surpassed in popularity and technology by the holodeck. For instance, in Victorian England, writers were the equivalent of today's movie stars, based on the strength of the medium they inhabit. Victorian England's major medium was the written word; the present day is the image culture of film and television. Back to our holodeck, a music fans could insert themselves into the band's video, much like the teenage boy lusting after Alicia Silverstone does in Aerosmith's video "Amazing". Or, the user might recreate a symphony performance at Music Hall in Cincinnati, replicating not only the acoustics of the building but also the nuances of the individual players and the feel of the seats.

For the time being, it might be that advertising will become even more prevalent than ever, while access is relatively unlimited. As a friend has suggested, "You could be taking a supermodel out on a virtual date and then she'd turn into a home loan ad halfway through dinner."
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