By FMC’s Casey Rae
This week, my inbox and social feed exploded with links to a keynote address given by engineer, musician and raconteur Steve Albini at the Face the Music conference in Melbourne, Australia. Then came another deluge concerning a rebuttal by Joseph Steinhardt of the independent label Don Giovanni Records.
At first, I was thrilled to be discussing something other than Taylor Swift and Spotify, but then I got a bit annoyed at the binary nature of the debate. Those in support of Albini tended to be musicians from older generations who in earlier years struggled with basic issues like access to audiences. Those moved by Steinhardt tended to be disillusioned about the economics of music today, accompanied by a general fatigue that comes with trying to cut through a noisy marketplace.
I won’t rehash the points made by either gentleman (which you can read here and here). Both critiques are relevant in the sense that they describe aspects of the challenges and opportunities of making a life in music. However, in both pieces there is a tendency towards totalizing one’s individual experience—however valid—and applying that to the music community writ large. This leaves a lot out, including other genres, genders, cultures, races, ages, business approaches and creative ambitions.
Albini is correct that “the Internet” has made it easier to do a whole host of things that used to be cost and labor intensive—from the actual distribution of music to promoting a show to booking a tour and so forth—that’s why FMC has always been pro-innovation. On the other hand, musicians and composers are facing new challenges, such as (another) major shift in how music is accessed and creators compensated. This is accompanied by an growing sense that the ‘net as we know it is in danger of being co-opted and corporatized in ways that aren’t helpful to creators.
All of this makes us even more committed to FMC’s overarching goal: a diverse musical culture where artists flourish, are compensated fairly for their work, and where fans can find the music they want.
And it’s why that, in addition to issues around artist compensation and leverage, we pay so much attention to the broader media ecosystem. If you’re a smaller label like Don Giovanni Records, it’s crucial to understand the importance of net neutrality—which is what allows you to compete against the giant labels and their distribution partners (like the big tech services).
It’s also why FMC pushes back on megamergers between ISPs and content companies. It’s why we still care about media ownership. Because creators and fans and local communities deserve to have their voices heard and have a say in shaping their own scenes.
Albini’s assessment of the “old industry” rings pretty true for those of us who lived it. And a lot of what Joe Steinhardt says about the shortcoming of “today’s industry” is also on point. But ultimately, we’re less concerned with whose analysis is the most profound. We care about making things suck less by either yardstick.
Both pieces are helpful in that they create opportunities for dialog, which in turn can open up opportunities for positive change. This change will take effort and more collaboration than perhaps the music sector is used to. But understand that a brighter future for music is hardly a pipe dream. We’re committed to this work, and we invite you to join us.
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