Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The future of art in the age of the Internet

Is there a living to be made in the future as a musician?   Some of my more musically inclined friends are currently facing this dilemma.  How can the average up and coming musician expect to make enough money to sustain themselves while pursuing their artistic passion?  The internet has created an environment where no one has to pay for any music if they choose not to.  I can empathize with their struggles.  But like everyone else I also take advantage of the convenience that so-called “piracy” gives us.  I’m not particularly opinionated either way.  On one hand I can see that the internet is breaking down so many barriers, some we didn't even know existed.  I see the widespread distribution of all information as a very good thing.  But I’m also aware that people need to be able to feed themselves and pay rent.    

The attitude for creation

lately I’ve been an evangelical preacher about pursuing what you are passionate about.  To a point where it may be irritating for those around me.  If you find something you are passionate about and have the freedom to pursue it, I believe you have to dedicate your life to that pursuit.  If you think you don’t have a passion, I believe you must drop everything in order to discover that passion.  At a certain level, pursuing a passion requires great sacrifice.  You may not be able to support a spouse or family.  You may not be able to dedicate yourself to school or higher education.  You may have to live in poverty.  But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you’re an aspiring artist, realize that you will have to give up many things to become a master.  But it should feel like a duty to give yourself to the higher cause of art.  If you really believe you are an artist or creator, it shouldn't feel like a choice to pursue it.  I think this attitude is going to be crucially important as we move into the internet age

The cult of personality.  

We live in a society where we worship musicians.  I obsess over and idolize many bands.  Hell, I even got a Iron Maiden logo tattooed on my leg when I was 20.  When someone gets to that kind of immortal status as an artist, it’s no longer just about the art.  The art becomes secondary to the person who created it.  You become more like a prophet or mythical figure.  If the band Rush releases anything new, I eat it up like candy.  I’m almost unable to recognize it’s true artistic value objectively.  When we get into the same livelihood as those we idolize, we work with the far-fetched distant fantasy in the back our minds where that kind of success is possible.  A fantasy though it is, we still realistically expect to be recognized individually for the art we create.  Because we have a sense of “owning” that which we create.  This ego driven desire, causes a need to be personally recognized for the art we create. When someone appreciates our art, we want to be known as the person who created it.  

The problem with the music “industry”

Perhaps the environment that produced a “music industry” in the first place was itself, unbalanced.  The music scene of the past century has been of an ego-driven and fame based nature.  Because of its democratic nature, the internet is now just revealing the true value of the art.  Maybe the internet is just revealing the realistic expectations we should have about artistic pursuits.     

The concept of owning art doesn't exactly jive with my sense of fairness.  Music as a commodity doesn't make sense to me.  If a piece of music can be recorded and replicated infinite times, what are you selling exactly?  Certainly its not a scarce resource.  From my understanding of economics, I think at the most basic level, there is no way that information like music can be “sold”.  The only reason there ever was a market for music is because of the method that music used to be delivered.  Either by radio or solid media like tapes, CDs or vinyl were the only way you could hear music.  It cost manufacturers and radio stations to distribute this music.  So the only commodity that was actually being sold were the time and services of those with the platform on which to distribute it.  This is probably how we ended up with an over inflated value on popular music and a small population of millionaire musicians.  But the internet has now destroyed any kind of scarcity of distribution to speak of.  How now shall we determine the monetary value of music?   

Plus, the skill it requires to produce music is decreasing.  I’m afraid to insult any electronic music fans here but, I doubt it requires as much effort to create a Deadmau5 album than a Van Halen record.  There aren't many actual instruments being played in dubstep or techno.  Should the effort it took to create a piece of art equal the cost to buy it? There are many unanswerable questions when it comes to knowing how to pay musicians.

The only option moving forward is voluntary donation directly to the artists.  I really don’t see many other ways. But I’m trying to be optimistic about the future, I’m not discounting the unseen possibilities.

Music as the exception

Why does the music industry seem like its the only victim of this market shift? I think nearly all forms of art are going to be affected by the gargantuan presence of the internet.  If not directly affecting the platform to distribute it, its changing people’s attitudes towards art.  The necessity to purchase the results of creativity is no longer there.  We don’t feel obligated to pay for anything creative anymore. I don’t know, but perhaps thats the way things should be.  This keeps the artists free from any financial motivations that may taint the pure passion of their art.  We’ve all heard the story of the once great musician, comedian or actor who “sells out”.     

Here I am, publishing blogs for the world to read without any need for a magazine, newspaper or journal.  Granted it’s a very small audience at the moment, but it doesn't stop me from writing passionately about the things I care about.  I write to hone my craft.  I write because I feel like I have to.

My blogs aren't my “intellectual property” to sell.  It would be ridiculous to expect to be paid with money every time someone read my blog.  I’m just ecstatic that one person took time out of their day to read what I have to say.  My blogs are my own exercises in writing.  They are a growing and (hopefully) improving collective body of unique work on which I try to build an honest intellectual reputation.        

In regards to the music “industry” this may be a helpful attitude for up-and-comers.  Things aren’t going to be like they used to.  But I think there is a place in the world for every passionate individual with a little talent.  Don’t ever expect to get financially compensated for what you do, just be excited someone wants to hear your stuff.  Just keep putting all your passion and effort into this and maybe one day you’ll get what you feel you deserve.