Friday, September 2, 2005


"Rich" and Famous

While riding the bus home from work several months ago I noticed a young urban black man who was intensely looking over the rap CD that he had just purchased from a local music chain store. I found this rather amusing because I knew I could go home and obtain that same music for free by downloading it from newgroups on the internet. This young black man did not know how to download music and was forced to pay the fee of over $14.00 for a shiny pressed piece of plastic they contained the music that he so desperately wanted to hear. It dawned on me at this point that the value of the music was not the $14.00 he had spent. The value was in the young black man's ability to obtain it. The music was not worth $14.00, the price for his ignorance was $14.00.

This has been in the back of my mind for some time. What is the concept of art and its value in terms of money? I know that what I'm about to say will cause a lot of people grief and anger. I believe that this grief is due to the blinders that we tend to put on because society tells us to. We are told by Capitol Records and their lawyers, "It has simply been this way in the past and therefore it should always be this way into the future."

With the advent of the Internet and the compression of global society the idea that artists can make money from selling reproductions of their art and live from the royalties seems somewhat arcane. Anything that can be digitized, such as music or video or artwork cannot really be controlled or profited from in this day and age. The ability to duplicate, cut and paste, and e-mail any type of digital artwork means that its value is only that which is related to one's ability to obtain it. If I can download 10,000 songs, all of which I enjoy listening to, how much are those songs worth? Ninety nine cents a song? $10,000? $100?

However, the unseen benefit to being able to obtain these songs for a nominal fee, or for free, is that I get to experience a broader range of music and have the potential to hear and appreciate music I otherwise would never have heard. Thereby, wanting to experience more music (artwork) than I otherwise would have been able to afford.

This gets back the concept of the value being in the performance, not in the royalties from the reproduction. The value to the performer would be the performance on the song, or the original piece (such as a signed photograph) or a commissioned work. I don't believe that Beethoven got 25 Viennese Francs every time the 9th Symphony was played, but he is considered a great artist. Chritine Aguilara gets $2 for ever CD she sells and we think that she will be remembered in 300 years?

The people that don't want you to think this way, are those that are already entrenched in the old system and don't want it to change. They see the 'rights' to music as a commodity. Michael Jackson bought the Beatles music catalog as an investment. Not for it's artistic value. There is a difference. The record companies have vested infrastructure in promoting and reaping the royalties from radio station and the like. But this has all been leap-frogged by the Internet. Instantaneous digital duplication has made music distribution obsolete, unless you are that poor urban black man on the bus, who was paying a price for his ignorance.

The written word can be considered the same way. Does J.K. Rowling really deserve the millions of dollars for writing was is essentially an ornate children's book, while Noam Chomsky goes almost un-noticed? The ability of a great writer comes in their ability to create the great work. Books are available to be printed on demand over the Internet from many authors now and are also available on e-books (particularly fun to read on a Palm Pilot), in which the author makes direct profit from his work, as long as it is fresh and inspiring.

This is just part of the new world order. The digital planet. A place with no middle men. There are those that will resist this violently. But it is a death struggle and they cannot win in the long run. But as long as they keep fighting, I am going to open up a Rap CD store in the poorer part of town. There is money to be made in ignorance. And lord knows, 50 Cent and Nelly need all the royalties they can get.