What We're Reading Today: Steve Albini on the State of the Music Industry


Everyone collectively and weirdly went nuts last week or whenever it was that Taylor Swift announced she was leaving Spotify (despite plenty of other artists — Thom Yorke, for example — already kicking this debate around with more vocal arguments). 

It's one major narrative in the music industry's ongoing ups and downs these days. Steve Albini, prolific music producer and musician, spoke in Melbourne recently and tried to swivel the argument toward greener and more relevant pastures. His keynote address is a nice primer to the other side of the debate. To begin:
I hear from some of my colleagues that these are rough times: that the internet has cut the legs off the music scene and that pretty soon nobody will be making music anymore because there’s no money in it...

So there is a tacit assumption that this money, lost money, needs to be replaced and a lot of energy has been spent arguing from where that money will come. Bitchiness about this abounds, with everybody insisting that somebody else should be paying him, but that he shouldn’t have to pay for anybody else. I would like to see an end to this dissatisfaction. 
He goes on to argue that, amid the unrelenting ascent of record labels through the 1970s, 80s and 90s (the money! the money!), the DIY punk rock movement ushered in a brilliant era of independent recording and distribution. That was great, and at least two generations of listeners grew up with that. But... "That’s what we lost when the internet made everything available everywhere for free. And make no mistake about it, we have lost it," Albini says. But still... "In the blink of an eye music went from being rare, expensive and only available through physical media in controlled outlets to being ubiquitous and free worldwide. What a fantastic development."

None of that is really pleasing to the likes of Swift and Yorke, though, whose industry-wide omnipresence and respective recognition don't benefit at all from mass access. Swift's 1989 will be the only album to go platinum this year; why would she want her music to stream over something like Spotify? Duh. But Swift is the .01 percent to the music scene's 99.9 percent. 

The Internet has, in short, inverted the old structure of the record industry. "I cannot overstate how important a development that is...Bands now have default control of their exposure," Albini says.

And for the listeners? Here's the nut of Albini's argument: 
Imagine a great hall of fetishes where whatever you felt like fucking or being fucked by, however often your tastes might change, no matter what hardware or harnesses were required, you could open the gates and have at it on a comfy mattress at any time of day. That’s what the internet has become for music fans. Plus bleacher seats for a cheering section. 
Ardent music fans, in turn, become more ardent and spend more money (on live shows, merchandise, travel, etc.). The collective bemoaning that we need someone with the star power of Taylor Swift or whoever to save the music industry is misplaced. THE BEST MUSIC EVER RECORDED is all out there, waiting for you to listen and tune in and get all jazzed up and obsessed and then to push you toward even more great music. The best music that hasn't yet been recorded, well, it's easier than ever to record it.

Read the whole thing here

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