A reader writes:
I saw your post on David Lowery's response to the controversial NPR piece on paying for music and I felt compelled to point out he's not just a lecturer at the University of Georgia. He was the leader of two beloved bands – Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. His post earlier this year is a terrific introduction to the issues.
David Lowery makes some good points, but notice on that chart that peak CD sales was around 1999 and digital sales were not even offered until around 2004 – and then almost as an experiment. How much self inflicted damage did the industry do to itself by entering the 21st century almost a decade late? Imagine if CDs were held back by the industry until the 1990s, out of fear that the audio quality was too good. Lowery and others in the industry would love to blame 20 year olds like Emily White, but they never seem to find fault in themselves for completely misreading their market when it mattered most.
Another goes for the jugular:
I speak as a music journalist, and someone who has been covering music file-sharing and its effects on the industry over the past few years. Every music journalist I've spoken to has an opinion on Ms. White's article, not a lot of it good. I myself think NPR made a poor and lazy hiring decision. But I think it deserves special mention that David Lowery is pulling quite a few of his claims out of his ass, perhaps out of sense of his own failure as a musician. For example, in the case of concert revenue, if no money has ever been made on the road anyway, then why is it that major labels now take a cut of concert revenue as part of their contract deals with new artists? Wouldn't it be pointless to ask for that?
More importantly, though, Mr. Lowery really did something heinous in his response to Ms. White: He exploited the memory and legacy of revered musicians Mark Linkous and Vic Chesnutt to his own benefit by claiming that their suicides were due to them not earning enough off record sales. Not only are these claims far-fetched at best and downright false at worst – especially in the case of Mr. Chesnutt, a quadriplegic who had a history of suicide attempts – but he also flouts the related issue of inadequate health-care for musicians by claiming that this wouldn't be a problem if they were earning more, which I think this site has gone a long way of showing otherwise. It is not Ms. White's, or anyone's, fault that these tormented musicians are no longer with us, and to blame someone's tragic end on someone's downloading habits is preposterous. In addition, guilt-tripping people into donating to the American Heart Association because another musician (Alex Chilton of Big Star) died of a heart attack is very poor form under any circumstance.
We do need an honest discussion on the moral and ethical implications of file-sharing, and the chatter amongst the journalists I'm seeing right now seems to indicate that it's now happening. But we're not getting it from a bitter, washed-up musician whose attempts at calling for an "ethical" Internet seem more intended for his selfish ends than towards balancing out the benefits and handicaps of new technology.
Another goes into the weeds:
I am a 24 year old, who recently underwent the same transition that Emily White describes. Around my senior year in college I realized that completely free music is not a sustainable model. This was precipitated by several things: my transition into the work force (and paid labor), a more complex understanding of the world from 4 years of university study, and personally knowing struggling musicians. So while I'll admit to illegally obtaining music during my youth, now that I have disposable income I get all my music legally. Considering this I have a lot of empathy for Ms. White, and understand her original post to boil down to a question. What will resolve the old business with the new technology so that we all benefit?
That brings me to David Lowery's response. It's was called "compassionate" by the LA Times music blog, and is generally being described as a well reasoned response to an unapologetic miscreant. And going into the article I was quite prepared to be on Mr. Lowery's side. But then every single paragraph just piled on the condescension.
He wants to personalize the story for us by giving specific examples, and he turns to Mark Linkous and Vic Chestnutt. Two men who have a history of addiction and depression. And Mr. Lowery wants us to believe that filesharing caused their tragic suicide. Doesn't he know of any sound engineers who have been laid off? Or great musicians who left the game because there wasn't any money in it? Those kinds of stories have a direct link to the decline of the recording industry. Instead we get the biggest guilt trip imaginable based on unfounded assertions. May I ask why Kurt Cobain died? Perhaps Van Gogh was concerned about art forgery.
After this Mr. Lowery presents us with a pretty shoddy mathematical analysis from which he concludes that Ms. White "owes" musicians over $2000, or about $18 a month over 10 years. Then he discusses other things that college students spend their money on. Stuff like smartphones and MacBooks, which he seems to think are exclusively tools for consuming music. Never mind that a $1000 laptop is a very serious investment, and that it is virtually impossible for a young person to even apply to a job without internet access now.
One item he gets pretty tremendously wrong is tuition at American University. He claims its about $2086 a month. I think this is based on this site from American University. He takes the tuition of $18,777 and divides by 9 months of school. However, it pretty clearly states that rates are listed per semester, and a typical semester at college is 4 month long. That means that the monthly cost of tuition is actually $4695! Additionally, a single year of tuition is $37,554. Merely by attending college Ms. White is in the hole for one average musician's earnings. Many college students have to take out loans to buy lunch. Paying for niceties like music winds up pretty far down the list. A bit surprising considering he teaches at a college, but Mr. Lowery has NO CLUE what decisions about spending a college student makes.
You did not stake a position on this one, so I guess thanks for listening to me rant.
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