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Net audio and netlabels

May 15, 2011

I’ve just returned from a music-related conference where various speakers spouted orthodox Marxist mantras about capitalism’s evils and baffled most of the audience with long-winded, arcane, clever-speak – but they did touch on some interesting points and did ask some interesting questions in among it all.

One question was whether music was post-capitalist, by which the speaker meant that as no-one is buying music any more, it’s not part of the capitalist economic structure any more. Someone pointed out that, as music is everywhere these days, it still is part of the system but it’s just somewhere else within it and maybe its importance has changed. They then talked about how major music artists are signing to supermarkets and vodka manufacturers’ labels instead of the old record labels and expressed this as being like the old classical composers being patronised by the rich and powerful of their day. The point was made (a fair one, I think) that it didn’t necessarily restrict creativity.

Anyway, it got me thinking.

There’s more music being made than at any time in history. There are still those who make money and make a living out of it. Fewer of these are within the old record industry structures as time goes by. Some of those making money became famous in the old system and now use modern direct marketing methods with their established fan bases. Perhaps they are not models to emulate because they have effectively arrived in the new world with built-in benefits inherited from the old world.

Capitalism isn’t a synonym for buying and selling and making a profit. Those activities existed long before capitalism crawled out of medieval Europe. So, the fact that mainstream capitalism has largely lost its avaricious grip on any significant profits to be made from music (because people don’t buy enough physical or virtual products from their outlets any more) is neither here nor there. There are countless independent artists and small labels releasing music and making enough money to continue making music. The old record industry likes to pretend they don’t exist and blame ‘piracy’ for the drop in its sales – but this is a spurious argument and one we’ve discussed before.

What the conference speakers completely failed to acknowledge, and what the old record industry utterly fails to understand or acknowledge, is the existence of netlabels.

Netlabels are more radical than any Marxist; unlike Marxists they don’t simply react to an unjust system by rebelling against it and trying to replace it with their own version. Netlabels have stepped outside the capitalist/Marxist dialectic altogether by not being built upon arguments over the ownership of the means of production or arguments over who takes the profits.

This is the modern world; anyone with a computer owns the means of production and the ownership always remains with the creator. The labels are run by enthusiasts who like to distribute music and enjoy all the admin and marketing involved. Netlabels have no tricky copyright or legal issues, as they use very flexible Creative Commons licenses. This makes them considerably more ‘fit for purpose’ than such attempts at modernity as Spotify or Last FM.

Everybody wins, nobody loses except, maybe, the old mainstream labels who’ll blame ‘pirates’ anyway.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. guy permalink*
    May 15, 2011 8:57 pm

    More music is being sold now than ever before…


  2. May 15, 2011 9:41 pm

    This is something that interests me a great deal. Did anyone at this conference cite, or do any of you readers know of any serious unbiased research into current spending on music. I am sure people buy less CDs in store but what about all the online sales, not to mention all the associated online advertising revenue that websites can generate. I would love to see some work done on the true effect of digital music on the music economy.

    As a consumer the digital age has certainly resulted in a great deal of excellent and innovative music, often distributed freely under the kind of CC licensing you mention.

    • May 16, 2011 1:54 pm

      One problem with sales figures quoted by the music industry trade organisations is that they deliberately only include their own member companies and conveniently fail to mention the perfectly acceptable amounts of money being earned by true independent artists or smaller labels. CDs are on the way to being dead as a major format anyway – they’ll be around for a while of course. Downloads are healthy and figures are good but big-label profits are down, hence the constant whinging. They blame piracy, when in fact the main reason is that our culture has changed. People buy as many games and DVDs as they do CDs or downloads – probably more. The mainstream industry blindly and stupidly insists that 1980s’ profit levels were normal and should still exist. We’ve written about much of this in previous blogs.

  3. May 17, 2011 6:53 am

    Here’s Pete Cogle’s review of the conference alluded to in this post:

  4. May 17, 2011 10:20 pm

    I will look back through your blog posts. The situation is, as you point out, a systemic change in the music industry – music piracy and legal music sharing are only a small part of this digital revolution.


  1. Review of Netaudio London Conference 2011 | Pete Cogle's Podcast Factory
  2. Review of Netaudio London 2011 |
  3. A day at Netaudio London 2011 | Netlabelism Magazine
  4. Review of Netaudio London Conference 2011 | Pete Cogle's Podcast Factory
  5. Review of Netaudio London Conference 2011 | Pete Cogle's Podcast Factory Clone

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