Just over a month ago, the infamous SOPA legislation was halted by the largest online protest that the Internet has ever seen. It was certainly a time for celebration, but it is important to remember that the fight for online freedom is not over.
All this SOPA talk has resurfaced the decade-old debate on the ethics of online music downloading. Another round of seemingly SOPA-hired goons are taking it to the streets and arrogantly demanding increased copyright protection for their music.
In all fairness, the gist of their argument is a fair and common criticism. It suggests that a musician’s final product is the result of an intensive process, and therefore the musician deserves to be payed for their work.
Although sound, the argument succumbs to one fatal fallacy: it reduces music to the product, on par with furniture, Ferraris and Kanye West sunglasses.
Music is a form of art, but more so than many other forms of art, music is about the shared experience. We make music because we love music; there should be no other motivation involved.
The music industry is becoming increasingly decentralized and the means of distribution is now in the listeners’ hands. This is an incredibly empowering time for musicians and listeners alike; we now have a bigger say in what gets played and passed around.
We need to stop looking to the stars and demanding grandeur, fame and money. There is no money left in the industry for anyone thinking of waltzing along the unbeaten path. Instead, look at the local scene in front of you and meet the people there. Sure, you won’t make a pile of money, but you’ll be rich in other ways.
Very few musicians profit from the music that they spend countless hours writing, recording and releasing. This shouldn’t discourage anyone; it has only been the industry standard for the past 50 years. If money needs to be made, it can be made through performance and, regrettably, merchandising.
Compare that to deep history and try to imagine the first musicians. Think of the first human for whom the rhythm of a stick against a rock became infectious. Another joins, and within moments the whole tribe is thrown into a percussive trance. It is likely that this sort of event is responsible for birthing not only human music, but language and ritual as well.
Now ask yourself: what inspired these first musicians to play? It was the rhythm of their pulse, the rhythm inside that sustained them. To demand money for this rhythm is to put a price on the human soul. Downloading is a means of active protest, an attempt to stake out a space for freedom of expression in a society obsessed with commoditisation.