Saturday, February 21, 2009


I've been on a bit of a Blondie kick this week, which is always a good time. The other evening, I was listening to their first LP (self-titled). When putting the disc back away, I pulled out the sleeve to find this:

The album was released in 1976 on Private Stock Records, although the copy I have turns out to be a reissue from 1982 on Pickwick (with the blessing of Chrysalis, Blondie's label at the time).

I was quickly reminded of the PRMRC hearings from 1985. The focal issue there of course was lyrics and album artwork deemed "offensive" by a bunch of Senators' wives, but another issue raised was a proposed "cassette tax,' meant to curb piracy. On both issues, Frank Zappa's eloquent testimony is always worth revisiting (it's worth your 16 minutes if you haven't seen/read it before):

I once wrote a paper on Zappa and the PMRC for a rhetoric class as an undergrad, which would probably horrify me to read now.

But I digress.

Upon seeing the Home Taping graphic, first I chuckled. Then I pondered the ridiculousness of it. I mean really, I still have a few tapes, and occasionally even make tapes (for occasions/mixes that I want to draw on my vinyl collection). Tape quality degrades so quickly, I just can't get over that this was viewed as piracy, a kind of threat to the vitality of the music industry.

But as a friend of mine commented upon me sending him the photo, "a strange statement of both how things have changed and how they've stayed the same."

Of course, the difference between these two contexts is that there is now the possibility to copy CDs as lossless files, wherein all of the quality of the original disc is retained. Even so, let's be honest, piracy isn't going to/in the process of killing music, despite what you may have seen on television. [Here is where I would insert the commercial that aired during the Grammys in 2004 - you know, of a club scene losing its power because a girl is downloading music at home?] Ideally, it will be the end of the music industry, or at least as we know it. In a sense, artists don't *need* the industry anymore. The buzz created by blogs, MySpace etc. is incredibly powerful. Of course, there's also less of a filter, which one could argue is good or bad. Good because you have access to a seemingly infinite number of artists. Bad for the same reason - you may have to wade through a lot of crap to find good music.

But in a sense, hasn't that always been the way? The difference now is that you don't need to rely on the culture industries (hello, Adorno!) to tell you what you should be listening to. Sure, not being tied to a major label denies you access to other important things - radioplay, large concert venues, TV exposure, major press (the current TicketMaster debacle illustrates this well). But you know what? Those industries are all in a similarly dismal state. We've been saying it for years, but I really feel that we are on the verge of the music industry's collapse. And really, the only people that's going to hurt is the music industry itself.

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