Rome is Burning! Where's My Fiddle?

Media companies are running scared these days. Their failure to embrace technology has put them in a delicate position. For the first time in history, the bread and butter of the media enterprises like music, film, and television are faced with the fact that they may no longer be in control of their business. They’ve been confronted with the terrifying fact that artists and consumers could actually perform direct transactions without their help. I’ve personally supported many independent artists without a label ever coming between us. When I buy an album online from Prince, I buy it directly from him, not Warner Brothers.

And although many technology firms have tried to work with the RIAA towards a positive solution, the RIAA feels they can legislate and prosecute technical innovation back 10 years. Stifling technology through legislation is a small price for them to pay, if it secures their profit margins. Though historically, the creation of new technology has always created new markets and increased sales, this time the media companies have been the last to jump on the bandwagon. This time they got caught with their e-pants down. Instead of following the trend, they ignored it. Now the only way they believe they can catch up is to stop technology dead in its tracks while they figure out what to do.

I wrote that in 2003

The fact is the technology sector has always pushed the sales of media, when media sales began to decline. The CD injected new life into the music industry. The DVD increased sales in a video industry gone flat. Each time a new technology was proposed, however, large sections of the media industry fought tooth and nail to prevent it from ever seeing the light of day.

The RIAA argument is that technology encourages the average citizen to steal. The fact that I own a checkbook has not turned me into a bad check felon. The connection the RIAA tries to make between technology and piracy is absurd. Simply having a high speed internet connection and a MP3 player has not made me more prone to breaking the law.

The success of the Apple Store is proof that if consumers are presented with a simple and affordable solution for purchasing music online, they will. And if the RIAA had worked effectively with the tech sector six years ago, we might have made more progress towards curbing piracy through solutions, not lawsuits against 12 year old girls.

I wrote that in 2003

What's my point?

My point is it's been 10 years and we're still talking about this and the music industry is still trying to get on board a train that left the station 16 years ago.

Let's just take a look at opportunities lost for a second.

RIAA tries to stop CD duplication. Around the same time they sued the RIO MP3 player out of business. And while they wasted time on CD's and the RIO player, within 4 years we had the iPod. Years of opportunity wasted fighting the inevitable change in how we get music. All the signs were there. You know when I knew it was all going to change forever? It was 1998 and I was reading my niece a story about Barney the Dinosaur playing a record and she turned to me and said:

What's a record?

Oh snap!

Flash forward to 2013...

I was just at an event where a moderated panel was discussing whether or not the Internet has been good for creativity in the music industry. That's like asking has the sun been good for farming. Here I was in a room of people from the music industry and you could just sense the palpable frustration that everything they knew was on fire. I was literally waiting for someone to scream:


Yes, everything is on fire and we're too late to talk about fire prevention. But, sometimes fire is good. It can be cleansing. It can stimulate new life into dead areas. And while it can destroy everything you understand or love, it can also present an opportunity to start again.    

Before the advent of all this technology, it wasn't like artists were particularly happy with the way things were. Artists complained that they had very little control over their art. They complained about the brutal and unbalanced recording contracts that essentially amounted to usury. They were often treated like cattle, one day the prize bull and the next off to the slaughterhouse. 

But those days are ending and a new age is beginning. Is it frightening? Of course it is, but technology and those that build it are not your enemies. We love music, which is why we wanted to free it, not make it free. Which brings me to something else I wrote in 2003:

“Do we need to protect artists, their work, and their livelihood? Of course, but that comes through empowering people, not rendering them powerless.”

The world of technology has given you a unique opportunity. It's made you powerful, not powerless. Using it is hard and discovering how you'll survive is right now a challenge, but that is no different than the struggles you've been facing for years under an oppressive system that kept you chained to a check at the cost of your art and your soul. This is the beginning of something truly wonderful and while it's frightening, it's also exhilarating.

So, grab a fiddle and make some music. After we clear away all this debris, we can start building again.