publishers thought themselves the brand, when the brand was always the artist
H A M L E Y
J A M
aS JOHN NIVEN MADE CLEAR IN HIS OTHERWISE CHARMLESS novel Kill Your Friends, if there’s one business where borderline psychotic cynicism stands you in good stead, it’s the music industry. After decades of being charged wildly inflated prices for CDs, the advent of ways to download and share music online allowed listeners to exercise equal cynicism in accessing recordings without the artificially heavy price tag. Rather than reacting to this development by acknowledging the greater rock’n’roll swindle of their dedication to profiteering, or engaging with the downloading revolution themselves, record companies made increasingly authoritarian attempts to turn back the digital tide. This unedifying struggle reached its peak in 2010’s Digital Economy Act, a particularly sweeping and short-sighted sop to the interests of an imploding industry, passed despite opposition from a broad grass-roots alliance of internet users and musicians who were themselves embracing filesharing as part of their creative and business models.
In the music world, many early adapters to digital used the internet to become their own label, production and marketing team. Sussex folk-punk band The Indelicates set up the website Corporate Records in 2010 to reflect the ‘post-internet music market’. Digitally recasting the spirit of punk DIY labels like Manchester’s pioneering New Hormones, the site enables artists to promote, share and sell their work online, and lets fans download the work on a pay-what-you-like basis. A myriad of other artists and bands now
6 new welsh review PULP KITCHEN
RHIAN JONES ON MUSICIANS, AUTHORS AND THE DIGITAL WORLD
also operate their own online cottage industries, selling recordings, gig tickets and merchandise directly to fans. Elsewhere online, middleman sites like Bandcamp, or PledgeMusic which helps artists and bands raise funding from fans for future releases, indicate the potential for intermediaries to mediate between artists and their audiences in a way that emphasises creativity and interaction rather than exploitation and profit extraction.
Today’s disingenuous debates on the evils of free filesharing parallel the reactionary blustering at the dawn of the cassette era, when, famously, home taping was held to be killing music. And yet record companies somehow struggled on, charging exorbitantly for CDs and picking up and dropping bands unable to generate fast enough revenue as they did so. The ability to pirate music has always been with us, but peer-to-peer trading of music through sites like Napster provided a technological and ideological structure which offered a genuine popular opposition to music’s domination by major labels. The big-money industry model which has held sway for the past fifty years has been a blip, not a fundamental cultural cornerstone without which all popular music will collapse into dust. The Digital Economy Act, meanwhile, is a ham-fisted attempt to prevent Britain’s creative industries advancing to their next evolutionary stage.
How different is this from the home life of our own dear industry? With e-books rapidly gaining in prominence and popularity, these are interesting times for the book world too. More significant than the rise of the e-book,
new welsh review 7