Downhill, music activism, and filesharing

WOEBOT: ” followed the link through to Down Hill Battle, and was really alarmed at what they’re up to, which seems to be a ‘rolling together’ of an antipathy to the big five labels with a tactic of encouraging file-sharing. … I’m quite sympathetic to the major labels. I’ve heard plenty about record companies ‘evil’ tactics … but they’re not the manifestation of single evil geniuses. … Selling music is somewhat like drilling for oil, a label will sign 50 artists and only one will make them any money.”

I checked out the Downhill site and thought it was OK really. It’s primarily trying to make clear just how evil most record contracts are and the degree to which a “successful” band is unlikely to reap their fair rewards. It’s good stuff. I think their promotion of file sharing as a way of hurting the record labels doesn’t really hold water as evidenced by yesterday’s economic analysis. And I quite agree that filesharing is as Matt says a “muddy gesture” at best. Far better to try to create alternative distribution channels, most of which are dying right now (not because of MP3s, but because the dance music market has contracted). However I think Downhill is fairly obviously not making promotion of filesharing central to their purpose; it’s a tactical thing to support their wider of objective of music activism. To that degree it’s acceptable to me and I sympathise with Down Hill.

But I think Matt is wrong to be synpathetic to record labels — despite the venality and greed of the average artist. The fact that record companies lose money on much, probably most, of their portfolio of investments — as ever other business in the world does, believe you me! — does not justify the demonstrable ripping off of those rare acts that DO manage to generate some positive cash flow. Record companies clearly are not the product of single evil genius. No: they are quite clearly the product of single, evil, economic system. If there were a truly free market in record distribution and artist development, record companies would not exist in the manner they do today. But that free market does not exist, and record label corruption and exploitation of talent is a continuing tragedy, which music fans should care about, in my view. Critique Downhill’s position all you want, but don’t excuse the record labels’ their undoubted sins.

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