01.21.01 – napster

I did an interview the other day and the fellow I was talking to said “so I saw on your website that you guys think Napster is good.” Which perplexed me a bit, because I do not read the Guslog regularly, and only when I caught up on some old Guslog entries did I realize that on Dec 22nd Ryan had posted “Napster is good. Support the bands you like.”

There is no official Guster policy on Napster. We like to talk about it but our positions seem to change pretty frequently. I agree with Ryan that you should support the bands you like. I think technology is good. I think online distribution is long overdue. I think artists have been exploited by record labels for years and that the internet will eventually work to undo a system that is unfair to them. I think Napster has been incredibly beneficial to our band. But I don’t think Napster is good. Let me clarify. When I say “Napster” I mean “the notion that recorded music is free and ought to be free.”

I recently came across Prince’s essay on the topic from his website (www.npgonlineltd.com). Prince is a brilliant musical mind, deserving of my respect, though I would consider his opinions much more valid if only he wouldn’t use the number “2” instead of the word “to” and the letter “r” instead of the word “are” all the time. It was really fucken annoying to read like that. Prince likes to make the important distinction between music consumers and music lovers. Record companies and radio stations create music consumers and cater to music consumers. We in camp Guster like to envision our fanbase as a substantive group of music lovers, who are interested in learning about the band, it’s music, it’s members, it’s ideas, it’s history, etc etc… Prince has a striking confidence in consumer responsibility. He expects people to recognize that artists need compensation and to act appropriately. In his mind, music downloaders are people who will support bands and not exploit them. Music lovers. This happens more often than you might think. Many of the people I meet who have heard about us through Napster have gone on to pick up all of our albums. But artists, and especially artists who will try to make an independent living in the future, deserve some protection beyond a blind faith in consumer ethics. Prince’s utopia hovers above greedy, competitive, capitalist reality.

INTERMISSION — It’s the halfway point of my little essay and I fear I will lose my audience if I do not include a photo. Here is one that has been doctored a bit:

I am speaking very much in principle here. Don’t lump me in with Lars and the let’s-sue-our-fans-for-profit anti-Napsterers. Guster makes approximately $0.00 for every record of ours that is bought in a store. The same is not true for Metallica. If you don’t understand this, check out Courtney Love Does The Math — she summarizes the economics of it all quite nicely. Prince seems so poised to make his point against the existing record industry system that he glazes over a very fundamental part of the Napster debate… if all music is free for everyone to download, how will artists make a living? His faith in the consumer responsibility of music lovers is admirable but unrealistic. If you want a revolution and you want bands to survive the aftermath, it is essential NOT to wipe out the value of the music at the core of it all in the process.

It’s ironic to hear record executives warning us about a big cultural void that will come when artists no longer have incentive to create. They’re clearly just masking their concern for their own profits as concern for the cultural well-being of a nation that goes Napster. A lot of music is created to be sold. INSPIRING music is created regardless of what will happen to it. Fela Kuti united people against government corruption with his music. John Lennon wasn’t imagining dollar bills when he wrote “Imagine.” And in my perfect world, bands will create music because they think it is good, and then make a humble living selling it to their fans over the internet.

This is how good music will thrive without record companies to package it for mass consumption. Bands who believe in what they’re doing will forego the contracts, the videos and the other bullshit. They will play live and nurture a real fanbase from whom they can make a living. This requires we now embrace technology responsibly and continue to assign value to music. If we allow our recordings to be free for everyone, we undermine the most precious thing an artist creates — their music and their ability to subsist from it. The revolution against the record industry will come with technology. Let’s give bands a chance to survive the transition… let’s preserve the worth of their creations.

Two footnotes:

1.) The decentralized nature of programs like Gnutella and the improbability of enforcing royalties and subscriptions in the context of new technologies make my entire point moot.

2.) I am officially changing my name from Brian Rosenworcel to

Some of you will recognize my new name as the symbol for the Universal Serial Bus, which allows for the connection of multiple peripherals to a host computer. But with Firewire bringing about the demise of USB it may as well now mean “legendary conguero.”

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