The revolution will not be televised
Saturday, July 15, 2000 by Dave Winer.
Much progress to report in music on the Internet.
The artist is Matt Johnson of TheThe. He tells a similar story, with Courtney-like passion. He wants to make music, connect with his fans, and make a decent living doing it.
He says that the music industry is consolidating around acts with huge followings, marching through them, and leaving behind musicians with devoted audiences in the hundreds of thousands, with no distribution or marketing, or money to create new music.
Lives are being wasted, some of the most creative people of our time.
Luckily the means are here to create and organize communities around the artists, and to flow money from the fans to the artists, and for them to flow their creativity back.
In today's NY Times, another anthem, by Clay Shirky of Feed, where he explains the user experience of music on the Internet.
There's a search engine now, and you can browse other people's music collections. This leads down old trails, and new ones. Now you can find fifteen versions of a song, by artists you forgot and ones you've never heard of. You can surf through music as you surf through the Web.
It seems such a small thing to make money flow through this too.
Here's a no-nonsense proposal that's in synch with the feeling (I believe) of many Napster users.
I want to subscribe to music, to get a monthly bill, like my cable bill, but I want everything, and I want them to trust me, I want files on my hard disk, nothing less.
$30 per month. And a very low fee for college students. Everyone should be happy about this. And the artists get 50 percent of the gross, distributed according to how much play their music gets. The more popular it is, the more they get.
Further, it's OK if they ship low-resolution scans of the music, to give users an incentive to purchase CDs, and to keep downloads smaller.
BTW, one of the surprises of Napster is that music is a business application, esp for people who are professional thinkers (knowledge workers), such as engineers, attorneys, researchers. A whole new market for the music industry to learn about. (Businesses generally pay, even if consumers don't always.)
Another BTW, Gene Kan, one of the Gnutella authors, is promoting a tiered royalty system, where fans make a bit of money if you download the music from their Internet site. It's a good idea, but it comes up a few steps after the current mess is cleaned up.
There's a showdown on July 26 in US District Court court in SF, between Napster and the RIAA.
Yesterday I spoke with my attorney, and 20-year friend, Jack Russo, who has tried copyright cases in front of the judge in the Napster case, Marilyn Patel.
Jack is sure she will shut them down later this month. If that happens, it will be the beginning of a multi-step legal fight that will probably also involve the US Congress and the President.
Watching the Senate hearing on Tuesday, Utah Senator Orren Hatch urged the music industry to quickly arrive at a price for licensing music via the Internet, or have one imposed on them by legislation.
I'm no lawyer, but I think legislation trumps the court. (Unless the law is unconstitutional.)
And it was refreshing to hear our elected reprentatives respect the voting power of the 20 million Napster users. For once Internet users are being taken seriously.
A couple of years ago it was controversial to put lyrics on the Web, but now, with the line drawn at the music itself, no one is paying attention to the lyrics. Today, through a search engine like Google, you can find all the lyrics to all the music.
But it's even messier than that. AOL operates a search engine that indexes MP3 files on the Web. If you search for an artist, it returns links to all their songs. Click on the link, listen to the music. You can save the MP3 file to a folder on your hard disk, or copy it to a special Walkman-like device designed to play MP3s (this will be a multi-billion dollar market, surely).
That AOL is doing this tells you how messy the situation is. Through the RIAA, which AOL is a member of, they are suing Napster for doing the same thing. There is no functional difference between Napster and the search engine that AOL operates. Each of them finds music that you can download, without royalty or permission of the artist or the publishing company.
I used the AOL system yesterday to download Joan Osborne songs, some of my favorites, ones that I haven't listened to in quite some time. I also searched for Metallica, found plenty of music, but didn't listen to any of it.
Napster's attorneys, take note.
I know some people don't believe in revolutions, but this is one.
We were training for the last six years, with the silent Web, learning how to browse, how to write, and how to run high volume servers.
As Gil Scott-Heron sang in the 1960s, the revolution will not be televised. This medium belongs to the artists and the users, not the middlemen. It should have always been that way, except for distribution problems. This is the first medium that does not require much in the way of middlemen. The potential for new, relevant, even customized, art is greater. We don't all have to listen to the same music. And more people can work as entertainers, perhaps even ordinary people like you and me.
The artists will make more money, and there will be money for middlemen, but the system will go through a reformation. Even if they shut down Napster, there are all those disks with all those songs on them. They'll get reconnected, probably within hours of the shutdown.
And coming in the next year, there will be a huge explosion in portable devices for playing all those MP3 files. Vast fortunes will be made, and few if any of the products have even been designed yet. An economic and cultural boom, happening at the same time.
Now, when music, with its personal and emotional values can come freely through the Internet, that changes the kind of writing people are expecting through email and the Web. My writing has always seemed a little odd to some people. "He's writing about himself!" people complain. As if you could write about anything without writing about yourself.
But music is so much more personal. I love trawling through directories of other people's music. Although primitive, it is a form of expression, a more personal one than a Web page, and it's new. I've never done anything like this. I have no idea where it leads. That's why it's so exciting.