Saturday, July 28, 2007

Trawling murky waters

The following was left as a comment by Tom7865 in the Stop raining! post below in response to a comment I made on the Different Waters blog. I've moved it here to keep it in context and to address some of the issues it raises and add some clarity to my feelings on the subject.

dude- i know you're grumpy but next time just ask me to remove the post...... i respect the small labels which is why I try to buy from them and also local record stores (btw i spend several thousand of dollars a year on cd's i'm not the slimey evil pirate you accuse me of being)... just be nice, being nasty may have the opposite effect to other people who really don't care... i was posting Tudor because I know the most people who frequent different waters are into that and they also do go out and buy the cd if they like or delete it if they don't.... anyway cheers I also like your record site too... good luck (the post has been deleted)

The post at the Different waters blog effectively consisted of a link to a Yousendit (or similar) shared file containing Mp3s of the recently released David Tudor double CD set on Editions RZ, plus an image of the sleeve art and a couple of paragraphs from the CD sleeve notes. For the record, I did not ask for the post to be removed, and I didn't accuse anyone of anything. I merely (and politely) asked two questions: Firstly did the poster have permission to upload the files (and I offered to give Robert Zank's email address in case he wished to ask for it) and secondly (and most importantly) I asked if he himself had anything to say about the CD, some of which I consider to be amongst the best music ever made. I asked this as unless you knew the sleeve notes it could have been construed from the post that the text there had been written by the blog poster.

Anyway, Tom has deleted the post and chose to engage with me here rather than at Different Waters so I thought I would discuss this thorny subject a little here. Its no secret that I am no fan of indiscriminate file sharing of currently available music. Tom states that the readers of Different Waters will go and buy CDs if they like the download or will delete the file if they do not. I don't doubt for one minute that this often happens (although reading my way through the many comments in the many posts at DW I see no evidence of this happening, but thats by the by). I have also read this argument many times and I know several CD label owners who do not mind their releases being shared in this way as they have seen sales produced from the extra exposure. I do not doubt this happens... but I do doubt that it happens ENOUGH. Having spoken with many CD distributors and label owners over the last few years I am confident that overall CD sales are in decline. Whilst a lot of downloaders will indeed go and buy music they really like, many others do not. The cumulative effect, unfortunately is that less CD sales are happening and less money is fed back to labels and ultimately the musicians.

These issues can be debated to death, but having listened with an open mind to many people this is how I feel. I have one question though. What is to stop someone wanting to post an Mp3 file at a blog in this manner from contacting the musicians or the label to ask if they mind? If the label/musicians believe that their sales could increase then surely they will happily give permission? What I see though is people just posting files without asking and then getting upset when they are asked about it. It would be an awful lot more polite and respectful if a simple email was sent first.

I have a further, deeper concern about the free sharing of music as Mp3s though, and Tom's post at DW kind of illustrates this concern well. In my opinion the Mp3 is creating a generation of poor listeners. In these days of fast gratification on demand it is easy to read about a piece of music, go online and find it in a space of minutes. There are people out there downoading dozens of albums a week, giving them a cursory listen and then deleting them or filing them before moving on to the next file. Whatever happened to the real engagement with music? Why is the fantastic David Tudor album, a hugely important release with much to be said about it reduced to a copy and pasted paragraph and a bunch of comments merely saying "wow thanks dude" or something similar? I personally have a half written review of the Tudor sat on my computer that I have been struggling with for about two months, and I would much rather read someone else's thoughts on the music than just download the files. The Tudor post at DW said absolutely nothing new about the music in either the main post or the comments that followed. Am I the only one that finds this kind of thing depressing?

I should make this clear that my thoughts are not fuelled by some capitalist urge to make money. I run a record label, and even my recent release by MIMEO of which I only have about 100 copies remaining will make me a loss. If I cared about the money aspect a great deal I really wouldn't have any involvement with running a label. As much as anything I get upset by the impoliteness of "illegal" filesharing, and depressed by the lack of real discussion about music as people put as much effort into writing about music as they do obtaining it.

Thank you Tom for giving me the opportunity to discuss this, and yeah there are a lot bigger things to worry about in the world. I fully realise you are not slimey (sic) or evil. You are a music lover at heart and there are a lot worse people out there with respect to downloading etc... so this is not merely about you or Different Waters, merely a comment on the state of play these days. To answer the obvious question, no there's abosolutely nothing that can be done to change the way things are, but that doesn't stop this grumpy old man complaining about it.


Alastair said...

"In my opinion the Mp3 is creating a generation of poor listeners. In these days of fast gratification on demand it is easy to read about a piece of music, go online and find it in a space of minutes. There are people out there downloading dozens of albums a week, giving them a cursory listen and then deleting them or filing them before moving on to the next file. Whatever happened to the real engagement with music?"

Very true. I share your concerns.

robert said...

yeah just like libraries full of records (back in the day). People can take out dozens at once!

tom7865 said...

thank you for the quick response- my respects for you just increased tenfold. First to make the record straight Richard did not ask me to remove the post or accuse me of anything... my comment on this blog was just a gut reaction to mainly my shame of posting a new release of works of music which I try not to do but being human I make mistakes. I was just excited about the Tudor music and wanted my friends at DW blog to know about it. AS far as comments, the nature of that blog is not in the discussion of the music (we do that at other forums elsewhwere) but in the exposure of the music; you may or may not agree with it but that was the blog creators intention. Hence the very brief description posted (liner notes). Also this music, while being a new compilation is not new music, it is music that has been around for some time but not readily accessible. I thank your friend for making it available. As for the more thorny questions of MP3 sharing etc. I really do not know the anwsers, I tend to view it from a consumers side as opposed to your side which is the sellers side. I paid my 30 dollars for the CD's so what am I allowed to do with them. I agree with some of your points, I really don't want to take money away from the artists but... I struggle back and forth. Anyway I like your engagement, I agree more discussion is needed. Internet access to information is making a lot of us lazy... I'll be back here to discuss this and other issues including the Tudor CD's if you don't mind.. or we can discuss it at DW if you wish. Best of luck Tom

Richard Pinnell said...

Thanks Tom, likewise my respect for you has grown considerably.

At the end of the day we both enjoy Tudor's music and disagree a little on a side issue. The important thing is indeed the music.

Just to clear up a couple of things in your reply, I don't think I could call Robert Zank a friend as such. I think we swapped a handful of mails about the availability of one of his releases a while back and I have massive respect for the work he is doing but thats as much as I know him. I tend to jump to the defence of small labels in the area of music I know automatically, I wasn't merely looking after a friend.

Also, you said that you look at these issues from a consumer perspective whilst I do from a label owner's. I think this is only partially true. I have only ran a label for fractionally more than a year but have held similar opinions and argued them publicly for many years more than that.
I recognise that I do indeed run a label and my thoughts can't be separated from that fact but I have always said that I am first and foremost a listener and being a label owner comes some way down the line behind sleeve designer and Marmite lover :)

Oh and Robert you must have had some great libraries back in the day if they stocked all this small run independent avant garde material. Certainly never happened over here.

Robert said...

Ah so you aren't overconsuming music if it isn't small label independents? gotcha.

Richard Pinnell said...

Really not sure what overconsuming has to do with anything. Its not the amount of music that concerns me, more how it is consumed and whether small labels get paid for their efforts. Not so concerned with major labels they can look after themselves.

robert said...

Jesus Richard:

"I have a further, deeper concern about the free sharing of music as Mp3s though, and Tom's post at DW kind of illustrates this concern well. In my opinion the Mp3 is creating a generation of poor listeners. In these days of fast gratification on demand it is easy to read about a piece of music, go online and find it in a space of minutes. There are people out there downoading dozens of albums a week, giving them a cursory listen and then deleting them or filing them before moving on to the next file."

I'll quit beating around the bush:

These so called issues you are raising are nothing new. People have been able to either get a hold of large amounts of music at a time forever. People have been trading music forever. Whether it was taping your friends music (which everyone I knew did) or taping it off the radio or getting it from the libraries. The only thing that has changed is that it is in your face now how prevalent it is. And yes there are those who just go nuts when there is so much available but it is a minority inside a minority.

And finally if people can afford to they can buy way too much music and have poor listening habits. As someone who probably buys more then 12 cds a week (your threshold for the downloaders) you are hardly one to talk. I personally find the habit of buying huge amounts of music that essentially goes unlistened to repugnant but this is probably the first time you've heard that. Really this whole business is just sad.

Richard Pinnell said...

Sorry Robert but the first paragraph of that I don't agree with and the second half is just plain untrue.

Downloading music at the rate happens these days IS something new. Of course I know people taped a lot of music from their friends in the past, I wasn't born yesterday. It also seems that in the US that libraries were a source of this kind of music as well, but all of that is small fry compared to the situation with Mp3s. To tape an album from your friend took effort. You had to buy the tapes, record the music in real time (or close to it), go and physically get the tape to record from your friend or a library. Free downloads have just made all of that easier, resulting in lazier music fans.

And just because pirating of music has always existed that means its OK for it to go on at its inflated pace today? Noone could possibly argue that it is not now far far easier to obtain huge amounts of music faster now than it ever was without leaving your house. Thats my point and that has brought about lazier listeners and is also playing a major part in slowing sales.

As for my listening habits well whilst I have already recognised that I buy too much and don't listen as much as I would really like to I would not describe my listening habits as "poor". Nothing gets filed onto shelves here without at least two full listens (you already know that), the average CD gets three or four listens and maybe ten percent of what I buy gets heard six to ten times, the real cream many times more. If you consider that to be poor listening then fine, but I don't. Its far better than most.

There is another reason that I buy a lot of music though, and it is out of a genuine desire to put something back in for musicians. I have often purchased music that I am unsure about simply to support a musician. If you really consider that me working long hard hours to earn the money to pay musicians for their music is repugnant then so be it. I don't.

Richard Pinnell said...

Robert said "The only thing that has changed is that it is in your face now how prevalent it is"

I missed this line. This is just nonsense. Yes its in your face now, which is simply a side effect of how much more it is happening and how much easier it is to access.

It is utterly ridiculous to suggest that without the internet I could obtain free as much music as I can with it. Believe me I know, I only really discovered the 'net five years ago and before that relied on magazines and word of mouth to learn that things even existed let alone get free copies of them. Even then you had to know someone well that had a copy who would make you a copy. Hardly the same as just clicking on a stranger's blog. Yeah if I was a fan of The Arctic Monkeys things would be a damn site easier but we are talking about something a lot different here. Or at least I am.

robert said...

Look you know that I don't support the wholesale theft of music, that is a red herring when you bring it up. What I'm taking issue with is your hiding that in this "creating a generation of poor listeners" bollocks. The fact is that there has always been poor listeners and there always will be and there is nothing you can do about it. But I think you are being disingenuous at best. What you are really on about is the "theft" of the music and you have really only been riding this hobby horse of late. We discussed this plenty on slsk in days past and your attitude was completely different as of maybe a year ago. So what has changed? Ultimately it doesn't matter, but it'd be nice if you were just honest about it.

robert said...

Oh and you seem to have been completely ignorant of tape trading networks many of which trafficked exclusively in underground items. Your loss.

Richard Pinnell said...


I am not ignorant of tape trading networks. I wrote and designed for fanzines back in the late eighties and early nineties that were rife with adverts and page upon page of lists for them. I know them very well. I also have never had any serious part in them.
And again, I repeat, even with tape trading networks it was still far more difficult, more expensive and very much slower to obtain music.

As for my opinions being a recent change I have absolutely no idea where that comes from. My attitude is no different than it ever has been and nothing has changed. I don't remember any precise conversations but I am 110% certain that I would have had no different opinions five years ago when I first learnt what an Mp3 was.

I do think this is an issue that needs to be taken a lot more seriously though, simply as I see less and less money finding its way into the hands of the people that produce music and as I speak to a lot more musicians these days I hear the story more often. By seriously I mean that there should be some considerable thought placed on finding other ways for musicians to be supported financially if the already tiny funds they receive from CD sales are to further disappear. Perhaps I have spoken louder about this of late but its certainly not something new for me to believe in.

As for my comment about "generation of poor listeners" Perhaps the term generation was a little strong. Yes of course there has always been poor listeners, and even more obviously of course I can do nothing about it. However I do sense that music has become far more of a throwaway commodity over the past half decade and that considered listening is a dying art. I personally believe that quick easy downloads are a major part of that. I can't prove that, but its the way things seem to me. As I said right from the off though, there is nothing much than can be done but I reserve the right to comment on things as I see them.

robert said...

The difference between now and then was that like every other sane person you recognized that there was nothing you can do about except limit your own downloading. Posting in the comments of blogs and railing about it on your own is just so much pissing in the wind. What's next letters to the editor? It worries me frankly, but I suspect it's all this leave you have. Toward the end of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain makes the comment that it is only Work and the watchful eyes of our neighbors that keep us from going off the deep end. Here's to success in your job search!

Richard Pinnell said...

Heh, well I have no doubt that that is very true :)

It is indeed pissing in the wind and obviously having too much time on my hands plays a part. One of the problems today is that people just accept crap and roll over too easily though. When something is important to you, (and clearly music is important to me) you speak your mind against things that harm it. Thats all I've done, because I had the time to do it in a tiny little way. Its no big deal.

Reading his posts its possible that Tom will think twice before posting something that is freshly released at a blog again, and maybe one or two others reading this might have a little more concern about the origin of the music they are posting too, who knows.

Yes its a drop in the ocean and its somewhat fruitless but that doesn't mean its not the right thing to do every so often. However its no big deal and certainly not worth falling out with you over, which is the only part of all this I regret.

robert said...

hey no worries mate :) My apologies if I came across too harsh, no excuse for that really.

Anyway I don't know where things are going but one constant seems to be that every generation thinks that there is massive loss from how things were (and by implication should be). Regardless of how that plays out one thing I do know for sure is that people driven to make make music will continue to do so.