Downloading Music Is A Bit Like Home Refrigeration

Downloading Music Is A Bit Like Home Refrigeration

The local ice wagon
There was a time when people sold large quantities of natural ice. I'm not talking about bags of cubes for parties, I mean huge blocks of ice carved from frozen lakes.

Back in 1806 a chap from Boston called Frederic Tudor hatched a plan to take ice from a lake in Lynn, Massachusetts and deliver it (for some reason) to the island of Martinique. Most people thought him insane, but somehow he got investors to fork over $10,000 with which he bought a brig called The Favorite, hired a crew and by Jove sailed to the West Indies.

This seemingly crackpot scheme actually worked. So he did it again and after the shipping embargo of the War of 1812 was lifted, he shipped ice everywhere from New Orleans to Calcutta to China to Australia–a total of 53 ports around the world.

Tudor became one of Boston's richest men and died in 1864 at the age of eighty. A success story? Obviously. Here's another.

Sometime in the distant past, someone invented recorded music (let's not get into a squabble about the exact origins) and out of this discovery came the gramophone. Suddenly, people who lived at the other side of the world from the opera houses of La Scala and Covent Garden, could hear music played by the world's greatest artists, right in their own homes.

Sounds a little bit like the ice business, doesn't it?

Not until many years after Tudor died did the ice business begin to wane and by the early 1900s artificial ice-making methods were in use all over the world, making Tudor's services obsolete.

Only the Maine Lake Ice Company in Sargentville kept the old business going as they shipped blocks of frozen water from Walker's Pond to Washington D.C. They continued right up until 1916 when their contract was finally cancelled, putting them out of business.

In the first quarter of the twentieth century, home refrigeration became the norm and the ice shipping business became but a fading memory.

Sounds a bit like the gramophone business, doesn't it?

New technology enables people to hear the world's greatest artists in their homes without having to purchase a 'physical reproduction' of their work. This renders the CD vendors' services obsolete–just as the vendors before them of cassettes, 8-tracks, reel-to-reel, vinyl 78s, acetate discs etc, were each wiped out in turn by innovations.

Did the makers of celluloid cylinders complain when discs took over? You bet they did. Did it do any good? Not a bit.() Modern record labels need to understand that they are in the ice shipping business and that they are now 'surplus to requirement.'

A ruling in the courts today sees victory for UPC as they tell the big labels 'Hands off our internet.' Although, the judges comments (along with everyone else's) make clear that they believe the genie is going back in the bottle (and perhaps Betamax will prevail?).

In a judgment published today, Mr Justice Peter Charleton said recording companies were being harmed by internet piracy.

“This not only undermines their business but ruins the ability of a generation of creative people in Ireland, and elsewhere, to establish a viable living. It is destructive of an important native industry,” he said.

He seems to have confused the lawyers, accountants, marketing departments and corporate executives (the 'industry') with the artists (actual talent). Despite the popular viewpoint, the Industry/Artist relationship has never been symbiotic–it is parasitic, despotic and exploitative.

Using figures that the 'industry' don't want you to see, or even think about, we learn that although total revenues may be down, it is the middlemen (people sitting between you and the music, creaming off the profits) who are losing out, while the artists themselves are getting a larger and larger slice of the pie.

Long may this trend continue. Ice Ice Baby.


  1. Trivia: You can still buy cylinders from a company in Sheffield. [back ↩]