I see a strange, twisted future for music

What would it be like if every single time music were heard, money would change hands? Overheard ringtones, songs in a pub, windows of passing cars, buskers, parade bands, etc. This is the future envisioned by the 'music industry.'

In the UK the PRS (their version of IMRO) feels that if a customer in a garage overhears a mechanic's radio then the business should owe them £200,000.

You'll notice I put the phrase 'music industry' in quotes. This is because as a professional musician, I am not part of it. The 'industry' refers to everyone who is not a musician, yet draws their salary from the sale of musicians' work, i.e. lawyers; accountants; P.R. and marketing people; CEOs of corporations; promoters; and retail outlets.

Their interest is anything but artistic, altruistic, socialistic, moralistic, or humanistic. It is based on a simple profit equation:

Money + More = Good

Oddly, the strange twisted future I see is not the one envisioned by these people. Theirs is a world where every last cent is squeezed out of the music 'product' until it becomes worthless and sullied (how are they managing this? A variety of techniques: Death by Compression; loss-leading RIAA lawsuits; really crap music; and many more).

A world where people get charged if they overhear some tinny AC/DC coming from iPod headphones on the bus; where tune detection software in every home sends listening data to a database deep underground and automatic billing is initiated whenever you whistle a happy tune.

But the future I see is one where commerce and music have divorced, where music gets custody of the kids. If music really becomes 'free,' what then? You may not see as many Britneys, X-Tinas, or O-Towns–why bother manufacturing a product if the market price is set at $0.00?

What we will see (and are seeing) is the phenomenal rise of homegrown bands, singer-songwriters, bedroom studios, and donation based releases. If you remove from the musical vista the pomp, bling, and arrogance of big money, you're left with a group of people totally outside the music industry: musicians, or–dare we say it–artists.

Some people have gone it alone for years, like Aimee Mann, Ani DiFranco, and Michelle Shocked (you go girls!). Now they're joined by bigger guns like Nine Inch Nails, Prince, and Radiohead. The revolution is upon us, folks.

Leave the last word to Gillian Welch: Everything is Free.

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