Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Pete Townshend Lecture - Part 2

Pete Townshend on stage image from Bobby Owsinski's Music 3.0 blog
Here's Part 2 of the lecture The Who's legendary Pete Townshend gave at the BBC in honor of the iconic DJ John Peel. Like Part 1, it's about the value of music, the new music business, and how the musician fits into it. As always, Pete has a learned and scholarly take.

Pete Townshend:
"What creative people want is to know their music has been heard. They would prefer a response that was constructive than a positive or negative review. They would prefer expertise to opinion. They would like to know the public if they had a chance to hear the music, also had a chance to make up their own minds. They would prefer that in the long term the public were willing to pay for their music. But looking at the John Peel model, what is clear is that just knowing there was a chance the great man would listen, react and offer the music on air, for whatever reason, was enough for budding musicians and bands.

That is where we must be going. Musicians need to be heard, to be judged, if possible to be paid, but also allowed to believe they had more than a single chance to get a hit. Software systems that offer this model will survive and prevail – loved and embraced by musicians of every sort – whatever happens financially.

Whether the public listen or not, creative writers and musicians should get paid if their work generates money by virtue of its mere existence on radio, television, YouTube, Facebook or SoundCloud. It’s tricky to argue for the innate value of copyright from a position of good fortune – as I do. I once suggested on a forum that people who download my music without paying for it may as well come and steal my son’s bike while they’re at it. One woman was so incensed that she tried to argue that she was still supporting me as an artist by “sharing” – my parentheses – music with others who would eventually filter down some cash in some form or other to me, that would pay for my son’s bike – and she was not, in any sense, a thief or a criminal. I think she was in a kind of denial. Cutting the body to fit the cloth rather than the correct way around.

We now live in a digital world in which the only absolute is work by the hour. Lawyers, accountants, doctors, nurses, plumbers, painters, truck drivers, farmers, pilots, cleaners, actors, musicians – they all get paid for work done as a clock ticks.

Creative work is not like that. Any one of the people listed above could create a method that would help other people to do their job in their place. This could be digitized, and made available on the Internet. I have given away dozens of my trade secrets in this way, knowing that I could afford to do so, but also knowing that my trade secrets are also trademarks in a way – I have become known for a particular style of creativity that belongs to me, because I am its principle practitioner.

However, if someone pretends to be me, or pretends that something I have created should be available to them free – because creativity has less value than an hour’s work by me as a musician in a pub – I wonder what has gone wrong with human morality and social justice.

When we look at wars we often find ourselves reverting to simple epithets: why can’t people just get along? Vivre les differénces! So it would be better if music lovers treated music like food, and paid for every helping, rather than only when it suited them. Why can’t music lovers just pay for music rather than steal it?

Would a return to John Peelism be better? There must have been music lovers who recorded his shows to tape and shared copies with friends. But it was never that easy, and was very time-consuming. You had to be really passionate about some music to share it in this way. Yes I think it would be better if music lovers had to work a little harder to find what they like best, and it was not quite so easy to knock out a digital copy to one’s friends. The word “sharing” surely means giving away something you have earned, or made, or paid for? At least you should have searched for it, and not simply happened on it by chance – or apparent chance, the newly intelligent Internet is now capable of sending you things that you never thought you wanted. It would be better if these “sharers” had to set aside time to listen, and to work at listening, and thereby do honor to the creative work of musicians even if their final judgment was that the music they heard was not for them – not worth stealing, not worth sharing.

Now I’m being facetious, but some things are really worth stealing. A creative person would prefer their music to be stolen and enjoyed than ignored. This is the dilemma for every creative soul: he or she would prefer to starve and be heard, than to eat well and be ignored.

Radio is not like Internet radio, or torrent sites. Radio pays musicians a fee when music is aired. Radio does not take the position that the public has a right to decide after hearing the music played whether to pay for it or not. Radio stations pay, and the public pay directly or indirectly in order to listen and make the judgment.

Suppose you asked a painter to paint your house on condition that if you didn’t like the color you had chosen, thinking it would work, you wouldn’t pay him?

Peel was not a musician. He was a listener, a patron of the arts, a broadcaster with almost no censorial mandate or agenda. He only played what he thought deserved to be played. I don’t think it always mattered that he himself liked it. In China in Chairman Mao’s day he might have been sent to prison if only for being the first to play Jesus and Mary Chain, the Undertones or the Proclaimers – all of them were a little bit political, but also radical and outspoken. When I first heard them on John’s show I thought they were a bit dangerous.

So if we assume that musicians want more than anything to be heard, and that there is now a massive audience wanting to hear new music every day, what is next?

What’s next is already here. The BBC will not be thankful to me for saying this but if you have a decent computer and some Internet bandwidth there are dozens of amazing Internet portals where you can hear new music, and see new videos. SoundCloud, HypeRadio, Cull.TV, Spotify and all offer to take you on an extraordinary journey if you log in. Today, the era and scope of modern music stretches broadly over a range of music styles, nationalities and age-ranges that might threaten to obfuscate the artistic achievements of individual musicians. Sorry, I mentioned the art word. We might be overwhelmed by the amount of variation – especially without a John Peel to bring us up to speed every week. But a quick look at the way the Internet has enriched the investigation of any particular musician’s work can be proved by the expediency of searching – just to suggest a deliberately quirky example – “Bjork” in Last.FM or Spotify. Along with all of Bjork’s many bands and collaborations, we find the band Garbage, Tori Amos, mùm, Planning to Rock, Sigur Ros, Bat for Lashes and Fever Ray. They all line up to confuse and entice. Even iTunes might take you off on a strange, inspiring or disturbing journey if you search the appropriately left-field artist.

If you search my name you’re likely to be spoon-fed tracks by Dave Dee, Dozy, Mick & Tich. This is the cross that Dave Dee etc. has to bear, being compared with The Who on Internet search engines.

What the BBC has to rise to is the challenge of using some its resources to sidestep editorial censorship, and give the listeners the kind of license they got when they tuned into John Peel. That license is offered free or almost free on dozens of amazing music blogs, sharing websites and video sites. There is more music being made today, and made ready for broadcasting, webcasting, podcasting and sharing, than ever before. I mean by this, finished, well-produced, good sounding music. And if it doesn’t sound good you can be fairly sure it isn’t meant to. There is a lot of talk about live music, and it is great that it’s seen to be so important – but it’s never gone away. In fact The Who shared the bill with John Peel once or twice, he took his radio show on the road regularly in the Sixties and Seventies. If the BBC were to start a website like Spotify, one thing would be certain – the musicians who were featured would get paid.

Speaking of which: my £6 fee for this lecture is being passed to the Musicians Union Benevolent Fund."
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Tom Siler said...

I think the music industry cut it's own throat when it went digital. . .for whatever reasons it did. . . now everyone has access to the master tape. . .

paul said...

Does pete see himself as a thief?..he's stolen many riffs..melodies....licks..


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