Interview: Rob MacArthur Of IOUmusic (Part Two)
Kyle Bylin: Artists too, those of the old and new digital sphere, share in this certain degree of dichotomy in their attitudes toward new technology and their willingness to integrate it into their careers.
Why must artists embrace as much chaos as they can stand with new technology and let it transform their role as cultural creators rather than clinging to 20th century notions of what it means to make art?
Rob MacArthur: A friend put it best in working out some of these issues for himself: he mentioned how everything that is failing is what previously worked for the labels selling music, not necessarily artists. Since he is an artist and not a label, why should he be confined by the failing ways they do business.
I think that is a great question artists should ask themselves when they try to determine the best course of action for their careers. Add in at start their personal or business goals – and that will make it much easier to figure out what they need to do, what technology will be best and the relationships they will need. And the chaos will provide all the solutions they will need. The trouble for DIY acts is knowing what or where to focus their efforts within the chaos.
"The artists are the ones
that have the most to gain here."
They need goals first and foremost. Once an artist knows exactly what they want, and they forget about the way things use to be done, cutting through the chaos and seeing what tools are available to achieve what they want becomes so much easier. There will be few artists that know what they want and need, that will benefit from the same game plan and set of tools going forward as the artist next to them. If artists can embrace that idea they can see this is one of the best times to be an artist. But there has to be that focus and a plan.
KB: In Appetite for Self-Destruction, author Steve Knopper does a great job at documenting what he deemed to be the spectacular crash of the record industry in the digital age. However, it's not like we didn't see it coming. To some, it may seem like the traditional record industry turned almost overnight from prosperity to chaos, but this crash that occurred, in advent of Napster and file-sharing, was years, perhaps even generations in the making.
"For every institution that failed, for every business model that outlived its usefulness, new and better ones rushed in the fill the void," Richard Florida writes in The Great Reset. "Past periods of crisis eventually gave rise to new epochs of great ingenuity and inventiveness." He argues that, that crises—perhaps much like the record industry's—"are the times when new technologies and new business models were forged, and they were also the eras that ushered in new economic and social models and new ways of living and working."
How will new ways of working and living, both in terms of artists and industry professionals, and new ways of organizing our industry, drive post-crash prosperity, and provide a foundation for growth and recovery, wherein, a brighter future can be forged for the record industry might exist in the digital age?
RM: Well to me, whether the record industry has a brighter future or not is a moot point. The better question is can artists have a brighter future and I think that answer is definitely yes. And that provides a brihter future for the next industry. Labels, if they are smart can continue on the ride. But those that aren’t will definitely face a different future.
Terry McBride’s idea of collapsed copyright, where artists retain and control all rights under one roof, is a means artists can use to benefit their careers. I think that is one idea that will and should take precedent for the future. The more artists that have control over their rights and means of generating revenue from their music, the more opportunities there are for other players to enter the market and work on their behalf or otherwise assist them. This is what the current label system has prevented and continues to fight against in one sense with digital music to date.
"One of the biggest remaining hurdles
for the future music business is the issue
of copyright. Existing copyright does not
work in the age of the world wide web."
I should be able to go to any site and see or listen to any music. It shouldn’t matter where the rights’ holders reside or anything like that. Right now Arcade Fire is, well on fire, and they own all the rights to their music and publishing. That should be the model going forward. So we have new artists coming up in that model, yet historically we have something completely different and cumbersome in existing copyrights laws and ideals on enforcing them. Something’s going to have to give, and artists are used to struggling, so I, for one, am putting my money there. They have the most to gain too. And they desire it.
If there were relaxed copyright laws, the industry argues there would be a widespread loss in revenue. My argument there is that there would be more opportunity to earn revenue and profits that that would be the outcome. Image if more people could pursue music in the style of GirlTalk.
The fashion industry serves as an excellent model for this:
This image compares the revenues of industries with high IP protections versus those with little. There are still great opportunities if artists can retain their rights and take a more open approach to how they are used.
KB: In the book, Florida argues that Great Resets are "broad and fundamental transformations of the economic and social order and involve much more than strictly economic and financial events. A true Reset transforms not simply the way we innovate and produce but also ushers in a whole new economic landscape." Also, he writes, another key feature is that "they bring about shifts in consumption that fuel rising industries."
Notably, the type of Great Reset that Florida argues for, is within a different context than the record industry, but as an analytic lens, might our industry be going through a "Great Reset" of its own?
RM: Per the image I just mentioned, I would say the industry’s great reset has not fully kicked in yet. There is still much untapped potential in the artists out there.
"I think if serious changes occur in copyright law that benefit the creators or we simply start today, and it is artists going forward keeping their rights and benefiting from them – then so be it."
But I think the ball has started rolling on that reset. The very definition notes that it includes a wide range of transformations. I think copyright, driven by the ongoing technological transformations, still needs to undergo a similar transformation of its own as part of such a reset.
KB: "This process is not new; this kind of creative destruction has repeated itself throughout history in the wake of disruptive technologies, " John Palfrey and Urs Gasser write in Born Digital. "What's different here is that Digital Natives can cause this creative destruction on their own, without pausing to worry about the implications."
Do we sometimes forget that it doesn't always take would-be revolutionaries to create change? Now all it takes is a kid with a laptop, who, as we've seen, can do great damage to current social institutions.
RM: While there are certainly unexpected implications such digital natives may cause, I am pretty sure in the full context of the book they describe how these changes are the goal of many such digital natives, although many may not fully imagine the change they could be inflicting. But I think this represents a bigger picture issue. Youth today can see new or better ways of doing things, they have access to information showing the ills of whatever topic concerns them. So there are certainly youth that are nothing more than shit disturbers, but I feel many are being lumped into that category by an older generation that doesn’t understand that these youth have the means to create the change they wish to see today and are acting on that ability. Now the motives might be financial, political or simply a personal challenge. But these are active decisions in favor of change.
I think – and hope we will see these change acted on more and more. Whether they are revolutionaries or not – musicians or other creatives – we now have an unprecedented ability to take action, on a potentially global level, for issues that matter to us. Like record labels in the music biz, the only people that should really fear such a development are those with a lock on the way things were done. The rest of us should look forward to our ability of influencing some of the change coming.