Last week, Dave Grohl, the ex-Nirvana drummer and mastermind behind The Foo Fighters, ranted to the fine folks over at Digital Spy about Taylor Swift’s recent decision to extract her music from Spotify. According to the scruffy, bearded rock genius, the whole debate on technology’s role in music distribution is a waste of time, and bands and artists should just be playing shows. Listening to Grohl has its caveats, the big one being the fact that the man has piles of money and isn’t in the same crap boat as many struggling musical acts, but at its core the ideology is sound.
“You want people to fucking listen to your music?” Grohl told Digital Spy. “Give them your music. And then go play a show. They like hearing your music? They’ll go see a show. To me it’s that simple, and I think it used to work that way.” Again, the Foo Fighters have played every massive stadium on the planet for stupid prices (but also tiny bar shows just because they love playing), but this is some excellent advice for musicians, as well as fans.
His response burns into a heated debate in the industry, revolving at least a bit around Taylor Swift’s refusal to keep her music in the free catacombs of Spotify’s streaming universe, but rooted in a massive kerfuffle between consumers, the industry, and artists. Swift and other big pop artists don’t want their so-called art available for zero dollars, while some bands and artists spring at the opportunity to release their music for nothing. Radiohead famously put out In Rainbows for the price of whatever you want, and U2 just invaded the personal lives of every Apple user on the planet with their freebie.
Services like Spotify, Grooveshark, and Pandora have pushed music into the bosom of technology, and it’s changed a great deal about the industry and the people who produce and consume this particular media. Not that this is anything new; each new technological advance in music is part of the inexorable evolution of the art, but the digital age is now simply ridiculous. As Stuart Dredge said in the Guardian, it’s really about transparency between big companies, labels, streaming sites, bands, fans, the whole shebang. A bit confusing, so…
Should you care?
Actually, yes. Even though the battle’s mainly among corporate giants, Tim Cook’s house band, and people who make so much money with their butts that the music rights shouldn’t even be an issue, the individual listener should feel like they have a say. Being part of a fandom means being the livelihood of folks churning out music day in and day out. And being a musician means being part of the artistic discourse, cause who knows, you could be the next voice of hip hop or doom metal.
What should I do?
If you listen to music, as I suspect you all do, then promote and support the bands and artists that mean something to you. I highly doubt you have no money at all, so try and pay for the indie bands and growing acts that need the cash to keep creating the tunes and live art you enjoy. Don’t lose sleep over streaming music on Spotify, cause really, the big groups aren’t losing their second homes because of it, and you’ll probably go to see a smaller act you really like that you only would have heard because it was free. Maybe you’ll even buy their t-shirt or vinyl if they have one, and know the songs better because they were easily accessible.
If you play music, better get used to the fact that there’s no stopping the Internet and the many streaming powers that be, so buy a few road cases and prepare to play in front of an audience and sell merchandise. Or license your music to be used in other media. And keep supporting the bands that you love, cause maybe one day you’ll be playing live alongside them (but probably not). Music is a rough business, especially seeing as the business side of it is hardly keeping itself together, so know that from the get go there’s very little possibility of making heaps of money.
Really, the Dave Grohl model is probably the best model for some semblance of success. Just get in a fucking garage, listen to music, then learn to play music, then play music for friends, then keep playing it until you play a bar or club, then don’t stop until your ears just can’t take it. And if you’re into electronic music, then still learn a damn instrument, and score YouTube videos. And if you’re a fan who doesn’t want to produce music, buy what you can, and help make sure everyone’s getting a fair cut of the dough.