Rock and Roll is Dead

Recently, the New York Times reported on the continued woes of the music industry. (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/technology/24music.html?hpw). As illegal file sharing continues to run rampant, record labels are faced with the prospect of digital sales never reaching anything close to the profitability of selling CDs. Beyond illegal file sharing, however, I think something far more insidious is at work. Constant connectivity and a steady flow of new content have led to the dwindling of our attention spans. The dwindling of our attention spans has, in turn, led to our disinterest in full-length albums. The death of the album has ushered in our current, much more superficial connection with music; rather than having a deep connection with the story line or flow of an album, we are content with Pandora’s frenetic shift from U2’s “One”, to Coldplay’s “Clocks”, to John Mayer’s cover of “Free Falling”. Afterwards, we may jump over to youtube for some playful cat footage. So cuuute! Roger Waters, (lead singer of Pink Floyd and co-writer of some of the best concept albums ever made), would be appalled. What does this mean for the efforts made by various countries to curb illegal music sharing? Are they too focused on illusory threat while a much bigger affront to music lurks? Can laws be better tailored to dissuade illegal sharing while also prompting a rekindled love for the full-length record, or are these goals unconnected? And… discuss.

3 comments

  1. On this I would opine the deepest problem is not our attention spans, but rather the avenues of opportunity to get what we want for free. Why buy the cow if all we want is the milk? Why buy the album if we only want to hear the single? When my mother had the needle fixed on our record player, I sat for hours listening to entire albums, finding myself shocked when I heard a song I never heard before on an album I was familiar with. Why? Because I was used to compact discs, and being able to skip songs, the titles of which I had not heard already on the radio or elsewhere. What I’m getting at here is that as technology advances, we take advantage of it. When these advancements present themselves in a format that saves time and costs zero dollars, it seems almost silly to ask why we take advantage of it. That being said, piracy and file sharing injure the music industry, which will in turn filter back down to injure the fans downloading that music–not just because it is illegal, but because when these industries fail, the entire world market takes blows and that touches each and every one of us. Sweden passed anti-piracy laws in April of 2009 and is viewed as a positive example of the interplay between effective legislation and innovative digital options for legitimate music consumption. IFPI, Digital Music Report (2011), available at http://www.ifpi.org/content/library/DMR2011.pdf.
    Since then, Sweden is experiencing that musical leap forward is now starting to take a few steps back due to lack of enforcement of the anti-piracy law. Should the Swedish model be universally adopted, it will take the continued and cooperative support of governments and ISPs, and innovation to create new and competitive legitimate music consumption options. Worried about the waning attention spans and albums gone un-listened to? I think it’s time to stop worrying and start working with it because the future isn’t in LPs, or 8-tracks, or cassettes, or CDs; it’s in our pockets on our cell phones. This technology just blows my mind.

  2. I think Shari has hit the nail squarely on the head. As time marches forward, technology advances and the public’s tastes and preferences move along with it. And part of that will always be people attempting to beat the system. With the speed at which technology advances and the ease of file-sharing, it seems unlikely that any legal remedies can have a prayer at making a dent in putting an end to internet piracy. Especially given the fact that the internet is not constrained by any kind of boundaries. For every Sweden that comes up with strong measures to prevent piracy, there are dozens of countries with far less interest in attempting to regulate piracy. If someone wants to obtain bootlegged music, there are not shortage of places to look. And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the ability of the authorities to actually enforce these regulations in full.

  3. I agree with what Joe said. Technology advances so quickly, that it’s unlikely that a feasible solution to piracy can be found. As soon as there is a way to deal with file sharing, someone, somewhere will undoubtedly have found a new way around it. The resourcefulness of people who don’t want to pay for something is astounding. I think it’s pretty clear that piracy is winning here. There are so many free music streaming sites out there now, or offset by advertising that it seems like people have given up trying to fight. Instead of losing all of their revenue, they can at least make up some of it with ads on these sites. And, the fact that these options exist pretty much ensures that no one will ever be willing to go back to the old way of things.

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