Your Music, Their Profit !

The online world seems deeply occupied in the 'big bang' of GDPR. General Data Protection Regulation. In essence GDPR is a broad list of rules which 'dictates' (since it was created outside public vote or consent) how information and data will be utilized by all in the future. Your bytes and bits are culpable? The recent outcry by IBM calls GDPR a "beginning of the end" and like many technocrats, firms like Digital Guardian are already vending software and services for all, to comply with GDPR. Technologies like Blockchain and crypto-currency are at logger-heads with many of the rules within GDPR. A clear sign that states and it's various agencies would in effect have control over personal data of billions of citizens. Sea changes as this are set to effect all within the worldwide web : be it a farmer vending avocados for vegans or a musician composing for fans across the world. This feature is investigating the reality of such euphoric times and changes, especially for musicians and artists, by gathering some expert opinions.

The current study is based upon a range of questions and discussions with four eminent critical thinkers in the field of music, information technology and social anthropology. Doctor Jacob Fenn at University of Wales, Saskia Dietrich working in the field women's rights and inclusivity in Holland, Anjali Srivastava, social anthropologist and lecturer at Maryland University and Jose Maria Rodriguez of Universidad Autonoma in Madrid.

How fair is online retail and streaming of music?
AS : Take the case of Apple Music or Spotify as contemporary examples, as leading distributors and stores that carry 'all the songs' in world but don’t need to sell any of them in order to make money. Fact finding missions by organizations such as Digital Music asked how 'falling artist revenues have no effect on the rise of new online stores and services'. We see a barrage of bogus concepts and services being offered to artists of whatever country with the bait of success and fame. There are thousands of look-alike record labels rotating content, artists, copy-pasted text and contracts inside the european markets, yet that can hardly be deemed as growth or progress. Sonic-Bids, the world's largest music career service recently published an article stating " How to assault your fans " That kind of language and culture leaves little room for creativity or individuality and reduces the process of creation to a war-like status. Even as the 'Global Music Report paints a very positive story in terms of sales, downloads, air-time and distribution, the report mostly disregards the problems faced by independent unsigned artists (which forms 75% of the industry) : The GMR report states even though music streaming revenue is up by 61% the individual share of the average musician is down by 26% in 2015-16. David Bowie still sells more than the millions of new emerging talent.

SD : A large part of online retail is based on feedback systems and propaganda. Epiphany aside, the tolerance towards needless propaganda has reached epic proportions and the desire for actual talent has dwindled deeply.  If 'Video killed the Radio Star' surely 'Mp3 killed the Video Star'? Today marketing concepts of the automobile and airplane industry are applied to music and culture consumption. Consumption of music is now deemed an automated process instead of various co-existing organic or semi-organized cultures. The industry has lost it's diversity in many forms. The band has become a brand and totally hailed by unhealthy industries like Coca Cola, Red-Bull, Deep Eddy Vodka, Pepsico, Jagermiester etc etc. Sadly there is no conceptual difference between the epic triumph of Coldplay and deep penetration of Radiohead. Every kind of music must gather numbers or it's deemed useless. Since this process or type of work requires endless man-hours, harangue and commitment, it makes little sense for serious artists and bands to undertake such efforts. Yet these very artists are forced to comply and pay for the propaganda, retail and management. Eventually we all know why the label and manager are way more rich than the artist itself. The same theory applies for the vast profits reaped by CD Baby [Worlds largest independent music and merchandise management service] every year, versus the trickle-down benefits received by artists.

Artists consider data [sounds, music, stems, video etc] as their rightful intellectual property. Is that concept still valid?
JF : Valid it is, yet to what extent one might want to ask. Take the example of Article 6 of the GDPR manifesto, which states "the data subject has given consent to the processing of his or her personal data for one or more specific purposes; " Now enough evidence is available to show how and why Facebook, Google and Twitter violate that very dictate on a daily basis, making millions of dollars every month by selling user-information to thousands of third party developers and retailers : GDPR might curtail the bombardment of adverts and propaganda, as well re-enforce powerful enterprises to curb freedom of expression and liberty of public content. A recent study conducted in the US shows up-to 345,400 account cancelations were conducted by Twitter and Facebook after the 2017 congressional debates over Net Neutrality.

JMR : It depends on the terms and conditions of the vendor usually and not the artists. With new changes as the GDPR, consumers can expect more stringent protection of rights - Lesser abuse of data, content and privacy with hope that public courts can hold private data-giants culpable for theft, misinformation or invading privacy. As for data and intellectual property rights, GDPR specifically does not protect the rights of musicians. The subject of IPR works differently in various regions of the world. For example an artist from France trying to sue a label for theft and misrepresentation in India would find it near impossible to litigate the given issue. On the upside, the GDPR is an important step to protect individual data and content which includes all types of archives including sound. Artists could ask if their music is actually their data? Do they really own it?

'Hope Labour' The perils of Patreon? Cloud Economics vs. Reality?
AS : Hope Labour existed in the 17th and 18th century as an unspoken anchor for millions of european immigrants arriving to the shores of the 'new world'. The concept repeated itself in many war-torn regions of the world post WW2. Yet today we see a virtual simulation of Hope Labour. Recently an article exposed the reality of success on - An overwhelming 77% majority of artists would not receive the bare minimum patronage needed to survive. A very small elite cabal of artists would earn more than $5000 a month [annual Taxi Driver salary in Los Angeles city area is $40,400] and approximate drop-out rate of artists is as high as 50% on Patreon. Given the few success stories and immense media hype, the audience is tricked into embracing newer systems that are actually perpetuating old myths. But why blame Patreon alone, when a similar pattern is seen on Kickstarter and Go-Fund-Me : where drop-out rates is proof of dodgy ethics and weak sustainability.

SD : Patreon is an interesting case-study : It was quickly considered a public success story that grew initially riding on good intent and immense hope. Patreon being a private silicon valley mindset vested in profit maximization is not capable nor interested in addressing questions of basic universal income. Instead it urges artists to create free content again and again, offering the formulaic hope of "Get Rich Quick". It's a bit vicious to see this kind of hope and hoodwink co-exist. Instead we can ask "Do we really need a service like Patreon if we really care about art and artists?" Lets switch gears for a moment... Uber is a 1.5 billion dollar business, set-up on the bogus principles of "shared economy" is similar to the system of music retail and streaming : which are identically and inevitably geared for profit maximization. My question being "struggles of a cab driver have become similar to the artist's ?"

JMR : An ongoing study in Spain investigating the rise of new start-ups, AI and social networking tools post the economic crisis of 2008, revealed that even as investments rose by 28% [highest in the continent during 2012-2016] a majority of the ventures failed to actually 'take-off' as projected. Less than 11% of these tech-based ventures reached the 1million euro mark in terms of profits. This specifically does not include artists, musicians and content creators, yet the rate of success remains very speculative as well as littered with needless trappings of marketing and hype. Further, tech-giants like Microsoft, Intel, Samsung and Amazon are not so interested in developing  public utility based technology as much for vigorously acquiring, buying out native and emerging talent and technology.

Has the value of music reduced? Tunes as a tool of enticement?
AS : Take the case of Amazon. Using music as an enticement to motivate people to create Amazon accounts, buy other products that have nothing to with music. This includes their own Amazon Prime shows and services, to sell more Kindles, I-phones etc and eventually monopolize their market share. This explains why it sells music for less than it pays for it. Music becomes a tool for netting customers for their products and services. Look at Deezer tying up with big football clubs in Manchester and Barcelona to sell more tickets or divert consumers to sports via music? The answer is obvious. Many top ranking executives of the music industry will swear by the increase in streaming revenues yet never speak once about the involved robbery and vicious trade practices that create such huge profits in the first place. Theodore Adorno and Horkheimer had predicted this sort of cultural fascism around 1932 in their famous essays titled Culture Industry.

SD : It's mockery to celebrate the success of digital music retail in the face of the huge and dismal evidence which is clearly contrary. Be it bands, musicians, small labels or producers. many would swear by the superiority of Spotify as a great system of broadcasting music. Yet the reality is rather quixotic and instead ensures millions of dollars of profit for Spotify and not the artists themselves. Users of Spotify have no say in finding new music in-spite of paying a monthly or annual fee.  Spotify doesn’t need to stream the music it carries, nor be profitable from those songs it does stream, Fact is Spotify ignores millions of great tunes anyways. Spotify simply exists in order for its investors and owners to reach their financial finish line. Selling the company or taking it public to make billions. The deal is set, with or without music. The artist is reduced to a working account and validated only by numbers and rotation. Will Page, director of economics at Spotify is clearly riding a global shop-keeper's mentality when he claims "our aim is to bring in the next 100 million subscribers in the near future" Little does he care or realize that 'infinite growth' is eventually a hoax.

JF : Music distribution patterns have changed during the last twenty years and anyone can guess why. The internet. Yet the nature of consumption has gone through transformation as well. No one can answer why a tune like "Gangam Star" would rake in 3 billion+ hits on you-tube [there are 7.1 billion folks on earth] Yet it's obvious the artist who composed the tune will never be able to top this record nor be taken seriously in the future. By the time the owners of these new companies ‘exit’ reaping billions of dollars, a sea of frustrated artists may be left in wake, wondering what the hell happened ?! They might remember the old online gimmick which cried "hashtag my ass!"

Where is the evidence of egalitarianism? The democratization of arts?
SD : Hope is really a powerful 'force' that keeps people working for low wages. The last century was witness to this ghastly fact with industrial and farming labour. Often rebelling against their masters and tyrannical forces. Today it's the musician and artist. Yet there is no revolt and the tyrant is the information system itself. The veneer of meritocracy requires that artists remain passionate about work and take oath to a belief that money isn’t the reason for making art - eventually letting go of their fair share and profits of labor. Yet one out of thousands may reach for the stars inside such a 'society of chance'. The rest, deemed to oblivion or the cluttered sidelines. Tech-Giants have an ironic semblance of colonizers and medieval slave owners in terms of the inequality and ruthless trade practices. If most artists became aware of such an imbalance, a change will thoroughly dismantle the existing system.

JMR : It's an ethical debate of sorts with no real outcome. If a right-wing cross bearing racist individual from South Carolina can exist on twitter so can a jihadi fundamentalist from Syria. Yet twitter must be judge to let one spread hate and the other one be censored. Go figure that type of hypocrisy. One way or another, the internet and digital communication is the 'gasoline of the 21st century' and states in cohorts with large corporations cloistered mostly to control and curtail public freedom.

JF : Circa 2002, many leading futurists and technocrats from the Silicon valley had predicted and hailed the internet as the final frontier for free-thought, public information and international dialogue. Yet that did not happen, least not for a vast majority of humanity. Magazines like Wired heavily marketed the hoodwink idea of total individual success, championing the self-fulfilling lives of the millennials armed with zany apps and gadgets. Millions were convinced in a moment of great glee. 15 years later what we see is the opposite. Faces glued to screens everywhere, scrolling on glass endlessly, repeating emojis, consuming tiny chunks of propaganda or personal information every 20 seconds and gradually loosing a larger context of reality. Recently the WHO deemed internet abuse and video-games to be included as a source of mental health diseases. Highest rates of this disorder being visible in the US, South Korea, Japan and China. The same trend repeats again with Virtual Reality Experience. The craze and hype as seen in festivals and tech-conferences in Berlin and Barcelona. No one seems to be asking 'What is the utility of VR?' or even 'Why is it so elite, just like an Iphone'? Eventually VR will be tamed to sell products and services via a new form of addiction.

So are we doomed?
AS : Haha ! I sure hope not. Though a large part of the internet and various service providers are locked in vicious battles of control and profit, as isolated individuals we may feel helpless yet public motivation and voices has often been key in dismantling inequality and unjust systems. Lets not forget that a 14 year old genius boy called Aron Schwartz came up with the idea of Creative Commons Share Alike and is now used by well over 5 million artists. Lets remember Lester Lessig's ground-breaking ideas titled 'Plunderphonics', where-in copying, reinventing and sharing is legit and is the real party of creativity : reflected in most of art, music, literature, architecture etc not just today but for eons. Let's not forget that culture is a product of such ethics and historic values. Bach and Mozart did not compose out of thin-air, they depended on their pianos and fellow musicians. Popular culture is the property of the people and not specific nations nor corporations.

JF : Interesting, this concept of digital doom ... As always no, we are not doomed, yet deeply heckled and starkly addicted to crude forms of entertainment and communication. Leading news-channels make it worse ... If your looking at your phone more than 100 times a day [for whatever reason] you do have a problem. And we must all know that Instagram pictures necessarily don't portray the truth about us and are eventually discarded as digital trash. Look at the re-emergence of Cyber-Feminism and newer anarchistic generation of hackers, 'unicorns', activists and whistleblowers that are continuously punching holes inside the old systems.

MJR : For artists and creators it is a very challenging, choppy and interesting time, but it opens up new possibilities and impact. Coders, crypto-currency workers, Blockchain specialists and individual developers are coming up ever new solutions, software and ideas for public use, that too mostly very cheap or free of cost. Sustainability remains an issue yet that is the case with any new confrontational idea or technology. Take the example of Steemit, a social media and video service which is working very well outside the monopolistic ethics youtube, facebook, twitter and vimeo. Capitalist technocrats like Steve Wozniak were one the biggest bashers of Bitcoin, yet evidence now is totally contrary to his sermons [crap]. Crypto-currency is not a bubble after all, as many bogus economists predicted in the last 5 years again and again, but it's true potential is yet to manifest and hopefully not in the wrong hands. Futurists like Ray Kurzweil may have immense faith in 'Singularity' as bridge into a post-digital humanity, but the concept serves the interest of less than 10% of the whole world.

SD : Artistic solidarity and assimilation of artistic resources is important as of now given the vast networks of communication available.  Resource sharing is a key consideration as well. The various systems of monopoly can only be dismantled by public dissent and action. A few generations later we may see a fairer inclusive society where talent and creativity is valued instead of numbers and propaganda. Most successful artists remain loyal to the industry and it's vicious exclusive ethics. As role-models of success they are very elite, chaste in hype. Be it Beyonce, Bjork, Drake, Thom Yorke or even dead stars like Prince and David Bowie, are at best idol worship material for emerging artists. As very few artists realize the totalitarian non-inclusive ethics of commercial entertainment, the need for discussion, dissent and dissemination becomes even more vital. Local voices, participation, solutions and cultures in place of globalized content and hierarchies set by those we don't even know. A post-millennial world would be still as challenging and full of torrents for artists and creators i feel..

Thank you for your time, the facts and opinions. 

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