Mythical album dollars at stake: Beyond Lowery v. White


This month,two NPR DJs, Bob Boilen and Emily White professed online their choices on exactly how they want to access & hear their music. Bob, a life-long musician, and the creator of NPR’s All Songs Considered, deleted thousands of songs from his laptop, trusting in the cloud computing experience to safeguard his collection. He made a choice to give up physical CDs and cassettes and such, mainly due to laptop hard drive space.
In this self-proclaimed experiment, posted to his blog for NPR on June 1, Bob declares “I’ll miss the physical, the tangible, but that’s been feeling like a thing of the past anyway” He ideally would like more liner notes in the digital experience. Bob’s experiment is in play, awaiting the initial results.
Bob appears strongly influenced by what the current and future music culture is dictating: allowing technology in preserving both high-quality music and preserving as much physical space as possible. What to do with that space he saves, who the heck knows?

Emily White is all of 21 and already the general manager of Washington DC’s WVAU, on the grounds of American University. She had read Bob’s post, which came early into her NPR internship working for him at All Songs Considered. She was moved to write an honest opinion of her music habits both on the job and off. Her quote “I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience..” kicked off hundreds of comments online and notably from major-label musician/producer/music economist David Lowery via The Trichordist. David’s open letter to Emily harps on her unwillingness to pay for albums in light of technological convenience. He addresses her position saying that “Fairly compensating musicians is not a problem that is up to governments and large corporations to solve.” This certainly a dig on the state of business in America and perhaps at NPR itself.

 From the looks of the discussion online, David Lowery is made by the greater media to be the large dissenting voice, thanks to name recognition. Meanwhile, there are many other voices that should be heard just as loud. The voice of indie, underground and DIY artists. The voices who can spell out the struggle to earn dollars from physical product, the digital realm notwithstanding. Voices of Emily’s perspective and digital generation who have not acheived (and often, eschewed) major-label fame and fortune.
In an April 2012 interview for music/media publicist Imagine PR, Emily states that she wants CDs that catch her eye (read: style over substance), but insists on having digital downloads to access.  Emily claims to being able to build playlists on Spotify if she were to lose her collection of songs from her laptop. So, she has also made a choice in this regard: she lets her job, a job from NPR, a public station funded by the federal government among parties, to fuel her already music-filled life and acquire downloads for the most part. She seems entitled to music, but only on her own terms, both Utopian and Plutonic ideas that suggests she wants music how and when she wants.

Emily would appear motivated by singles suggested by NPR or her friends along with being in a position where she listen to a ton of music. Of course she doesn’t have to buy CDs when downloads are the norm and practically a requirement to save space.

It is this podcaster’s opinion that Emily abused her privilege in having access to thousands of songs, and she should not have such access on the job to those same songs and CD while she has a job. I dare say she has been spoiled by her job and she might never turn back from her choices. Is Emily aware that some musicians won’t put up their music on Spotify or other websites like archive.org ?

I am not accusing Emily of stealing, though she may, for all we know, may have received stolen property. Within the framework of the music business, music is not free. There must be exchange on some level.
Hopefully, Emily will not be lost on the concept of what an artist presents on stage and really understand what goes into making an album and what motivates an artist with each album. Does she not care about lyrics? Has she never set foot in a recording studio? Eyeballed an instrument or prop on stage and wonder to herself “What gives? What’s that sound? Why is this important?”

Further, I’d refuse to give NPR any more attention than they deserve, as they represent how America really is, largely unwilling to pay for physical product unless the mousetrap is set just right.

The argument is fairly about money and technology and the fairness in accessing it, but what’s deeply buried is the motivation behind making an album, whether a concept in principle or deliberate.

 Ultimately I’m against Emily’s decision for not paying for albums, though in turn I applaud her honesty. Along these lines, more artists below the name recognition level of David Lowery must be heard by greater ears to provide proper perspective.
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2 Responses to “Mythical album dollars at stake: Beyond Lowery v. White”

  1. Well said Dan! I applaud your information gathering, and well said comments. You rock!

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