As a long-time Talking Heads fan, I was pleased to see in Boing Boing that David Byrne isn’t worried about people downloading his recordings without paying: “I don’t see much money from record sales anway, so I don’t really care how people are getting it.” Later, he acknowledges that he himself P2Ps for music (“ I’ve also — I guess you could say — illegally downloaded some songs”).
So far, so good. He’s making me feel better, after I was disillusioned by his public enthusiasm for PowerPoint.
But in the same interview, he observes that he’s starting his own online radio station, since he wants to build an audience for music that lies outside the ambit of hits and favorites. He observes that back when one bought an album, one got both the music one anticipated and sought, and also other selections that one might not have chosen; Radio David Byrne will try to enrich its audience’s listening habits with both popular and more obscure selections. That’s good, too.
But does anyone else note the disconnection between the two sets of observations? If people weren’t obliged to pay for online recordings, wouldn’t they listen much more adventurously? I think we can prove this case, friends; certainly Alan Wexelblat over at Copyfight is on top of the reality-based analysis of downloading and sales (thatnks for that link, too, Boing Boing). On a purely anecdotal level, I hardly ever haunt the P2P filesharing world any more, but just informal filesharing with friends and mp3 blogs called to my attention my favorite recent recordings — and pretty much all the music I’ve bought in the past few months has come to my attention through some form of filesharing. I don’t buy music unheard any more.
So David, by all means run an internet radio station, but go further to connect the dots. If you want to build audience for unexpected music, distribute it for free, online, with a http://creativecommons.org/audio/ and see what happens to sales.
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I think Byrne’s point is that, when you buy an LP or a CD, you get a fixed set of songs, some of which probably motivated you to buy it, and some you may not have chosen to buy. Whether you buy songs singly or download them singly, you’re still getting only the things you think you want. The LP, the tape, the CD (to a lesser extent), the radio station — they give you things which you didn’t ask for.
Good point, John. I suppose what I meant was, if music files were free to download (or had a low enough cost to be, in essence, “disposable”), we’d end up in a similar situation. I could say in a blog, “Check out the latest David Byrne tracks” and whether you expect to like Byrne or not, you can listen without cost (except for time). That’s a big positive difference from saying, “If you already know you like this track, you have to buy these ten others” — a not more aleatory and more coercive and more costly and less efficient way of introducing people to music.