Thursday, 8 March 2012

What about artists who can't/won't tour?

Glyn Moody has written an interesting post on the old question, "should artists be entitled to make money?". It's worth reading.

As you may know, I write quite a lot about copyright-vs-technology, mostly concentrating on the technical aspects of copyright enforcement as I'm a tech journalist. But I'm also a musician in my spare time, a songwriter and a sometimes-performer, so I like to think that these two sides give me a sense of balance when I report on these issues.

I completely agree that artists shouldn't feel entitled to anything, particularly to being rich as a result of their endeavours. After all, if money is your primary motivation then you're probably pumping out some pretty shitty art. However, the idea that art should always be given away (not, I realise, what Moody is saying, but something that many people do say) bothers me somewhat.

The conventional wisdom underlying this position is that the art itself can be the free gateway to paid stuff like performances and merchandising. There's an element of truth to this, although I think it holds much truer for established artists (Radiohead, NIN etc) than it does for new.

But the thing that gets me, the bit where I start to play devil's advocate, is this: what about musicians who can't perform? Let's take the hypothetical and somewhat extreme example of a singer-songwriter who's paraplegic and finds it difficult if not impossible to tour. Let's say this person has an amazing voice, writes amazing songs and can record... um, amazingly. You get the point.

If we take the give-it-away-now approach, what chance does this person have of being rewarded for their art? They can record, but they can't use that recording as a springboard for more lucrative follow-ons. Are we saying that this person should treat it as a hobby and nothing more?

And what about the mad-genius-type musician who can record incredible works in their loft or whatever, but doesn't deal well with the public and certainly can't play the self-marketing game?

Basically, are we saying there is no longer any inherent value in recorded music? Does it have to be in the added extras? I'm willing to be persuaded, but I'm not there yet.

PS - Yeah, I know. I'm writing this from the perspective of someone who treats music as a hobby (by necessity - gotta earn a living) and can't really perform right now (I don't have a band but record like I do), but would ideally like to see some return for it. Self-interest abounds. Still, this aspect of the debate is worth having.