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diaryland: entry for 2005-10-04 (22:12)
In which our plucky young hero misses Dan Gallagher.

So, when's the revolution?

It is tough indeed to throw a brick lately without hitting an advocate of the Creative Commons, remix culture, Web 2.0, or whatever the hell they're calling it these days. I used to think this would thrill me to no end. After all, as much as we get to choose our future, the shiny creativeremix2.0 one is a lot better than "The Right to Read" or the grim meathook. But ... how will we get there?

One necessary component of a genuine creativeremix2.0 culture is really good art. Art of all kinds: not just post-Singularity science fiction and loopy electronica, but family sitcoms, documentaries about gazelles, boy-band ballads. All of it free. And we're not even close to there. We're so far away that it's not even funny.

Take, for example, the band Harvey Danger. You may remember them a few years ago from their hit single. You may even remember the name of that hit single ("The Middle"), but I'm willing to bet that you cannot sing it on demand, and oh yeah, what was the name of the followup?

Now they're back in the spotlight, because they've decided to put their next album out onto the filesharing. And so people start talking about a band that would otherwise occupy the same amount of your headspace as Jesus Jones or Haywire. None of them, however, seem to talk about whether the album is any damn good.

This is not a coincidence.

There's only so much emperor to go around, and let's face it, nobody wants to be the one to point out that creativeremix2.0 hasn't actually produced very much good music. It gets in the way, and besides, didn't Ted Sturgeon prove long ago that 90% of everything is crap, and besides besides, MTV, huh? Huh?

The sad thing is that it doesn't have to be this way. People all over can use word-of-mouth to make their favorite musicians famous, maybe even make them rich. But that's not quite as good for propaganda purposes, really. "Former top 40 band uses p2p as publicity stunt" offers a valuable moment of cognitive dissonance; "guy puts mp3 of his folk song on web site, gets a few hundred downloads" is boring.

You have to feel bad for mp3 folk guy. Nobody cares about making mashups of his song. It won't give anyone indie cachet to drop his name at the club. And, in the unkindest cut of all, nobody will talk about him. Not when Harvey Danger, the brilliant minds behind "Pretty Fly For A White Guy", are about to unload another album of the same old crap, only this time they're saving you the thirty seconds it takes to rip the one good song.

(Side note: I can't believe I'm writing this essay. Cripes almighty, it's barely convincing as parody. The soundtrack of the inevitable victory of free culture is that one band with that one song from that one week in 1998. It'd be funny if it wasn't so sad.)

The damn thing is, this is not what is supposed to happen. There is supposed to be a mechanism by which people find out about new music and obtain and share it. The problem is that in theory, the name of this mechanism is "Creative Commons-licensed works spread via word-of-mouth", but in practice, the name of this mechanism is "the publicity department of Sony Music".

I used to think that record companies would be obsoleted by the creativeremix2.0 revolution. But it turns out they'll only be killed by p2p. And that's a shame, because for all the talk of bloated dinosaurs and outmoded business models, the record companies seem to be the only ones who talk up new musicians. Yes, they're doing it to try to sell me a CD, but you gotta cut some slack. If mp3 folk guy gets signed by Sony, perhaps, as Albini said, he will be already this fucked. But at least someone will be out there trying to talk up his damn music to the public.

(Side note: remind me to someday talk about this whole "remix" idea, wherein some record-company hit from 2002 and some record-company hit from 2003 are put together in some guy's copy of GarageBand, and the result is mysteriously new somehow, in much the same way that "West Side Story" had one of the most breathtakingly original plots in the history of theatre.)

Sure, the new record-company music these days may all suck -- don't they realize rock attained perfection in 1976? But when the advertised options are some new band that might just suck, and Harvey Danger, who I know suck (even if their song "All Star" was pretty catchy), I think I'll take a chance on the new guys. I would love to go into the future with the creativeremix2.0 culture. And maybe someday I will, once they're done living in the past.

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