Emily White’s guest post from Monday – "Music Owns Me" – has brought no shortage of commentary on Twitter and elsewhere. Following is a response to her post from Keith Berman, a former editor at Radio & Records and co-founder of RAMP (Radio and Music Pros), who notes: “The opinion expressed here is my own and not that of any former or current employer.” Billboard.biz welcomes responsible commentary, please contact email@example.com with ideas.
Since music has been an enormous part of my life for as long as I can remember, I was pleased to see Emily White's partial-evolution in terms of her stance on the value of music. I agree with Ms. White that artists should be fairly compensated for their work, since without fair compensation, there would probably be less people inclined to become musicians.
However, what Ms. White fails to acknowledge is that there's a vast infrastructure supporting the delivery of music to her ears, and unless she's directly handing money to an artist busking on a street corner, there are an incredible number of people who helped bring that music to her attention. If you're listening to a recording of a song, be it digital or physical copy, it had to have been recorded somewhere, which means that studio time was leased and recording engineers and mixers were paid for their efforts.
From there, there had to have been some form of promotion and marketing, which means record label staff came up with a marketing campaign and targeted outlets like billboards, online and print ads, in-store displays or placement in commercials or TV shows. Record promotions people took the recording to whatever radio station you listen to (be it college or otherwise) and convinced the music director to add the record so people would hear it. A tour was booked, so venues, transportation and lodging were paid for (often by the label as well).
And if you bought a physical CD, the CD had to be produced, packaged and shipped to whatever store you bought it in, so there are costs of plantworkers and materials, as well as gas and the manpower to fly or truck the physical disc to the store. If you bought it off iTunes or Amazon, there are storage and bandwidth costs that need to be covered, as well as the manpower to keep all those servers and Internet pipelines running.
Meanwhile, all of the people in that entire chain who actually put in the work hours and made the effort to get your brain to hear that one song? They all need to be paid a salary for their work too.
Ms. White made a cavalier comment about how if beer were downloadable for free, she'd do that too. I wonder how she'd feel if she'd grown up on a farm that produced barley or hops for beer or one of her parents worked for a beer-bottling plant or liquor distributor, and her family starved because consumers simply felt the end-product of beer should be available for free without taking into account the entire process of makingthat beer and bringing it to them.
The main issue here is not whether music should be free -- the issue is that somewhere along the way, mostly due to Napster and other peer-to-peer software, music became accessible for free, so an entire generation became accustomed to the idea that music shouldn't cost anything because they wereable to get it for free at some point. The disconnect is not in the difference of perception -- how consumers actually listen to music vs. how the music industry thinks people are listening to music -- but rather in why consumers think music should be free but other consumable items should not be free. What's needed now is an education about the actual process and costs of bringing music to consumers and why it shouldn't be free, especially since everyone at an individual level feels they should be compensated for their efforts, whatever those efforts are and whatever their job is, be it a barista, a marketing executive, a truck driver or record label promotions staff member.
To bring home the discussion, I recently saw a meme on Facebook that was particularly relevant. It read, "Problem: People are willing to pay $5 for a cup of coffee that cost pennies to make, takes minutes to prepare and is gone forever after one use. Yet millions of people won't pay $1 for a song they like that cost thousands to record, can be used over and over again, and lasts a lifetime." Can anyone explain to me why that is?