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Electronic Music Pioneer & CISAC President Jean-Michel Jarre: ‘We’re Living In A Medieval Dark Digital Age’

One of the true pioneers of electronic music, Jean-Michel Jarre has sold over 80 million albums in a colorful 40 year career, while his live shows are legendary around the globe for their ground…

One of the true pioneers of electronic music, Jean-Michel Jarre has sold over 80 million albums in a colorful 40 year career, while his live shows are legendary around the globe for their ground breaking use of technology and innovative visuals. 

Having long campaigned on the behalf of artists and rights holders, Jarre was elected president of global creators’ organisation CISAC in 2013 and re-elected to serve a second term last year

In an exclusive interview, Billboard spoke with the French composer and performer about an issue that he considers not just important for the music industry, but a key part of our human rights: protecting copyright and addressing the value gap. “Society has to protect artists,” he says. “We cannot let this kind of black hole exist in our economy.” 

Billboard: You recently gave a speech at a UNESCO conference in Paris arguing for stronger legislation to address the so called value gap, which you described as a “fundamental flaw in the creative landscape.” Why do you want to see the market rules, specifically around user generated platforms like YouTube, changed? 

Jean-Michel Jarre: We are facing a surreal situation where the creative industries have never made so much money – more than the car industry, the fashion industry and all these other sectors in society, in terms of growth and jobs. So you could say everything is great. The problem is that the nucleus of these creative industries — the creators and authors — have never got so little. And this is not just a problem for a niche sector of society. It’s a huge problem for every family in the world. For every individual on the planet. Because in every family you have one kid dreaming of becoming a graphic artist, filmmaker or musician and [unless something changes] tomorrow they will have to forget their dream. We need to change the system worldwide and that change could come from Africa, Washington. Europe or China; somebody has to push the green light to protect artists and protect intellectual property. It’s not only a financial problem. It’s also a moral problem. It’s a problem of ethics. Intellectual property should be considered part of our human rights. If we don’t create a decent business model for the 21st century, for all these sectors of society, we may not have the next Stanley Kubrick, the next Coldplay, or the next Picasso.


Last year, the European Commission (EC) outlined copyright proposals, currently being considered by the European Parliament, which would force USG platforms like YouTube to pay more for using artists’ content. Do you feel that the EC proposals go far enough? 

It’s a good first step. The European Commission understood the problem and now we are counting on the European Parliament to urgently follow their advice. Obviously, you have constant lobbying from our adversaries saying the reverse; that [addressing the value gap] is not that important. But at some point, we have to make a deal and we are counting on the European Parliament to help us to do that. It’s the responsibility of the European Parliament to protect artists and protect culture. It’s not the job of music and artists.  Europe has always been quite progressive and ahead of its time in terms of respecting artists and respecting communities. So the position of the European Union will be seen by the entire world. And if it’s wrong, it will have a domino effect. We cannot let Europe make a big mistake. We cannot let this kind of black hole exist in our economy.

Tech companies would argue that they are providing opportunities for the music industry to flourish, helping kill piracy and collectively paying out billions to rights holders. 

Let’s remember, in a smart phone, the smart part is us: the creators. If you take away cultural content, it just becomes a regular $50 device. So we know the value of content is beyond any kind of discussion. YouTube is obviously the main problem, but other actors, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, are also in the same boat. We must solve the problem of the sustainable economy for culture. The fact that you get $1,000 dollars after 10 million clicks on YouTube. When YouTube is making billions of dollars on the back of cultural content. That’s not more money going to everybody. It’s more money for these companies and just a tiny, tiny percentage for everybody else. It’s as if we’re in a medieval dark digital age, where you have the king getting all the money and all the rest of the population starving. 

If you could go back in time to the dawn of the digital age, what would you change or put in place? 

The music industry missed every step of the evolution since the Sixties. Firstly, by thinking the CD was the Holy Grail of audio quality. We know that it was crap and worse than vinyl. The second was this idea to sell music like toothpaste and soap in supermarkets and killing record shops. Then when internet started, to try and sue the consumers. Because of that, suddenly the music industry went from being cool to being square and old fashioned. I was always against the suing of consumers. It was a big, big mistake. I thought the issue was somewhere else – it wasn’t with the consumer, it was with the pipes and the networks. 

You’ve called the fight to close the value gap a ‘creators’ revolution.’ Should artists and the music industry be doing more to address the issue? 

We should stop thinking that Google or Apple are our enemies. They are not our enemies. The people behind these platforms are big music fans. But [their companies] grew at such a crazy speed that they didn’t even realise what the situation could be. Now it’s up to us to try to sit around the same table and find a solution. All these organisations have to be very careful about the future. If you think back to Myspace a few years ago, that was [once] the Holy Grail in terms of internet. They don’t [really] exist anymore and that could happen to anyone. If the next generation [starts to think of tech giants] as being the biggest marketing machine exploiting them – and exploiting the world the way that they are at the moment – they could just massively reject these systems and create something else. Artists and musicians were existing before electricity and they will exist after the internet. We are vulnerable, but we are also very stubborn.