Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bill Nelson on the Value of Music and Musicians - "Artists deserve respect and should be able to earn their living without their work being stolen."

I spend a certain amount of my time speaking with musicians. Much more time, I am sure, than the general public would ever have need, or desire. What comes up almost as much as the music is the fact that there is a cancer that has eaten away at the masses - the proliferation of theft as a way of life.

I'm not looking for an argument here, and not interested in a debate. When McDonalds gives their burgers away for free, my lawyer stops sending me his bill, and the rent is no longer due, I'll be fine with illegal downloading and piracy of music - until then, I'm not listening.

However, I came across a Facebook discussion this morning that delved into the topic, and I came across a comment by Bill Nelson - a man who has been in the business of being a working musician his entire adult life (a bit over 40 years). Nelson led the band Be Bop Deluxe for several years before casting the conventional music business model (record, tour, record, tour....) aside to focus upon the recording side of his business and art, only occasionally venturing out to play live. He has done this for over thirty years and managed to please his fans, and feed his family - in other words, he has been a success.

His comment on this thread, which actually came from the Facebook wall of music journalist Anil Prasad (if you don't know this man, Google, Google), captured my attention by almost perfectly encapsulating both thoughts I've had and discussions I have participated in concerning the topic of 'free' music versus music as a viable commodity. As Apple works on its streaming successor to iTunes (iRadio), the issues of how we listen and choose to fund the art of music grows more complex and disadvantageous for the artist, while in the background there is the swell of a tide that suggests that people do want to listen to music at a bit rate better than dismal, and albums are to singles as movies are to a sitcom, as books are to short stories. Here is Nelson's comment in full:

Bill Nelson: "I have strong opinions on this subject, as those who frequent my Dreamsville website ( will already know. I've been a professional musician for 40 years or so. I work long and hard hours, producing music that I hope my audience wants to hear and enjoy. Music is my career and my calling, and the notion that my craft amounts to nothing of financial value in the eyes of certain consumers gets my hackles up. 
"Nevertheless, it's worth pointing out that physical sales of recorded music still outnumber downloads and that there is still a healthy market for music that doesn't cow-tow to the fickle youth market. I'm not just citing the 'classic rock' type of audience here but those of us who have broader and perhaps more complex and developed tastes. Whilst the mainstream music sector pitches its 'product' at increasingly younger kids, there is still a relatively sizable mature and discerning audience who appreciate a somewhat deeper listening experience. 
"Which is why, in the city where I live, there are a number of hi-fi shops selling expensive, top-end speakers and amps to people who place a real value on music and are willing to invest time and money in maximizing their enjoyment. These folks are not listening to mp3s or downloads through cheap ear buds, they sit in front of their high-end systems and really listen, giving themselves to the music with genuine commitment. 
"Despite the perceived 'war' between formats, delivery systems, free music versus paid for music, etc. (a war gleefully pumped up by the popular media), there's really no black and white, either or, with this subject, (although those with vested interests will continue to crow the demise of physical product in an attempt to push the music further into the download only realm). Kids will have their free music and will listen to it in whatever manner they like, (or think is cool). But kids grow up and their tastes change along with their values. 
"The music I enjoyed in my teens defined me as I was then but doesn't necessarily do so now. I've grown to demand more, not just from music but from myself and everything around me. I guess one of the problems with the music industry is that it remains pathologically infantile and presumes its entire audience is likewise fixated with some shallow ideal of perpetual 'youthfulness.' Thankfully music is capable of so much more than that, as any musician worthy of the title 'artist' already knows. 
"Music has a real value, both spiritually and materially. Artists deserve respect and should be able to earn their living without their work being stolen by morons who inhabit a 'something for nothing' culture."

Nelson has done his usual great job of communicating his thoughts to his audience - in a manner that I felt deserves a wider reading.

There is much work to be done, but I am encouraged by things such as record store day, and the fact that vinyl is viable - you can't keep the beauty of music from the masses forever. One day they will hear it as it is meant to be heard, and the tide will turn. In the meantime, many of us will continue to fight the good fight, and carry on with the mission to make music both a better listening experience, and profitable for the artist.

Again, I'm not looking for debate, or argument here - you can't sway me a bit, as I love and respect musicians way too much to ever think they should toil for my pleasure without fair compensation. As a reviewer who gets a lot of music free, I will add that I often buy a copy of records that I have received from labels and artists that I like. I generally give them to someone less fortunate, who I think will appreciate the act, and remain a customer, and not just a consumer.

My thanks to those like Mr. Nelson, Anil Prasad, and David Lowery who voice this loudly, and often.

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