NPR Intern Ignites Internet Firestorm over Music. Again.

Emily White is an intern at NPR who recently wrote a blog post admitting that she owns 11,000 songs but has only bought 15 CDs in her entire life. This actually sums up the entire post quite nicely…

I never went through the transition from physical to digital. I’m almost 21, and since I first began to love music I’ve been spoiled by the Internet.

White admits she ripped a lot from the promo albums sent to her college radio station, that her friends dumped huge amounts of music onto her iPod, and so on. She closes by advocating for a service that lets you stream any time, anywhere, and pays the artist based on music streams.

Needless to say, this article was met with intelligent considered criticism, by which we mean the comments became a river of fire and people who should know better went off on her while betraying they don’t understand the situation at all. The most popular rebuttal starts off with the author, David Lowery, insisting that he’s not going to set up any strawmen, and then proceeds to blame file-sharing for two musicians killing themselves, before whining about how today’s kids don’t stick it to the man, but rather stick it to the musicians.

But there’s one passage that stands out the most, as well…

Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change–if a machine can do something, it ought to be done.

He’s arguing against music piracy, but it’s an unusually telling statement.

The main takeaway from this very long article is that Lowery, for a professor who teaches the music business, seems to have little if any grasp of how the economics actually work. Lowery complains about the labels, but he’s bought into their line of argument hook, line, and sinker.

While I have my own perspective on why the music industry is suffering ongoing economic “setbacks,” I’m not going to deny that music piracy hurts artists. Of course it does. As does the freefall in album prices that has been ongoing ever since the industry was forced to stop price-fixing and was made to be competitive; there’s no way they’re not cutting artist royalties to try and shore up their profits.

The problem, as we’ve seen way too often, is that artists seem not to understand how the Internet works, or the simple reality that, at the end of the day, what they’re selling to consumers is a product. Like it or not, consumers dictate how they buy products, and they’ll go for the more convenient way, every time. If they just want the one song, and the one song is available — why should they buy the whole album?

Again, we’re not trying to dismiss the problems of musicians out of hand. It’s just troubling that so many musicians seem to have so little understanding of how they’re getting screwed, and who’s doing the screwing.

(Image courtesy Julie Jordan Scott on Flickr)