EASY ED’S BROADSIDE: No Quarters in This Jukebox
My two sons, our relatives, and most of the people who know me are well aware that when it comes to holidays, birthdays, and other momentous occasions, I’m a loser. Sometime after my second divorce I stopped buying greeting cards. I don’t set up a Christmas tree, I turn the lights off at Halloween, and I have generally never been able to remember any dates of importance. It’s gotten to the point that my first wife has taken on the responsibility to notify me via email of every significant event in my life that I need to know about, and she and I split up close to 40 years ago. And if it wasn’t for her and my very first girlfriend from back in my high school days, I probably would forget my own birthday. But this week is different, and nobody knows the significance other than me.
Ten years ago this week I published my first article on the No Depression website. The title was “The Value of Creation” and it was a pity party for myself, having just ended a successful career in music distribution that began in 1974 and withered away with piracy running rampant and national record store chains and wholesalers filing bankruptcy one after another. Finding myself unemployed in the midst of the greatest financial meltdown of modern times, I had time on my hands to walk the dog, listen to a lot of music, and stare at a screen for hours.
All that coincided with the original magazine going out of print after 15 years and shifting to an online community content site; I was among the first group of 500 to sign up, log in, and participate. For several months I was probably spending half my day on the site, joining a lot of the discussion and interest groups we used to have here, watching the videos that were posted, reading reviews, and making online friends. As we’ve recently shut down the comments’ section with the new web design, it’s nice to see a lot of the ND OGs migrating over to my Facebook page so we can continue our seemingly endless discussions on roots music and HoJo fried clams. (Don’t even ask.)
Our first community manager, Kim Ruehl, encouraged me to start posting my own articles and on March 3, 2009, I took the plunge. With an educational background in journalism but absolutely no experience beyond writing memos to my staff, I was pretty green. For those who have been following me all these years, you are either masochistic or really enjoy watching a grown man make a fool of himself. Unlike my fellow contributors, who actually appear to have the skill sets in writing that I lack, after 482 articles, essays, and columns under my belt, I’m still just a guy who just likes to listen to music and enjoys sharing it.
If y’all are still wondering what I perceived as the “value of creation” ten years ago, it’s interesting that not a lot has changed. Here’s a brief excerpt:
I’m beginning to think that the value of creation is zero. Be it newspaper or song, information or entertainment…it’s free for the taking. I sit on the computer most of my days now and although I was looking for a second life in music, I can’t figure out a way to do it anymore.
Look…I have always shunned all the free and illegal ways to acquire music, as it struck both my income and to the artists who were being ripped off. But the dirty admission I make here is that a few weeks ago I started to research why 90% or more of the music downloads on the internet are illegal, and the answer is because it’s both free and easy. Duh….I know…..kind of late to the game. So in trying to see how easy it was, I started to experiment and see what’s what.
And the envelope please….everything is out there and it’s all yours to take. From Steve Earle’s show in Madrid last month to the entire Dylan catalog, from the most popular of today’s music to the third (not the first nor second) Ultimate Spinach album…I find it with a click and a search, and get it free…for not even a cent. I’m sorry to sound so surprised…but it’s unbelievable. The value of a song is now nothing. Zip. Zero.
Ten years later and we’ve legitimized digital streaming and/or downloads of almost everything: music, TV, films, books and apps that can do anything or everything we need. Hell, yesterday I saw a new app where you can buy fruit and vegetables so damaged and ugly that even the local markets won’t sell it and you still have to pay $30 for 20 pounds. Music? Not even close.
While I haven’t hunted down the latest numbers, last year CNBC reported that one of the digital streaming platforms paid out “$0.006 to $0.0084 per stream to the holder of music rights. And the ‘holder’ can be split among the record label, producers, artists, and songwriters. In short, streaming is a volume game.” That calculates out to one million streams of one song yielding only $7,000.
I wish I could report that all the problems that musicians and other creatives faced a decade ago have been solved, but we’re still stuck. What is truly surprising is that while the ability to earn a living without a day job has become more elusive to most folks in the game, the quality of what’s being produced continues to grow and thrive in other ways. While the monetary “value of creation” may result in small revenue, the value to our culture and well-being is astronomical. I know this sounds like a bumper sticker from the ’60s, but maybe we should all hug a musician today and buy them a meal. Fried clams sounds about right.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.