Thoughts On The NPR Intern, The Value of Music and The Music Businesses Unspoken Secret
Let’s be fair and give a girl a break… If you’re going to intern at a radio station, and probably not get paid, you are probably doing it to get access to some free music, and maybe some free tickets, and yuhknow, maybe to meet some of the musicians who created some of the music you love.
Just because this young music lover treats CDs like digital carcasses (something I got harangued for saying in the Sunday Times a few years back), it doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about music or values it any less. I mean, if she values her time spent working at a radio station for free, being deluged in links to listen to things, and perhaps told that it is part of her job to spend time listening to promotional material, then let’s not delude ourselves that she doesn’t care about music and doesn’t value it (unless you’re some cretin that thinks young girls don’t value themselves, and will do anything to make a cup of a tea for some upcoming cutie in an indie rock band, then yes, you sir/madame are a buffoon and possibly a sexist idiot, and I would prefer if you didn’t air these views, and maybe I would prefer it if you didn’t even read my blog) (of course the money spent on laptops and headphones and mobile devices, and the time spent seeking music out, is also one of the arguements ‘freetards’ use to justify their downloading habits, but let’s not get into that, not here, not now, thankyouverymuch).
I think the reaction to this post has been odd, profound, and predictable, but mostly unhelpful. It has an air of the Rebecca/Samantha Black’s about it, but let’s not misplace blame here… For me, it under-scores an important but often neglected point that most people within the business of music tend to ignore, that they/we (journalists, DJs, A&Rs, bloggers, receptionists, PRs, pluggers, managers, product managers, publishers, etc, etc…) acquire a helluva lot of music for free, and we/they are the ones who then have to place a value upon it.
If you ask - and I have - a lot of people in ‘The Biz’ how much a ticket for a festival costs or how much a new release is nowadays, it’s an interesting test, like asking a politician the price of a pint of milk. Some of them will have a shot in the dark (some will even get it right!), but I’ve found very few who don’t work directly with the finances, who can tell you what things actually cost, and even fewer seem to be able to breakdown how the finances actually work. I’ve even met people with music business degrees who don’t really understand what “tour support is” (it’s a label covering a shortfall, when say a festival is paying a band £50 to play, and the cost of a van, crew, hotel, etc is upwards of £500, the label - or sometimes a manager - will cover the rest…hence the introduction of 360 deals, but I’m overcomplicating things and slipping off piste).
Many of these people who work in the business of music, spend half their life in cordoned off backstage areas and putting in requests for promotional records, and these are the people who are trying to establish a ‘value’ to music (there’s a double irony that its often the other people, The Real Music Fans™ in the biz who parade around their massive record collections, like some cockslap of honour, who every once in a while venture into a secondhand vinyl store to buy a record, where none of the revenue goes back into the record business, and is re-invested in nurturing new talent or keeping the not exactly massive in deals… but I digress, again…)
Sure, these are very broad brushstrokes and within the silhouette of the business of music there are real exceptions to this rule, but on the whole, there are a lot of people who are ignorant (either out of choice or by design by those around them) to the costs involved and the ‘value’ of music. What does this music mean to people? What does it cost to produce? How much will people pay for this? Is it too expensive? Could we get away with a two-page booklet and a jewel case? Can we really charge £180 + booking fees for a gig ticket in the middle a recession? As a label boss, these were the sorts of questions that fascinated me, and kept me awake at night.
Its the negligence to the cost aspect that really pisses me off. I mean, I sometimes still end up riled, explaining to PRs that when they bike me a CDR that the artist is paying for it, when I’ll happily wait a day or two for the royal mail or better still swing by next time I’m in the neighbourhood and pick it up, maybe have a drink, perhaps peer beyond the comfort of pixels and have myself a genuine human connection with someone who sends me 20+ emails a month.
For me, the excesses in the music industry (at least at major labels) are far smaller than the money wasted (like the decades the record business invested in the live industry, as it continued to get richer and richer, relying on labels to buy tickets to giveaway to promote gigs and to invest in building an artists live career, when the promoters put in very little to cover the shortfall…), but that’s a whole other topic… but it is perhaps relevant when a young intern glimpses what is being spent, and The Public, especially the die-hard music fans close to it (who want to be much closer, preferably right in the eye of the storm), hear tales of waste and excess, that they mighty wonder why they NEED to pay for something which is merely a digital reproduction of the original essence of something captured in a studio. A t-shirt is something they can wear and cherish but a song, it’s just something they can skip, and they all cost the same to buy, no matter how much they mean to you. Why aren’t the greatest songs and albums of all time - often found in the 3-for-£10 racks at the front of stores - the ones we truly cherish and revere, more expensive? Who decided subscription services would allow access to nearly all the music anyone would ever want to hear, including the stuff that huge sums have just been invested in, alongside the things that cost nothing to make and the greatest albums of all time? Why does it all get a fair shake? Why isn’t there a special premium area, cordoned off, with special extras? These are the questions that we/they as an industry should be asking. Because if you’re pondering - or even calling it - criminality, you’re only looking at the symptoms, not at any kind of long-term treatment.
I guess, all I’m saying is that it feels like maybe this intern (and the 1000s of others working unpaid in the music biz today, looking for both a job and a key to the store cupboard, even if its just to rip the CDs to their iTunes… or even if it’s just to get a record a few months before it hits Spotify because they work hard penning a blog, trying to get others excited about music) is just someone who wants more music than they can afford, and is happy to exchange their time for it, rather than their money. If the perk of listening to music allday becomes their job at the end of it, then so be it.