I woke up Tuesday morning to a Twitter feed buzzing about an open (and lengthy) letter that David Lowery (a singer/songwriter formerly of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, current teacher, blogger and artist advocate) wrote to Emily White (an intern at NPR).
White wrote a piece called "I've Never Owned Any Music To Begin With" in which she explains exactly that: her iPod is full of music and her life is surrounded by music, yet she's only ever bought 15 CDs. She also asks why she can't have the convenience of getting access to every song she wants, whenever she wants it.
Lowery's response was meant as a well-intentioned answer from an artist's perspective. While he explores in extensive detail the issues facing musicians in the current music marketplace, at times he employs some heavy-handed reasoning in attempting to point out errors in White's thinking.
I've spent tons of time over the past couple of days reading and re-reading these pieces, as well as many of the other articles, comments, reviews and tweets this exchange has spawned. (See my Twitter feed for a very small sampling.)
While I found White's honest piece to be a bit naive (she is a college-age intern after all), I think it is an extremely important insight into the mind of the current consumer of music. Obviously, by herself, she is not a statistically significant sample, but when you remember that an entire generation has now grown up during the digital era, you must realize that many other "digital natives" also share this perspective.
I think that Lowery's response shows great attention to many of the issues facing musicians. However, I feel that using moral arguments is simply not an effective means of answering the questions that White (and other "digital natives") are raising through their behavior. Additionally, his response plays a little fast and loose with the facts and exudes a sense of entitlement that is off-putting.
For me, the cat is already out of the bag: if an entire generation of music consumers sees no reason to purchase recorded music, how will they ever be convinced to do otherwise? This is just proof of the sea change that has taken place. It suggests that the entire model of the record business specifically, and the music business generally, has collapsed.
The bright spot here is that together, White and Lowery have spawned a viral sensation over music business models. So what can we do next?