Here we are extending the discussion on piracy once again. Earlier this week prominent Jazz bassist and musician’s rights advocate Ben Allison wrote a pretty legit post about how modern commerce affects the arts. Give it a read, and if you’re interested, here are more of my thoughts on the subject…

I appreciate Ben’s points on intellectual property and the need to “raise awareness” among those in our culture who truly want to abide by applicable laws and support the business side of music. I also agree with Ben on the suggestion that musicians will always make music, regardless of the ups and downs within the “industry.”

But I smell a sense of entitlement in his perspective on the career of music. He asks, “Will choosing to become a professional musician continue to be a viable career choice in the future?” Um… I don’t know the answer to that, but one doesn’t get to CHOOSE whatever career one wants to have and expect that it will be viable. At one point manufacturing horseshoes was a more viable “choice” for career than it is now. Then technology transitioned a little and all of a sudden manufacturing tires became more viable. And in the near future it is certainly possible that tires will be replaced by another option for transportation. It is, in fact, entirely possible that teleportation becomes not only feasible but commonplace, rendering the entirety of the automobile, airline, shipping, and hotel industries completely obsolete and therefore not viable “choices” for a career. One industry thrives, another suffers. That is the way of things.

Indulge me in some imagination. Digital media developers (software, etc) have made a lot of money in recent years, and most of that money used to be made by the music industry. What if record labels had seen that coming and refused to sign on to distributing music in a digital form? What if musicians had opted to not allow record labels to be their only option for overseeing the production of their art?

Another example: You know who doesn’t make HALF the money they used to make on music sales? Best Buy and Sam Goody. But I don’t hear those companies whining about needing more protection for their industry. They just changed products a little – more washers/dryers and less compact discs. Just learn to change with the times. That doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

Ben ends his post by saying that “we should work to strengthen those laws and institutions that help to protect and enable us to sell our music in a fair way.” The way I see it, if music retains its commercial value it will be because musicians continue to provide something valuable to society, not because we erect laws and institutions to protect our industry. I’m not saying that there is no place at all for regulations within the complex world of free market capitalism. Rather, I’m simply suggesting that musicians, in their efforts to be compensated for their art, look first to THEMSELVES as music creators/providers for their job security, not to laws and regulations.

In other words, I want to see musicians try as hard as possible to be as good as they can be. Let your desire for job security be one of your motivations to get better. Now, many musicians do just this, but find that “as good as they can be” doesn’t cut it. Well, bummer. My version of “as good as I could be” in basketball never cut it either. Other kids were ALWAYS better than I was, and without trying as hard as I did. So I changed fields. It turns out that music is a field that I’ve been able to find success in.

Listen, I don’t want to sound prideful or overly confident here. I’m nothing but grateful that music continues to be a field that I can make a buck in. But the fact is that the music industry is a place where some are successful and some are not, and I don’t think the credit/blame lies with the music industry or with game-changing technological developments. I know that the piracy issue isn’t cut and dry, but that whole discussion really only affects certain aspects of the music world. Live performance may in fact be the new way for musicians to make the bulk of their profits, as opposed to recordings. Or maybe you can be the guy who invents a new format for music listening that is piracy-proof. Either way, I have a gig this weekend and I have to do some prep for it. And I need to work more on mastering that 4-limb single stroke exercise.