I was going to write about making money in a post-scarcity environment today. But something’s come through in comments so very clearly that I have to write about it first, because you need to understand this before you can even think about trying to make music for money.

Last time, I talked about how the record companies had brought a lot of the current situation upon themselves. I wrote about how their insatiable greed and desire to attain a we-own-everything and you-pay-for-every-play system had ruined any chance at some sort of DRM-based continuation of the old way.


But it’s worse than that. Responses to my first article made across the web – Facebook, Livejournal, other places – have clearly illuminated that they did far more than just fail at rent-seeking. They have successfully convinced everyone that people do not own the music they “buy.”

The record companies would, of course, be the first to affirm this. They’d correctly say you own certain very limited “use rights,” and that’s it. They’d suggest even those could be revoked. You most certainly don’t own the music, and there’re things you can and can’t do with it, mostly on the side of can’t.

Their former customers now agree. They totally get it. Congratulations, RIAA! Congratulations, MPAA! They get it! They pay you and DING! They don’t own the music! You won!

And in doing so, you have destroyed the value of purchase. You have destroyed the value of ownership. And you destroyed yourselves, and everyone else with you, because nobody is going to pay good money for something they don’t get to own.

People not only see music “ownership” as meaningless, they see themselves as being played for suckers and contemptible rubes. They see examples being made of people like them in court. They hear clowns from the MPAA talking about how leaving the room during commercials is stealing from TV networks. They post a family video with music from an album they bought and paid for in the background, and get a DMCA takedown and threatened with loss of internet access.

Music fans see constant haranguing from the industry telling them what they can’t do. And they see other people saying fuck that, and doing it anyway.

I want to grab industry people by the ears and say, LOOK, GUYS: before all this, before even cassette tapes, people shared recorded music. Sharing is part of the point. In the past it was portable record players, or going over to your friends house and playing songs there, or if you had enough money, even a record player in the car. You’d trade albums and borrow and return and not care.

And that didn’t start with the transistor, kids

Now all of those sharings are replaced by throwing the songs across the net, since a lot of your friends aren’t physically close. Conceptually, to much of the public, it’s the same thing. And they’re not just being told “no, you can’t do what their parents did,” they’re being told “not only can’t you do this, we will fuck you up and destroy your family.”

Honestly, there’s nothing funny about this

So guess what: people aren’t buying music so much anymore! Is it surprising that people won’t pay for something they do not see as having value? It’d be far more surprising if they did. Forced sales through threat and intimidation only get you so far. “Here, give me $5 for absolutely nothing. Oh, I might sue and destroy you, but it’s even more likely if you don’t pay.” “Fuck you, no! Oh hai, bittorrent.”

Once you’ve shattered that money-for-value association – and it’s good and shattered – even DRM-free music files become clutter. They’re something to have to keep track of and back up and worry and think about. And with little to no ownership value, who wants to bother?

It’s arguably not even zero value. It’s arguably negative value.

As a result, many people are turning to supposedly-universal subscription services. But even there, it’s the same dicking-around-with-rights games. Subscribers see songs appearing and disappearing as companies fight about licenses, and gods forbid you try to use the music for anything. Same story for the MPAA and studios and Netflix and such – same idiocy, different media.

So people get tired of it, and we’re back to OH HAI BITTORRENT, because the industry has destroyed the value of both ownership and paying. In the process, it has destroyed itself, and indies trying to leverage recording income are being taken down as collateral damage.

But there is a saving grace here, for musicians: this rejection isn’t about the music. Download estimates alone show that.

It’s about rejecting the current recording model.

Get ahead of that curve, and you can guess about half what I’ll be writing about next. Spoiler: it’s not all about playing live.

This is part two of an ongoing series of articles about music in the post-scarcity environment.