The day the music died – or didn’t

There used to be a time when people did not consume music – they listened to it.

Before the iPod, the CD player, the turntable and the gramophone, music was exclusive to those who played an instrument or had the means to hear others play. Nowadays the average teen probably hears more music in a week than someone in the 17th Century did in a lifetime.

Thanks to technology, a whole new generation of kids may likely never set foot in a record store. No more rummaging through stained, alphabetized plastic dividers, hoping with fingers crossed that the CD, record or cassette you’re looking for is in stock. No more exclamations of disbelief, jaw open and eyes wide, as you come across a rare gem buried deep in a stack inside a used record store. But times change, and habits change as well. It’s only natural.

Today, all it takes for you to find that rare track is knowing its name. And don’t worry if you aren’t sure about the spelling, because Google will correct it for you.

Now we don’t just consume music, we over-consume it. Greater accessibility to music has cheapened it. Music is so cheap, in fact, that some Canadians refuse to even fork out the 99 cents per song on iTunes, turning Canada into what the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry and Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) consider the largest per-capita pirated music consumer in the world.

There is no doubt that the music business has changed. CRIA and other industry leaders are desperately holding on to the past, but more change is about to come.

The days of the hotel-room-smashing, personal-jet-flying, backstage groupie-indulging rock star has gone the route of spandex tights and feathered hair. For musicians, there is no longer any need to spend the big bucks for a lousy demo, hoping that some day, some record company representative may give it a listen and cough up a deal.

The idea of making it might have changed, but now you can make it on your own.

Technology has made it cheaper to record your material. The Internet has made it possible for a band to distribute its music around the world. File sharing has helped bands sidestep the record company altogether.

But CRIA and those whose profits depend on peddling and meddling with the art of others are not going down without a fight. They have been lobbying the government ferociously for tougher copyright laws in Canada and it looks like the federal Conservatives may be heeding their call.

Many, including Canada Research Chair for Internet and E-Commerce Law, Michael Geist and the tens of thousands of Canadians who have joined his Facebook group, Fair Copyright For Canada, have been very concerned about what reform may look like.

They believe Canadian copyright reform may produce a set of restrictive American-style laws, which would among other things, make it easier for record companies to sue individual Canadians.

In the United States for example, CRIA’s American counterpart, the Recording Industry Association of America, has successfully launched a campaign of lawsuits intended to intimidate users of file sharing software like Kazaa and Limewire.

Last October, for instance, RIAA won a $222,000 civil case against a single mother for violating the copyrights of 24 songs – that’s $9,250 per song.

But this crying foul of the film and recording industry is nothing new. When cassettes first gave the average consumer the ability to record music at home, the British Phonographic Industry launched its Home Taping Is Killing Music campaign. The arguments were identical to today’s attacks on music file sharing.

But while our consumption habits of music may have been dramatically altered, the suggestion that music will ever die is absurd. What we are seeing is not the death but the evolution of music.

We are witnessing instead a welcome change in the role of the record company executive who once prioritized record sales over the quality of music that its label mass produced.

Granted, musicians may no longer dream of multimillion-dollar contracts and a life of excess, but they can look forward to artistic freedom and a real possibility their music will be shared with an audience, however large or small.