The music business: Moral bankruptcy leads to monetary bankruptcy

By Joe Schembrie
web posted July 31, 2000

You could download everything I know about Napster onto a 2K RAM chip -- but it's enough to know the whole music industry is in ethical upheaval. Put your government censorship and rating labels away, the morally depraved are about to be undone by, of all things, the very marketplace which heretofore has made them so incredibly, undeservedly rich.

Okay, so here's my 2K's worth: Napster is a computer program and a web site, and maybe a way of life. It's technology that allows you to take any musical performance recording, convert it into a computer file, and distribute it freely over the Internet. The consumer receives it free of charge -- which means the musicians who created the product get nothing for their efforts.

In summary, Napster is what we in the Moral Judgmentalism Business commonly refer to as, stealing.

Legions of Napster users -- mainly teenagers addicted to music -- will deny this. Of course, their financial interest is at stake. They like not having to pay for music. It enables kids to save their allowance for other things. And it's still wrong.

The Conservative-Libertarian Philosopher within me must speak up and condemn this petty larceny.

The Conservative-Libertarian Partisan within me, however, is saying, "All right -- sock it to them!"

Them? You know, the popular music industry. That forty-billion-dollar-a-year moral parasite dominated by hypocritical leftist radicals whose ballads preach anarchy and subversion, rebellion against corporate America, and defiance of traditional morality. And now and then, just for the fun of it, they even call for a few cop killings.

Now those raunchy types want the cops to come shut down Napster. They run to the courts and squeal about 'intellectual property rights.' Scratch the word 'intellectual' -- a dubious term anyway when dealing with much of today's pop music -- and what's left is 'property rights.' Which sounds downright Republican, does it not?

Lemmegedistraight. You guys don't have any use for capitalism, or the philosophical tenets underlying the free market system . . . until you see your own royalties about to fade.

You pop musicians (who do come awfully close to getting money for nothing and chicks for free) want to confiscate our guns, cap our salaries, and allow squatters and snail darters to claim our homes -- but you think there's an absolute property right to abstract, ephemeral patterns of electronic impulses.

Well, the Conservative-Libertarian Philosopher Within fully agrees with you. The Conservative-Libertarian Partisan Within says, "Smack it to ya, baby! It's Pay Back Time!"

Hmm, actually, you're not going to be paid back at all, are you?

And even though my Conservative-Libertarian Philosopher Within is in control and truly desires to help you, my Conservative-Libertarian Partisan Within is going to get his way, simply by default. There's really nothing we can do about it. The technology is here, and all the court rulings in the world aren't going to suppress it for long. Even if you dispatch death squads of killer web robots to hunt down Napster-clone web sites, kids will trade music via e-mail attachments. Or maybe they'll just connect an interface cable between their MP3s.

What are you going to do to stop that? Conduct locker searches in high schools? Frisk concert goers? Send in the jackboots to break down the bedroom doors of teeny-boppers at 5 am so you can confiscate their hard drives? Will it be their MP3 players against your MP5 rifles?

If you do anything remotely like that, your whole anti-fascist schtick will unravel.

Some styles of music appeal to a better clientele. Classical music. Christian music. Country music. Ted Nugent music. These are disparate genres, but they share a common trait in that the people who listen to them often believe in honesty and fairness, and will pay for music even though they don't have to. That's the way they were brought up. Musicians who appeal to the morally upright among us will continue to make money.

But the musicians who appeal to the ethically-challenged are heading for financial oblivion. Rhapsodize long enough and hard enough in favor of anarchistic nihilism, and maybe your target audience will swell ever larger -- it just won't go down to the Corporate Amerikan music store to purchase your album any more. Why? Because it'll practice what you preach.

Yes, you morally-depraved musicians, the Conservative-Libertarian Philosopher Within truly feels your pain. The Conservative-Libertarian Partisan Within thinks you never deserved to become rich in the first place -- and it's high time the marketplace stopped rewarding your garbage.

Imagine if you can -- it's easy if you try -- a world where there's no money in downbeating religion and capitalism, where only uplifting music will be profitable. Call it 'fascist censorship' if you want, but it's only people doing their own thing.

Joe Schembrie is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right.

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