In defense of the container: A response to Emily White
|The iconic artwork for Some Girls from container experts the Rolling Stones|
Today marks the return of Emily White -- the 21-year-old NPR intern who got everyone riled up last June because she's too young to appreciate music ownership. She and I are actually very similar on paper. Both of us love music and the artists who create it deeply enough to delve into the murky waters of industry economics. In a new post published today on Billboard, titled "Music Owns Me," she discusses the potential of streaming services that pay a living wage to artists.
Like her, I also have a background in college radio, albeit at a station staunchly committed to physical formats. We're roughly the same age, and therefore have a comparable viewpoint on the record industry's battle with streaming and music piracy. But despite these similarities, we diverge wholly on the thesis she uses to end this piece: "It's really time to start paying the creators instead of the containers."
Maybe that's an experiential difference based around my upbringing. One of my most vivid early musical memories was the day I was finally deemed old enough by my parents to put that Stray Cats record on the platter myself. As I held Built for Speed in my tiny hands, I felt the weight, smelled the musty aroma, and fell in love.
Years later, I remember biking over to my neighborhood record store, Roadrunner, in South Minneapolis. Most of the time, the gruff but indulgent owner would let kids like us window shop for at least a half hour, but that day I had brought with enough money from my summer job to finally purchase London Calling from them on wax. And here's a strange thing: despite the fact that that album was an utterly replaceable, mass-manufactured container for popular music, the owner was sad to see it go.
Like Emily, I've believe that artists should be handsomely compensated for their creative works. But the music business is not a binary. Too often these arguments get lumped into "Creatives" versus "Industry," but anyone who's ever attempted to self-release an album knows this is far from the truth. Record labels, manufacturing companies, distribution companies, record stores, and yes, streaming services are all facets of what is increasingly being viewed by members of my generation as the monolithic, capital "I" Industry. And that's a damn shame, because many of the people working in manufacturing and distribution have made it their life's work to create gorgeous containers, and the streaming boom has utterly gutted their corner of the industry.