A couple of weeks ago, David Byrne wrote an article in The Guardian suggesting the opposite of this headline. He argued the Internet is a steamroller on a path to crush creativity.
Since we’re apparently in the age of writing open letters, here is my response to that prophecy.
Creativity has never been this easy to express. Be it writing, music, photography, video or art, the tools at our disposal are powerful and, in most cases, much cheaper to utilise. This fact is often overlooked in debates about the Internet and digital music as a whole.
Much is made of the barriers coming down between artists and fans due to two-way conversation on social media, but those lines are blurred further still, not by Robin Thicke, but because the fans are no longer simply fans. The fans are artists too. They often create their own music, take photography, write their own blogs or upload videos.
Content creation is no longer the preserve of the minority.
The pot of revenue becomes increasingly divided between more and more thanks to the ease of distribution, but is that really a bad thing? It may mean fewer musicians can sustain full-time employment from music, but many more can make money from it. It may drive more and more into being hobbyists, but more people are creating. Ultimately, I see that as a positive. Who are we to begrudge the opportunity for people who are talented enough to make music that inspires people to buy, listen and attend shows?
Similar upheaval is happening in journalism, with blogs rising in prominence, largely fueled by hobbyists rather than qualified journalists. What are you going to do? Ask them to refrain from blogging?
The guy who picks up a bass guitar and strums along to “Born to Run” on YouTube is a content creator. Should we ask him to stop?
Regardless, when you look around, it’s easy to see that new, talented artists are emerging and are becoming successful. Did the Internet hamper them or empower them? The answer from these artists would be overwhelmingly the latter, I suspect. They have built their audience and made money by using what the Internet has to offer.
New methods of consumption are enabling many young people to pay for a service that they want. To them, ownership is not an interesting concept, ease-of-access is. The alternative is having a generation growing up that considers paying for music as alien, an acceptable situation for no-one.
We must do our best to ensure artists and creators are rewarded as richly as they deserve, but the Internet is not the devil here; it is a facilitator and a toolset. As a musician, the real challenge is being better than your peers, because there are so many of them. How do you rise above the masses? You have to be great.