How New Art Can End the Copyright Wars

Every so often we publish here at OSNews articles about copyright, about the war of the “old media” establishment against everyone else. Many, myself included, have argued that the way to get out of this mess — short of changing the law — is to have more artists release their work under a Creative Commons license. However, after a few years it became obvious to me that CC would never be able to change the industry all by itself. Offering a Free license, and having 30,000 albums released under it, was still not enough. Until the Summer of 2009, that is. Update: Added audio samples.

Don’t get me wrong. I support Creative Commons, and I feel very fortunate for having access to it. In fact, the majority of my videos are licensed under the ultra-liberal CC-BY. But despite all the available CC-licensed works, music consumers massively ignore them. Popular music blogs, like the powerful indie blog Pitchfork, don’t give a monkey about CC music. And if blogs don’t cover CC music, then it doesn’t really exist for the public at large. CC music has been mostly used by other CC artists to remix each other, or to find cheap music for various video projects. But very few people download CC music just to listen to it. Because of that, the big-4 labels are still alive and well, and they still lobby their way through tougher laws.

Now, you probably ask, “why music blogs don’t report on CC releases”? The reason is because these blogs are looking into innovation in music-making, while most CC artists are largely copying genres that are old, and traditionally commercial. For example, rock, folk, electronic, all have countless artists that are well known and sell well. There is no reason for the consumer to download a free copy of a CC rock artist he never heard of, when he/she can pirate Weezer’s new album off Bittorrent. There’s no real incentive to do the right thing and download a legal copy rather than a pirated one. Besides, there’s probably a quality reason Weezer have a contract, and the CC artist doesn’t — the consumer reckons, often wrongly.

I believe that people should learn from history. If there was one thing that the GNU/Linux vs Windows war taught us this past decade is that the newcomer could never shine its true colors when going head to head against an established product or status quo. Let’s be honest here: the Linux desktop and its apps can’t replace the Windows desktop and its third party apps for 98% of the users. For example, Gimp is not as good as Photoshop, and even after all these years we still don’t have a video editor for Linux that is not laughable. OpenOffice is not as good as MS Office either. However, while Linux will eventually take over Windows (I have no doubt about this, even if it happens in many years from now), this change will happen gradually, and having started from unlikely places. For example, Linux shines with servers. Windows has nothing on Linux when it comes to server-based software. And for a few years now, Linux is very good at embedded systems too (smartphones, satellites etc). In other words, Linux is now taken very seriously, but this happened only because it could perform well in places that Windows couldn’t. And because it was (F)ree.

Same with the CC music, it is silly, naive, and a waste of time trying to bring down the music industry by making more of THEIR music and offering it for free. For better or worse, “popular” music is their music. They own it. They have signed the artists people care about (or made to care about), they have in-house songwriters who can write one of these derivative songs per day, they have the expensive studios, and they have all the right contacts in high places to help them create new “stars”. As for commercial indie artists, they do try to differentiate from the “pop” music the big labels put out, but few manage to stray away from pop/rock.

So what are we to do, you ask?

Enter 2009. A new genre evolved out of almost thin air. Unlike all the other genres before it, its birthplace was the internet. The genre has influences from ’80s shoegaze and new wave, and it’s largely electronic dance music that… can’t be danced. It’s music created entirely on computers, by “bedroom artists” (reminds you of the Linux bedroom coders of the ’90s?). Its name is chillwave (also known as “glo-fi”, audio samples here).

Washed Out “Belong” by hayleyandrus

While software to synthesize music has existed for many years, either its actual audio and production quality was low, or the created music had little musical value. Techno and trance music for example had remained a Euro-thing mostly, and never took off with most music critics. Besides, techno/trance was also very commercial in nature from the get go.

New Theory Washed Out by rysupreme

Chillwave on the other hand is different. It’s a new genre, with a nostalgic, somewhat sad sound. It’s grass roots, sprouting after audio software has matured in the recent years. Nothing like this existed before, and so the music blogs took notice! Within a few months they hailed chillwave as the next big thing in music.

Exactly because this was “an internet thing”, made by very young people at zero expense, the songs were mostly free to download! Some of these songs were licensed under the Creative Commons, and some were just “free to download”. Using the CC license was simply a cherry on the cake, an added value, not the main attraction. The main attraction was this new kind of music that felt so different.

Washed Out – Feel it all Around by arruinado

And I’m using the word “felt” here, because that’s the selling point of chillwave. Its music is somewhat ambient and loose in construction, however it has the magical ability of reminding you of summer, the sun, the sea, the heat, and the beach. Possibly for the first time, a large number of chillwave songs made you feel like it’s summer, rather than talk about summer. See, in any of these “top-10 songs for the summer” lists I’ve read in my life so far, all these pop/rock songs listed there are just songs that talk about summer. They rarely convey the right emotions though. Chillwave instead is able to also convey memories, not just emotion. And it does so with its music rather than with its lyrics. The music itself blends in a cloud of unformed melodies that triggers the right part on the brain to make you remember of your summer as a kid, or any other similar memory. That’s why in most chillwave songs the vocals are reverbed, blending in with the music, they’re part of the experience, rather than having “some guy shouting stuff on the microphone with some guitar music on the background”. The human voice is now an added instrument, not the main attraction, as in mainstream pop/rock music.

So, now you ask, how can this new genre end the copyright wars.

This genre alone can’t do it. It requires more genres that are as grass root and as fresh as this. But these will undoubtedly come. Chillwave is still brand new, and just a year later is already evolving into other genres — other “memories”, and “feelings” are created, not just about summer. Soon, the music created by bedroom artists could overshadow in musical value commercial music because it’s new, and because the young people who listen to it, will replace the older listeners. Pop/rock music might sound to youngsters in a few years just like my generation feels when listening to Sinatra-style music: old.

Also, this new kind of music has no high visibility stars (stardom is one of the ways the music industry is able to hook up new customers). Most MySpace pages of these artists don’t even have pictures of themselves, but usually some highly artistic/ambient photos. They visually represent themselves with “an impression”, not with a real picture.

Wild Nothing – Confirmation by musicmule

The nice thing about the whole situation is that if the labels try to sell commercially such music, they won’t succeed. They can’t own something that can be produced so cheaply. They won’t be able to sell something that can be found online for free, legally, and with the same production value. Because in this case, the genre itself is associated with freeness in the minds of its listeners. Not to mention that finding songwriters that can write such music on a payroll would be hard to get, if only because it requires a certain amount of believability and sincerity, rather than cookie-cutter pop songs that Britney Spears is able to purchase today for about $100k a pop.

But enough about music.

There’s also photography, and video to consider. Interestingly, the same applies to both! “Ambient” artistic pictures started arriving on FlickR by enthusiasts a few years ago. But similar video only started appearing late last year! And usually to accompany chillwave or ambient music, created by fans of the music rather than paid filmmakers! Speaking as a filmmaker myself, these videos are not easy to create. They look random, but they are not! Every time I tried to create something similar, I failed. At 37, I’m too old for this sh*t. It literally requires a different kind of thinking. While most videos from old-schoolers like myself must play with certain rules (e.g. good exposure, focusing, having footage with a story — even if a very loose one), these young artists instead break all these rules! Their goal is not to create a video that has a succession of images that have some logical continuation and are clearly visually defined, but rather to re-create “a feeling”, by compositing a lot of different animations, colors and footage that are seemingly unrelated, but when they put together, they remind you of something in your past. Basically, their videos have this goal: “how did it feel to be there, back then?”.

Deadbeat Summer by keongwoo

Again, this whole new video genre ties perfectly with chillwave music, because the music tries to make you remember of a particular summer memory, and the video is trying to do exactly the same, but with visual stimulation instead. Sometimes the videographers use their own footage (the chillwave artists themselves are nowhere to be found on screen), and more often they use Public Domain video from the ’50s and ’60s!

My husband said it best when I showed him these new expression forms that are taking the artistic online community by storm today. He likened this revolution to Impressionism. And he was indeed correct. From wikipedia: “Radicals in their time, early Impressionists broke the rules of academic painting. […] …they portrayed overall visual effects instead of details.”

This can potentially be big, and lead to other genres, and other kinds of artistic expressions. Expressions that the old media establishment won’t be able to follow through as easily. Because innovation will come from these bedroom kids, via the internet. And then, the labels, which are betting on “their” [old] music, will crumble under their own weight, and fall apart in their irrelevancy. Culture will once again will be largely free. And Creative Commons will be there to help do so.


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