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June 8, 2008


I have to say that I was quite disappointed with SBS's exploration of the impact of file sharing on the music industry. It was shallow and unilluminating. It presented far too many stock lines from self-interested parties (APRA, ARIA, IIA) and lacked any consideration of the underlying issues and alternatives available to indie musicians.

At the risk of taking a cheap shot, it certainly lacked insight :-) (Disclaimer - I offered to appear on it but received no response. Not even a "no thanks". And I must confess that my viewing was interrupted by two phone calls - but that's why we have transcripts, isn't it??)

I understand that SBS does not have a great budget for producing this stuff, but their choice of talent was appallingly Sydney-centric and myopic. None of the artists was given any opportunity to explain what they do in any real sense -- if they actually understand their position very well.

The show didn't adequately distinguish between legal and illegal downloads or between the benefits of giveaways and the problem of piracy. It gave scant regard to the wider structures of musicians' income and the legal environment in which they operate - nor the separate but important issue of closing live music venues in this country. Nor did it balance "decreased" CD sales against increased revenue from digital sales.

But what I found most galling was the uncritical reception given to John Butler's in absentia statement that file swapping had led to a 40% reduction in sales of his most recent album over its predecessor. Excuse me? And the evidence for this is what? That the reduction occurred? And that links to file swapping how?

Isn't it just possible that Butler's latest album is a cold rehash of the same formula that worked on his previous 2 albums and that he's operating in a market of leftie youf kulcha, where budgets are tight and challenging authority a badge of honour? That Sunrise Over Sea was a breakthrough creation that exposed his unique music to a mass audience, a proportion of which found that his follow-up added nothing to their auditory pleasure and hence that, despite (or perhaps because of) the radio-friendly releases, it is therefore not worth buying.

Butler would not be the first to make this mistake - it's exactly the cookie-cutter approach that has led to so much criticism of the major labels in recent years. His sound depends heavily on a highly affected vocal style and high levels of musicianship over what are otherwise unremarkable arrangements of largely inconsequential compositions. His visual image trades on a similar approach. That works brilliantly for hard-core fans and, for a while, captured the imagination of a wider audience because of it's sheer innovation.

But if he doesn't evolve, all that will be left for future releases is the hard core, because to the rest it's just more of the same. Of course, that hard core may well be large enough to sustain him handsomely - Trent Reznor's is. But Reznor is bright enough to recognise where his fans come from - and doesn't go around making anti-file swapping pronouncements. Perhaps, as he notes, people simply don't like the new album (not him personally - I'm sure he's a great guy) so much any more. I wouldn't be at all surprised if making that statement has cost Butler some fans.

John, please, stick to playing guitar and entertaining people as well as you do. Leave the analysis and understanding to others ... if this program showed anything, it revealed the appalling ignorance on all sides this issue.

Posted by Hughie at June 8, 2008 11:39 AM

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