Sorry, I'm Not Buying This New Touchy-Feely Approach To The Music Tax

Ethan Kaplan writes a beautiful tribute to the value of music, and how we as a society must come to terms with how we will value it as the business model around recorded music continues to disintegrate.

I call BS on the whole post.

His central questions are “How do you value art?” and “How do you ensure that the value of art can translate into the notion of making a living on art?”

So far, so good. A discussion about music industry troubles, framed from the point of view of the artist. But then, a red flag: “What role does a government body play in the propagation of the meme of art creation? Support? Education? Distribution?”

I tried to keep an open mind throughout the rest of the post. Even though he’s the VP Technology at Warner Bros. Records. And even though the parent company to Warner Bros. Records is currently pitching the horrendous idea of a music tax to replace lost music label revenues.

But all Kaplan has done is take the arguments that his boss made a couple of weeks ago and repackaged them in touchy-feely “what about the children artist?” language. He’s proposing the removal of market forces in the music industry, since those forces no longer work in favor of the company he works for.

“The concept of art is fundamental to our identity as humans,” he says, and “the worst to the best music is art without any regard to its inherent quality.” This is a setup for a big group hug among musicians; a sort of revolutionary cry for brotherhood against…well, against everyone else. He adds that we must find a way to “remove the fear-politics and the pro-ignorance in the US society” which, presumably, is the direct cause of a decline in revenue at Warner Bros. Records. I mean, the decline of valuing the artist as a human being.

Lets not frame the debate around “monetary models around digital music” he suggests. Instead, let’s “step back to the root and evaluate as a society the place of Art within it.”

How do we do that? Government support of musicians.

Within Europe, it is actually pretty easy (relatively) to make a living as an artist, depending on the country. I have friends in certain countries who are Artists by trade, supported through government programs. Canada supports art through liberal granting. In those areas, the value of the artifact of art is less of a concern than the value of the process of creating. And the same does and should apply to music as a form of art…It’s my opinion that before we start down the path of “how do you value digital artifacts” and “how do you value music,” we also need to evaluate how we as a society value art. How do we as a government, a democratic society support artists to the point where the value of experience is enough to support the act of creation?

Strip away all the flowery language and what you have is a music industry executive calling for the “pro-ignorance” US society to value music as art no matter whether it’s the “worst” or the “best.” He talks about how great European artists have it with government subsidies. And he’s doing it weeks after his boss called for a music tax.

Like I said, I call BS.