But the photocopy machine spelled the permanent decline of the music publishing industry. When it is easy to simply photocopy a three or four page piece for pennies a page, who would pay several dollars for the score? The answer is, just about no-one. So, publishers publish fewer scores, especially of obscure pieces. That was decades ago. Now, you can download a surprising number of scores from the internet and just print them out.
But the phenomenon has spread to the general consumption of music. Fewer and fewer people pay for music. Or, at least, they pay nothing to the artists who create the music. Here is a recent article in Salon that summarizes the situation pretty well. It turns out that people are paying to hear music--just not to the musicians! They are paying Verizon, ATT and others for internet access; they are paying Google and Apple for software and hardware--they are paying thousands of dollars for music! But the artists are getting nothing. Well, of course, this is over-simplifying. I'm sure Rihanna and Lady Gaga have a few bucks coming in. But the numbers say that recorded music revenue is down 66% since 1999 which means that a whole lot of musicians--probably the most interesting ones--are not making any money.
It's all about the gatekeepers. The lords who could command entry to the bridge, or access to the mill, could absorb revenue from everyone who needed those things. The record companies, as long as they were the only ones that could manufacture vinyl records, could absorb revenue from everyone who wanted to purchase music. Now the gatekeepers are the computer companies, the internet service providers and the search software people--without them, you can't gain access to the music.
My attitude might seem strange, but I think that access to music actually involves something that is not a commodity, digital or otherwise. The 'music' is available to anyone who can perceive and absorb it. The guy with a $5 harmonica who can really play it has the 'music'. The guy downloading thousands of songs to his iPod who only hears them in the background, does not have the 'music'.
I have no idea where this is going, but the article is worth reading for some clues. One thing is certain, the consumption of music is going through some huge changes. Not just economic ones as the article is talking about, but also psychological and aesthetic ones. What kind of world is it where everyone has a permanent musical soundtrack to their lives that they never listen to and probably don't even know how to listen to?
I would rather understand a few pieces of music than have 'available' thousands upon thousands. For me it is the understanding that is important, not the possession. But I'm the wacky fringe! It is what the consumers decide that drives the marketplace. As a consumer, if I like a piece of music and want to own it, I really don't feel right just downloading it. I would much rather buy it and hope some money goes to the musicians. I'm the same with DVDs. I don't buy pirated copies. Just a personal decision. You start to look at this a lot differently when you have released a recording and someone comes up to you one day and says, "oh, I made a copy of your record for my friend who wanted to hear it. You don't mind, do you?"