I’ve been a Pink Floyd fan for most of the time I’ve been alive, so it was rather disappointing to see band leader and professional misanthrope Roger Waters recently come down with a terrible case of “get the hell off of my lawn.” Speaking to a reporter earlier this month, Waters, the man who once blasted oblivious, recording industry bean counters in “Have a Cigar,” assailed Silicon Valley as a corrupt den of “rogues and thieves.” Rogers also pined for a simpler age — one when musicians and artists were screwed more directly by their music label:
“Most of all I feel enormously privileged to have been born in 1943 and not 1983, to have been around when there was a music business and the takeover of Silicon Valley hadn’t happened and, in consequence, you could still make a living writing and recording songs and playing them to people,” the bass guitarist and singer said.
Right, because as this outlet has covered extensively, the Internet has destroyed the music industry, and it’s simply impossible to make any money off of art in this day and age. The fact that the Internet and piracy effectively turned albums into promotional material to sell merchandise and concert tickets is a very difficult idea for older generations to grok, but it’s still kind of painful to see a rock hero of my youth fall victim to aggressively rigid neurons. Waters doesn’t stop there, and proceeds to trot out a litany of well-tread conflations, distortions and other flimsy arguments, joining folks like U2 manager Paul McGuinness in no longer understanding how the music industry he’s a part of (kind of, since he hasn’t released a new album in 23 years) actually works:
“When this gallery of rogues and thieves had not yet interjected themselves between the people who aspire to be creative and their potential audience and steal every f***ing cent anybody ever made and put it in their pockets to buy f***ing huge mega-yachts and Gulfstream Fives with. These … thieves! It’s just stealing! And that they’re allowed to get away with it is just incredible.”
Waters went on to say that music lovers must take some responsibility for this parlous situation. “I blame the punters as well to some extent, a whole generation that’s grown up who believe that music should be free,” he said.
“I mean why not make everything free? Then you could walk into a shop and say ‘I like that television’ and you walk out with it. No! Somebody made that and you have to buy it! ‘Oh, I’ll just pick up few apples.’ No! Some farmer grew those and brought them here to be sold!”
And here you were foolishly thinking that the Internet managed to open a massive new universe of music distribution possibilities and business models, helping countless artists connect more directly with their fans. As we’ve noted probably more times than can be counted, “free” isn’t the business model — free is part of one potential business model, and when done right, resonates incredibly well with consumers.
It’s certainly fine if you don’t like that, but that doesn’t really change reality in the age of broadband and piracy. Of course if it makes Roger feel any better, the same wolfish recording industry Roger used to mock is still there at the end of the gravy train, working tirelessly to prevent artists from seeing their just deserts in the Spotify age. There’s certainly plenty to criticize about some specific new Internet-based business models where artists still get screwed; but Waters doesn’t really do that — he just shakes his cane at the general direction of the Internet and “pisses and moans,” as my grandfather used to say.
I’ll of course never stop loving Pink Floyd (“Animals” in particular), and Waters’ lessons on critical thinking, empathy and alienation are pretty much bone-grafted to my personality. Sadly though, he’s also now a perfect example of the dangers of letting your aging synapses get so rigid you can’t see new forest growth for the trees — since I’d like to believe, maybe foolishly, that’s not an inevitable symptom of aging. Of course I was one of those deviant rogues who helped destroy the music industry by swapping free tapes like this one: