An excerpt from

Your Art is Worthless

Simon Indelicate

Music is worthless.

Or, more accurately, 42 minutes of generic recorded music transmitted as data over the internet has a market value as close to nothing as makes no difference.

This is a consequence of two unavoidable facts:

The marginal cost of distributing 42 minutes of generic recorded music is so close to zero that it isn't worth calculating the percentage of costs you'd be paying for anyway (internet access, a computer, power) that are dedicated to enabling it.

The supply of music is so huge and so vastly outstrips the demand for it that the price has collapsed to almost zero.

I don't mean to hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, but Taylor Swift is wrong. Music may be art, and art may be important but it is NOT rare - and it is not scarce. It is, in fact, an abundant resource with more in common with air than with precious metals. As such, while it may be valuable - like air is valuable - it does not follow at all that it should be paid for.

There are so many bands, releasing so much music, and so much of it for free that you could spend the rest of your life just listening to it without ever having to pay a penny or hear the same song twice. In 2009 it was claimed that there were 5 million musical acts signed up to myspace. 5 MILLION. That's so many. If each of them had only uploaded one three minute demo track for you to stream it would take you more than twenty-eight YEARS to listen to them all. This is not a scarce resource we're talking about.

Of course, before the internet, there was scarcity in the recorded music market - but it wasn't because there weren't people making music: it was because there was only so much space in shops, only so much room on the marketing roster and only so much physical stock of CDs that could be produced.

Music itself was always the abundant resource that amounted to an ingredient of the branded plastic product.

They might not have seen it in those terms but musicians always instinctively knew it. That is the only way to explain the sheer indignities we were willing to go through - prostrating ourselves at the feet of those who controlled the scarcity, the Cowells and Walshes and Watermen, begging. We knew we weren't special or scarce. Special scarce people don't have to beg - they get free burritos, company Teslas and stock options.

The old showbiz whispers about there always being someone coming up behind you ready to take your throne were really unavoidable economic realities. Talent isn't ubiquitous - but it isn't rare either. Loads of people can sing well enough to be megastars. Even more people can sing well enough to front cult indie bands. It's a natural instinct to attribute all failures to bad luck and all successes to hard work and talent - but this way of understanding the world just doesn't account for the facts as they stand.

Imagine you are the greatest indie britrock, jangly rhythm guitarist of all time but you happen to have been born in Eritrea, or in 1905. Tough - there's no way for you to be that from where you are. It's impossible.

Even if there was a small element of meritocracy involved in deciding who does well within the tiny closed system of straight white boys born between 1975 and 1995 on the British mainland - it's insanely lucky to be born into a situation where being a jangly rhythm guitarist in an indie band is even slightly an option.

I'm not very famous or successful - but I am a little bit of both and when I try to pin down what the pivotal moments in achieving anything were down to it's so obvious that it was luck most of all.

Lucky enough to be born into a middle class family who didn't urgently need me to hand them wages. Lucky enough that I could move to Brighton - all the usual privilege-y bits of good luck that people like me have in common - but then absurd things too, like, the only reason anyone took notice of our first demos was because Julia had previous with another band. The reason I know Julia is because one day, for no reason at all, I decided to go for a walk in a part of Brighton I didn't know at all and bumped into the host of a poetry slam that I'd been going to for months without really making friends with anyone. As it happened he was looking for allies in a modernist-poetry based revolution he was planning so I went round his house where we decided we'd need to recruit some girls. A week later we saw Julia at the slam and tried to recruit her. If I hadn't gone for a walk, the song I wrote about how I was disgusted with the way music was slathering round Pete Doherty waiting for him to become the new Kurt Cobain so that they could sell horrible fucking t-shirts with his dates on - would not have been of interest to the internet, wouldn't have been widely shared all over the world and, years later would not have prompted Neil Gaiman to be nice about us on twitter and give us the push we needed to set up Corporate Records and sell our second album without bothering with a record company.

Luck - all luck.

In between I've worked hard and had some talent - but that wasn't what did it. If we divebomb out of the sphere of artistic validity it will be luck that kills us; if we find some opportunity to become the biggest band in the world - that will be luck too. And if I ever say different it will be because I know it and I'm terrified.

Music is an abundant resource, recorded music has no associated marginal costs and the huge machinery of the music industry that made profits for musicians by offering them a small share of the profits they made by controlling the scarce ability to mediate between them and listeners has been gutted by the internet - right in its fundamentals. They are Wile E. Coyote running on thin air having not noticed the edge of a cliff - their business model survives only by force of habit. People buying music because they think that, in some way, they are supposed to because that's what they always did. It's not sustainable.

You'll notice I haven't mentioned piracy at this point. That's with good reason. This post is for musicians and the only thing I have to say to you about piracy is this: Don't worry about it. It's not a problem you have. And even if it was, there's nothing you can do about it - so forget it. It doesn't matter who's right and who's wrong, if information wants to be free or if your copyrights should keep information locked away forever. Unpunished piracy is just the price you pay for having access to all the world's knowledge in your pocket. It can't be stopped. It can't be deterred.

More importantly, it can't be fairly punished by the justice system. If your album is torrented by a thousand people all downloading bits of your data and sharing it with each other and as a result you're able to prove £10,000 worth of harm (you aren't, btw, every bit of research ever shows that you can't possibly equate a download to a lost sale - in most cases the choice of a pirate is only between pirating your album and just being fine with not having it - but if you were) you'd be completely stuck in trying to find a perpetrator deserving of of £10,000 worth of retribution. Either you pin it all on one pirate - which is uneven justice that does nothing to deter; or you punish them all for a £10,000 crime - which is disproportionate in the extreme, like giving a child who steals penny sweets the sentence for grand theft; or you punish them all for what they understood themselves to be doing: infringing copyright in the amount of £10 (not stealing - it isn't stealing if the victim is not deprived of property) -which is pointless.

So forget it. It doesn't matter. The economic case is too strong - your music isn't valueless because people are 'stealing' it - it's valueless because it has no value. That's your problem.

You.

Musician.

Not lucky enough to have been anointed among the two or three acts a year who the music industry are now willing to adequately fund and seeking to survive through making records yourself. Your music is worthless and this is a massive problem for you.

This is excellent news.

You can read the rest of this article here.