Of Mice and Men
The major impact of the Web on music has clearly been in the area of distribution, not composition or performance. The fluid and unmediated character of peer-to-peer file exchange makes it the single most creative and innovative development on the Web, but its “power users” are ordinary consumers, not composers. The economic implication of this may eventually reduce the production run of even the most popular of recordings to one. The prospect obviously terrifies the manufacturers and merchants who have traditionally profited by making and moving musical objects between the artist and the listener. It has also neatly divided the artistic community between those who are fixated on the royalties lost with each download, and those who see word-of-mouse advertising as the kind of publicity money can’t buy.
In the course of the 20th century the advent of recording and broadcasting shifted the consumption of music from the concert hall to the home. But people still consumed music: hearing the song for free on the radio drove them to the shops to buy the record, the “real thing.” When records are free, might the thirst for the real thing drive consumers to the concert hall? The desire to download reveals a disaffection from objects in favor of experience. It may be the best thing that ever happened to music.