Steve Albini Reveals Some Hard Truths During Primavera Sound 2015!



It seems local punk legend/studio owner/engineer Steve Albini was keynote speaker at Spain's Primavera Sound 2015 music festival, where his band Shellac also performed.

Sadly, no footage of Albini's interview has yet appeared online, but the basis for much of his discussion appeared in his keynote address at Face The Music Conference in Melbourne, Australia six months ago.  At Primavera, however, he seems to have refined his message and expands upon three key points regarding copyright, streaming, and the administrative functions of record labels in today's changing landscape.

Until video emerges, there are two great articles that shed light on what Albini had to say, the most extensive being Judy Cantor-Navas' Billboard piece. Those looking for the condensed version may choose Rhian Jones' more succinct write-up for Music Business Worldwide.

Of course, we're happy to present a few quotes to whet your appetite:

"That old copyright model of the person who wrote something down owns it and anyone else who wants to use it or see it has to pay him, I think that model has expired. And people who are trying to defend that model are like people on horseback trying to fight against the automobile…I think the term piracy is absurd. Actually, piracy is people boarding a ship with (the intent of) violence and killing people and physically stealing material goods that are then no longer available to people who used to own them. I think equating somebody downloading something on his iPhone with that is preposterous."

True, click-button piracy certainly differs from outright physical theft and yesteryear's copyright laws are being challenged by modern corporations eager to capitalize on any content they can get their hands on without paying huge sums for it, but, in our opinion, it's more a case of lax or inconsistent enforcement than anything.



"My band has been releasing records on the record label Touch and Go since the 1980s, One band and the next band and now Shellac. We've never had any kind of formal arrangement with them, no contracts, not even a conversation about how we are obligated to each other. But they keep doing a good job with our records and they keep being satisfied with us, and we keep having a good experience, so the relationship just naturally continues."

It was obviously a conscious decision on Albini's part to omit the names Big Black and Rapeman, referring to them instead as "one band and then the next band" before name-checking his current band. While this was probably done in hopes of not taking any focus off of his message regarding the changing landscape of the music business, this is akin to seeing a great fighter pulling punches, but that's probably just us.

“If your music is not special, it’s no longer possible for hype and promotion to do all of the work. There are always going be a few mainstream pop stars, but that is no longer the main focus of music scene. The main focus is going to be people finding music on their own and discovering stuff that they like specifically for themselves.”

Oh, how we could write a book about this one. More than anything, the one thing that the internet and mobile technology has done is remove the gatekeepers from the equation. Gone are the radio programmers who hand-picked the songs their station would be putting in heavy rotation, or the label executives who determined which bands were worthy of being signed, much less heavily promoted.

In one sense, that's a great thing for artists who may have been dismissed based on whatever ridiculous criteria may have kept them from securing a record deal in the past (too old, not handsome or pretty enough, etc.)

The downside, of course, is that now ANYBODY can make a song, or an album, and release it into the world almost instantaneously a almost no expense to them at all. While this surely enables the next Beatles or Bob Dylan the opportunity to be heard, it also grants that same access to literally tens of thousands of artists who, quite frankly, do little more than block out the sun, so to speak, making it that much harder to find the next Beatles or Dylan in the process.

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1 comment:

  1. Your analysis of Albini’s message is spot on, and your “black out the sun” metaphor is apt.

    Two things. The first is that Albini’s message is self-serving and … well … lazy. “Because such-and-such worked for me, then what worked for me is best for everyone, and oh by the way, technology’s changed.”

    Stevie boy (Albini), technology ALWAYS changes, and YOU’RE not the center of the universe, even if you choose to define the universe as “music distribution and copyright protection.” And by the way, copyright law isn’t perfect, but its central mission, to protect the ownership rights of original works (of pretty much anything) is a foundation of capitalism and similar in nature and intent to property rights of all kinds.

    And gatekeepers haven’t disappeared, nor were they ever 100% in control. The gatekeepers are today less in control of music recording and distribution, but they’re still there (for reasons of economy of scale), while some of the power of the gatekeepers has shifted to reviewing sites, such as Pitchfork and All Music, as well as blogs like The Shit. And gatekeepers were NEVER all-powerful. Reviewers always played a big role in shaping audience taste, and served as a way to “read” the onslaught of record releases just like you could “read” Soviet Union power struggles by the physical positions of party members in Pravda photos.

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