Monthly Archives: November 2010

Did Napster Cause The Great Recession?

Shopping in a real life music store today I was struck by how pleasantly anachronistic the whole experience was for me. It got me thinking. Here was a physical place in which money was exchanged for music, the music was carried out with a sense of physical ownership which lent itself to identification, identification which happened over the coming weeks and months as the CD was placed in and out of the tray and music flowed through the listener and was absorbed, in the various ways music is, into the psyche of the listener, in order to flow back out into the world in various acts of subtle and not-so-subtle inspired self-creation.

Wait, what?

If self-creation is the engine of economic growth, and music is the fuel for that engine, the logic is purely syllogistic. Let’s review:

Rise of Napster –> Decline of Music –> Decline of Self-Creation –> Decline of Economy

Now that’s a pretty bold claim, but does anybody here dispute that the rise of Napster caused the decline of the music publishing business? And does anyone here see any reason to dispute the claim that music has throughout history proven the capacity to inspire masses of people to question or alter certain attitudes, beliefs, desires, and tastes? Of course not. Unless you think mass culture in the twenties went unaffected by the introduction of a little thing being played in tiny all-black clubs called Jazz music. And all those parents trying to protect their teens from the corrupting influence of rock and roll in the sixties? They probably just hated the sound of guitar and drums together. No, music has power. It affects the behavior of a society more than almost anything else (drugs, religion and economics excepted). And as such music has been the primary currency of culture throughout the 20th century.

Music can be the fuel for a million tiny individual altered choices. Those little choices: “this pair of shoes over that one,” “this drink over that drink,” all the way on up to “this way of being over that way of being,” these altered choices are the units of self-creation. Now, self-creation can be inspired by many things, but anyone who has ever lived through being a teenager would probably agree that music is as influential as anything in that process.

Weaker music means weaker self-creation. As Jay-Z puts it in “Death of Autotune:”

I know we facing a recession
But the music y’all making going make it the great depression

Maybe the fault isn’t with the lazy Autotuned rappers Jay is so unimpressed with (they are, however, a symptom), but a revolution in listening, identification, inspiration, action, and culture that altered the subtle psychology of music and self.



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