In conversation with Jaron Lanier on his new book ‘Who Owns The Future?’ he speaks about some of the pit falls of large expanding networks. I’m fascinated by his comments on the music industry.

“The fastest computer on an open networks leads to serious inequality and inefficient systems in the long run, for the majority of people. They are simply unsustainable. E.g. the GFC and the digital revolution fall out on file sharing and the creators – musicians.”

Jaron continues to draw parellels between a number of examples of network related collapses that do not focus on blame but instead focus on the result of a natural progression that we should try to change.

“What happened in finance should serve as a cautionary tale for computational science in general.”

So now that I’ve given you some background let me get a little closer to my point. This post is about ‘sustainability’ and ‘economy’ for musicians. Previously I’ve believed a live and local approach to music is sufficient but Jaron is making me rethink my opinions.

“free music files benefits us in the short term, but it’s part of a process in which a big computer is perfecting its game at the expense of society as a whole until it breaks.”

Please bare with me, I know this realisation might seem a little obvious. I’m still passionate about finding a balance on this seemingly well trodden path.

“It’s funny, I helped create the rhetoric about how great free music is. You know, I mean. I’m not some old guy that doesn’t get it…”

Jaron speaks about how he’s now shifted on the idea that things are now better. He’s not convinced that performing live and local is sufficient.

“The problem I saw with it is that, it’s not so much that you can’t make any money out of it as a musician in a world of open copying of music. The problem is that you are forced into an informal economy, a ‘real time life’, a ‘hand to mouth’ existence, you have to sing for your supper for every meal. It’s a way of life where you might do well once in a while if you’re one of the lucky few but you will never be able to sustain a serious illness or support a sick child.”

This got me thinking. My hopes for getting millions of neighbours around the world to fund a ‘reasonable’ local community drive music industry is still stuck in a ‘day to day’ popup concert model in which there are few long term guarantees. This popup concert concept is bound to a social context in which change is inevitable and the musician has less and less control over the output as time passes. It seems like a lot more work that building a box of cookies that can be easily reproduced and sold on a supermarket shelf.

“Being a live and local musician doesn’t prepare you for the contingencies of life because it’s only income and not wealth. There’s no momentum behind it. The problem escalates as the musician gets old, say 10 or 20 years down the track.” Jaron continues.

Right up until now I’ve been focused on the idea of more ‘communal’ music and more places for amateurs to perform. Along the way I’ve struggled to get the support of my fellow professional musicians.

“I recall a number of friends who are very successful musicians who later on in life have fallen sick and run out of money. We’ve had to organise benefits and raise cash to support them. It’s made me re-analyse my opinions on music and the economic sustainability of file sharing. Originally I loved the idea of free and open music sharing. One day this all just hit me so hard. This free and open music sharing surface was simply hurting the people we were intending to help. Now, of course, if you were 20 all of this would be fine.” Jaron comments.

It’s a fascinating puzzle for me to explore.

None of this deters me from continuing to pursue a more vibrant live and local music industry via Musomap. This has just made me realise that however successful I am with this project it will most likely not lead me to a solution that helps support professional musicians in a long term sustainable way.

Having said that, I do still believe that ‘bus driving’ has intrinsic value. I do still believe that ‘playing music’ has intrinsic value. I do still feel as though a more diverse and socially woven live and local music industry could possibly provide a lot more opportunities for musicians. To some extent I see music as a more financially viable industry than IT, Finance, Medicine, Transport or Mining – in the long run.

There’s lots more to Jaron’s ideas that just music. I’m loving his ideas around ‘monetising information gathering’ and finding a new ‘social contract’ that might help us all equalise the give-and-take of data / wealth.