Friday, May 22, 2009

Elvis Costello and Digital Music

Costello thinks digital music is fine, if it's delivered the right way:
If the digital music is delivered in sufficient resolution, yeah. If you don't, it's just the same kind of thievery that has gone on for years, from both sides: charging too much for [albums] and paying the artists too little. The same is going on with the digital realm. You've got two types of piracy. The literal piracy that everybody bangs on about, and the massive profiteering of the legitimate download sites who don't pay proper royalties, who release half albums and don't annotate them properly. They don't offer the purchaser either artwork of coherence or, more importantly, music of sonic coherence. They're offering it in such a heavily compressed rendition that you might as well be listening to it on a detuned radio in the other room. So congratulations, Mr. Jobs: It's a genius move on your part to make the iPod.

No argument with that, I suppose; my ear isn't sophisticated enough to tell the difference. But what's with the slam at Jobs and the iPod? The iPod, and iTunes, has democratized the availability of music even more so than it was before. That's a good thing. Just because the music it delivers isn't quite up to Mr. Costello's standards isn't a reason to find fault. It's like complaining that publisher's print books with sub-standard paper and ink. The market will take care of that and, in this case, the market has spoken loud and clear about what it thinks of digital music.

And, really, who's to blame if digital music outlets deliver music in a way the artist didn't intend? It's the artist! No one put a gun to their head to sign the contract that gave them oodles of dollars in exchange for their art. For crying out loud, in this digital age and the Internet, there's no excuse for an artist to release his art in any manner that's less than he intended. Oh, unless that excuse is greed. But artists aren't greedy, are they?

Not to be all grumbly about Costello. It's a fine interview with him and he has some other interesting things to say. By all means, read the whole thing.


  1. I agree with you that audiophiles like Costello don't have the last word. If most people (including me) are happy with massively increased convenience + a slight decrease in sonic quality, what's wrong with that?

    A blog called The Church of Rationality made a similar point: "Connoisseurship isn't necessarily a good thing: You get more pleasure from the good stuff, but you get less pleasure from the bad stuff..."

  2. Thanks for the comment. I'm a big fan of your blog and I'm glad you found time to drop by. I'll check out the Church of Rationality link.