The Machine in Action: Preparation for the In Utero Super Deluxe 2013

Posted: May 11, 2013 in In Utero 1992-1993

Compliments to Jason Stessel over at LiveNirvana for bringing this to everyone’s attention – I’m just relaying the news today, no originality!

Over on YouTube, there’s been a bit of a clear out of one of the largest distributors of Nirvana live footage, similarly a few pieces related to Nirvana’s MTV Live n’ Loud performance have been taken down. It’s still possible to find clips but, compared to just a month or two ago, it’s near impossible to find a full recording of the Live n’ Loud broadcast. A search today on one of the few active links came back with this simple declaration:

Copyright

It’s hard to tell if this is just a regular stripping out of supposed infringements or a targetted attempt to remove competing sources for what everyone has predicted for a couple years will be the DVD component of a Super Deluxe edition of the In Utero album ready for the anniversary this year.

I think private trading of recordings is a legit exercise for the enthusiasts. Hand-to-hand propagation of music has kept interest alive in Nirvana’s music for years. Its the, often illicitly sated, appetite for unheard material that has plugged the gaps between official releases and allowed the major labels to reap such profits from the reissues, DVDs, boxsets and so forth. Plus, there’s very little damage done by people trading live recordings, demos and all the shreds the major labels are too snobby to release.

If there was a legitimate official source for all this material the fans would buy it. A fair example of the process would be the switchover from the dodgy ethics of Napster to the dodgy, controlling yet official order of iTunes. Once a legal channel of sufficient scale and diversity was available the market moved very rapidly away from what had been an illegal experiment. Most people don’t want to be acting illegally if there is an alternative. That’s why organised crime gains its most extensive profits from what cannot be acquired legally, people want to do good. I’ve no great affection for websites ripping DVDs and films. But then, I’ve never been that visual.

The whole tale of downloadable music and so forth interests me more in terms of the way it reinforces power in the hands of those who created the systems responsible. This roams toward conspiracy theory if taken the wrong way, take it more that I think similar people make similar decisions and that people in particular situations are equally likely to adopt the frame of reference arising from the social scenario, the group, in which they find themselves.

Essentially, teams of engineers created the forms via which music could be reproduced and distributed. Having control of the medium gave them power over what was contained therein whether overt or subconsciously adopted by the bands. A fair example is the way Nirvana’s albums, those released while Kurt Cobain was alive, are built around the idea of a vinyl LP record, even the bonus tracks on Nevermind and In Utero, by their very nature, are a reaction to the new medium of the CD.

The problem is, of course, that being able to do something doesn’t mean one should. The engineers discovered they could turn music into data, having done so, creating the MP3 format and others that allowed cheap and massive distribution via the Internet was a logical step. In doing so the people involved successfully extinguished the means of support for hundreds of thousands of musicians. Arguments about how “musicians used to survive performing live” are as spurious as pointing out that the entire financial industry was barely a glimmer until 1980s liberalisation opened the flood gates. Claims that its just a case of adapting are as viable as telling flood victims they just need to see it as an opportunity. As for people salving their consciences by saying it was rich millionaires they were taking from…Untrue. The long tail of bands who were living on the proceeds of their releases had to undergo a radical reduction in their income that sent many back into regular day jobs.

What the engineering graduates had done was define the products of liberal arts graduates as something that wasn’t worth paying for, something that was overpriced and therefore something they could rip. Meanwhile, the devices sold by the engineering graduates are sucking in small fortunes with minimal competition. The new reality is one in which musicians need an alternative source of income (same as authors) unless, by sheer chance, they become the one in a million everyone likes to point to when they claim it’s easy to make money from creativity. A lack of worth placed on the results of creative endeavour has led to a mass market that isn’t willing to pay for it and the tools to assist.

So, to say I have ambiguous feelings about the kinds of innovations, like YouTube, from which I have benefitted is an understatement. I don’t rule out some of the good these things do; but I like to be aware that there are two sides. In other words, I’m cool with Universal and whoever else taking down content that directly and knowingly competes with their official product – because the rule applies to the little people not just the big guys. Musicians now have been robbed of the chance to have a long-term career, one they can live off, in the field to which they are dedicated unless they conform to the mass tastes and fashions. More people than ever can make music, that’s a thrill, but it’s harder than ever for the devoted to live on it.

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