By the way, which one’s Pink?

wishyouwerehere3

You don’t have to be a classic rock fan to celebrate Pink Floyd’s recent legal victory over its label, the troubled EMI.  For those who missed the news, a judge agreed with Pink Floyd that EMI may not distribute the band’s songs as individual tracks (as it has been doing on popular outlets like iTunes) but as part of complete albums only.  As a band spokesperson put it, “This is an art debate, not a commerce debate.”

Well, I’m not so sure I agree completely.

On the one hand, as an unabashed Pink Floyd fan, I am glad that a judge upheld the integrity of the band’s work.  Pink Floyd’s music is meant to be experienced in album form.  The band helped establish art rock in the 1970s, with albums like The Dark Side of the Moon becoming masterpieces, thematically and sonically.  Songs like “Us and Them” from The Dark Side of the Moon or “Comfortably Numb” from The Wall are meant to be heard like chapters from a book.  Taken out of context as singles, the songs sound powerful, but their meaning is diminished.

Moreover, listeners of digital content compromise the quality of the band’s work.  By their nature, digital downloads suffer from sound distortion and degradation in order to make musical files portable. Sound distortion can occur with compact discs, but more so with digital downloads, as Rolling Stone reported in 2007.  I suppose distortion isn’t a tragedy if you’re listening to “My Sharona,” but “Hey You” is another matter.  So I hope publicity around the Floyd/EMI flap inspires child of the digital age to discover the Floyd on vinyl or CD.

But on the other hand, how many consumers really care about the album as an art form — and how many artists can afford to do so?  By now recorded music has become so commoditized that any band hoping to succeed today has to look at touring, merchandising, and licensing for legitimate revenue streams, with the recorded product used to simply raise awareness for the musician.  Moby has famously licensed many of his songs to musical soundtracks — a shrewd business move that at the same time has made him a singles act.  Can you blame him?

And lest we forget, in 2001, Pink Floyd itself cooperated in the release of its songs as individual tracks on an anthology, Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd.  To be sure, producer James Guthrie took great care to present the songs thoughtfully, even providing a surprise: a new mix of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” that blending Parts 1 and 7, which appear separately on Wish You Were Here.  But a singles collection it was.

I don’t think Pink Floyd is guilty of hypocrisy.  Rather I think the legal victory over EMI is a matter of artistic control from the band’s standpoint — and artistic integrity from the fan’s standpoint.   In that sense, I think the Floyd has scored an even bigger victory especially for lesser known bands.  Integrity is a matter of interpretation and debate between an artist and its fans.  But for the debate to even happen, control of the content must reside with the artist.

Your thoughts?

8 thoughts on “By the way, which one’s Pink?

  1. Isn\’t the biggest question, \”What do fans (aka: consumers) want?\” The vision behind a Led Zepplin or Dream Theater (\’80s prog rock is amazing, though I\’m \”far too cool\” to admit it) album may suffer from single tracks being downloaded. Is it worth sacrificing that potential fan?

    The struggle of artists vs. labels has been epic lately. I\’m not much for OK Go, but I do appreciate their plight. EMI argued for control over IP distribution. (That even SOUNDS boring.) OK Go wanted to give fans the tools to share the brand. I think their split, and the subsequent formation of a new label for OK Go, is, too, a victory for consumers. (From your midwestern backdrop—my second city growing up—the Chicago Sun Times writes: http://bit.ly/dl5OYE)

    You are in the business of making things viral, as Razorfish has done with Mercedes and is currently setting up to do with Unilever. What\’s most important to you? It appears that you prefer artistic control over a label. Do you feel the same way about consumer control over a brand?

    (I hate to admit it, but the new OK Go video is amazing…to the tune of 10M+ views. bit.ly/ciLNAm)

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  3. Ben, thanks for the reply! And of course your comment on OK Go brings to mind Radiohead\’s apparently successful \”name your own price\” experiment with \”In Rainbows\” (with the experiment creating tons of publicity for the CD when it was released in physical form). Interesting question about \”What do the fans want?\” I think the question is equally important as \”What does the content creator want?\” — but not necessarily more important. Pink Floyd famously ignored its fans at its creative peak and became phenomenally successful along the way (Roger Waters was even sconful of his fans, a major theme of \”The Wall\” — not that I agree with his outright contempt at all). And Apple seemingly finds new products by thinking beyond the everyday needs and desires of consumers; I would argue that in creating the iPod, Apple had to disassociate itself to some degree from what we as consumers thought we wanted at the time. Last year I wrote a blog post asserting that consumers are not as in control as some of the pundits say we are (speaking as a consumer myself) — nor do we want to be. Consumers are more empowered than ever before, but we are not in control of the relationship with the content provider. More about that here: https://www.superhypeblog.com/2009/09/01/are-consumers-really-in-control/ Really appreciate your thoughts on ths one, Ben.

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  5. Great post, David! As a lifelong and always dedicated PF fan, I felt I had to contribute.

    I see where you are coming from, Ben, but I must disagree with just your first point.

    In art, if you compromise for the fans or consumers, you are not really an artist anymore. Yes, Pink Floyd may in your eyes and EMI\’s eyes be a \”brand,\” but they are first a group of artists who were creating art. When David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright envisioned DSOTM, for instance, it was as an album. It was life from start to finish through the trials and tribulations of money and fame and war and relationships, and, among other things, being Syd Barrett. It was conceived as one, not as a group of crappy songs anchored by a \”single\” here or there like some music is today.

    Think of when Time, Money or Us and Them play on the classic rock stations: they have to be faded in or out because mainly they don\’t have beginnings or ends but rather evolutions to the next part of the album as though the listener is moving through life simultaneously. Or, sometimes, because of this blurring of songs you get to hear two, or even three songs at once because it would be an absolute tragedy to rip apart Time from Breathe Reprise or Brain Damage from Eclipse. The point is that this type of music, as PF argues, is meant to be heard as one because it\’s the entire statement, not just individual messages that comprise their vision.

    Think, if you were a painter who created a powerful painting of a war or a protest or whatever and your art dealer took it from you and chopped it into little pieces, copied them a billion times and sold them off for 99 cents each. If you\’re a struggling artist, you may welcome being a millionaire 99 cents at a time; however, if you are already established or hold your ethics and artist vision higher than fame and fortune you might be upset if the only part of the painting you created that was getting sold was a small part where only action is happening yet the background and setting never sold at all.

    The point is that Pink Floyd gained popularity due to, in large part, their entire \”brand\” experience of holistically created albums and large-scale concerts and album after album of great music not solely from bangin\’ out hits i.e., the entire point of Wish You Were Here was them vs. the machine of the music industry. They no longer need to worry about the fan here or there who might not listen to or buy Atom Heart Mother because Summer \’68 is not available individually. It sucks that some fans might, indeed, miss out on some of the greatest music that has even been created, but if they only want it piecemeal then they are cheated themselves and the artist.

    Isaac

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  8. @David: Truly, \”In Rainbows\” was a phenomenal experiment that I wholly supported. I downloaded the project for $FREE.99, but I voiced my support for the concept throughout social media channels and directly to peers. Mae did a similar experiment where they released one song a month for a \”donation\” minimally of $0.99. Fans could follow how much support the band had raised. Cause-based marketing is a dime a dozen nowadays (most noteworthy being the Pepsi Refresh Project), but if it\’s meaningful to the brand promise, do you think it stands a pretty fair chance of standing out and gaining traction?

    @Isaac: Wonderfully crafted response! My first point, in all reality, was merely a question, and I think you have developed a very elegant post—a true supporter of the \”art\” in artist.

    I believe in the merits of music for the sake of a vision, which is why I support underground and indie labels with such fervor. In that, you and I, good sir, are united by a common bond. Jump back to the present: in your mind, who does the Pink Floyd \”brand\” experience nowadays?

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