I ran into Jim Griffin this weekend and as usual, he got me thinking about music and it’s future. We talked a little bit about Chorus, the new controversial Warner Music backed company trying to create a music utility service for colleges. I’ll tell you the guy is like a bolt of lightning and his fever can leave you doubting what you know yet somehow I always come away with something new to think about and ponder. I listened to him speak briefly and then found a transcription of a similar speech he gave at Midem last year which I wanted to share with you. The complete speech is here: Jim Griffin Speech and a brief excerpt is below. Enjoy!
“It sort of struck me once, I was reading Marshall McLuhan, and I recommend Marshall McLuhan to everyone here who has not already read some of McLuhan’s work. McLuhan is a terribly influential person in media in the 1960’s, so much so that if you’ve seen the movie Annie Hall you may recall that he appears in that movie with Woody Allen in a line outside of a movie theater, and he’s very well known for having said that the medium is the message. I always wondered what that meant. And now that we live in a time of MP3, I think all of us can acknowledge that McLuhan had it right, that in some ways it’s more about what format something comes in these days than it is even the music itself.
But McLuhan said something else that escaped my notice until say five years ago. He indeed said that you will never understand the media of your time. He said that the media of your time is like the air that you breath. You’re unconscious of it. It’s like the water in which a fish swims. He said that you would only understand your media through the rearview mirror of history. And so it is that it led me back to the library to look through microfiches and so forth from the 1920’s and around that time period, because it was around that time period that electricity started to spread around the world. Before electricity spread around the world, for the most part, it could be said that an artist was in complete control of their art. Especially in the sense that, you know, they controlled it with their feet because if they weren’t in the room you couldn’t see them or hear them. Then in rapid succession over several decades we have the spread of electricity around the world, and loudspeaker systems evolve that make the crowd bigger than you can count. And then very very quickly radio broadcast, and now sounds are traveling many thousands of miles beyond their source. Then television is proven out in 1928. And so now your sound and your image can travel thousands of miles. Now, look, I get how we feel special living in this time that we do of the net. We think, wow, we are beset with change unlike we have ever seen. But I would say that that is absolutely untrue. The 1920’s, the spread of electricity, this was a far more savage time to be an artist. This was a far more difficult time.
Our changes, that we are seeing, are merely a gradation of change by comparison to what happened when electricity spread around the world. And so we have something to rely upon that they did not. We have something to look to, which is: what was their experience; how did they handle this dramatic change. I think that without question the way we handled this dramatic change was with collective licensing. In other words, loudspeaker systems, hotels, restaurants, wherever there are performances of music that are so powerful, we have a collecting society that would like to monetize this, and can and does, monetize the anarchy of music moving through say loudspeakers. And equally true of radio, and television broadcast, and cable, and satellite, and as recently as this past decade, we now monetize webcasting over the net in America in just this same way. And so I don’t think it is a great stretch, or that you have to think too far into the future to realize that it would truly be an anomaly if collective licensing did not extend itself further. It does not require a crystal ball to figure this out.
I think it is just about looking back into history and realizing that the way we have dealt with the loss of control, the loss of actual control, has been with the introduction of actuarial economics. And I know actuarial is a big word, you know, but it’s really simple. It’s just a pool of money and a fair way of splitting it up: a pool of money, a fair way of splitting it up. And that is how we have dealt with the loss of control in the past and I suggest to you it is likely that that will be the way we deal with loss of control now and into the future.”