Steve Albini may not be an expert at public speaking. But he is a 40-year veteran of the music industry – working as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer, audio engineer and music journalist for most of his life. He lived and worked through the age of commercial rock radio and payola, through the birth of MTV, and through the most formative years of file sharing and torrenting right up to the present day.
Albini has worked on an estimated 1500 albums, which certainly qualifies him to speak on the state of the changing music industry.
He delivered a Keynote Address at Face The Music in 2014. The first 30 minutes comprise his essential arguments – exposing the self-perpetuating system of major labels, commercial radio, and the convoluted laundry list of associated professionals who were all guaranteed to profit from a band’s record, usually leaving the band with nothing.
He demonstrates that the old system was in place to serve everyone except the band and its fans – the two inconsequential and often ignored parties of the industry.
Albini then outlines how the internet and improved recording technologies rendered the old system obsolete and empowered artists. The web and file sharing gave bands, for the first time, a direct and personal relationship with their listeners and exponentially increased the reach of their music.
In closing, Albini describes the resulting listening culture as discerning and passionate, granting fans the ability to pursue their own niche musical fetishism, and that these listeners find a way to reward the artists they love in return.
The old industry giants loudly proclaim that the new system is “broken” and is in a “crisis” that must be remedied. But in reality, the bands and their listeners are better off now than ever before.
This address shattered my shame about filesharing, and restored my faith in music.