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Interview With David Lowery of Cracker

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I interviewed David Lowery of Cracker and Camper van Beethovan about his viral blog post on The Trichordist discussing artist rights. Lowery's post was itself a response to an earlier post by an NPR intern, Emily White, and was widely viewed as a game changer among musicians and music fans as well as other creators. This is the first of a two-part interview.

Chris Castle: I thought I would start by asking you to react to a quote from Paul Resnikoff's reporting about your post ("Our Digital Innocence Just Died and David Lowery Killed It"):

"I spent an entire afternoon reading and re-reading the storm of articles, comments, analyses and emails related to one impassioned and eloquent retort... Thousands of words, hundreds of comments, dozens of emails, several proposed guest posts; I'm not sure I've experienced anything quite like this.

Because David Lowery didn't just touch a nerve this week, he may have single-handedly crushed years of post-physical, ridiculous digital utopianism. In one crystallizing, cross-generational and unbelievably viral rant.

And after a decade of drunken digitalia, this is the hangover that finally throbs, is finally faced with Monday morning, finally stares in the mirror and admits there's a problem. And condenses everything into a detailed 'moment of clarity'... "

What do you make of Paul's analysis?

David Lowery: People have known in their hearts for a long time that there is something unfair and unethical about file-sharing. That is clear from the post by Ms White. She is clearly struggling with the ethics of "fandom" vs. filesharing. ( I think she was remarkable brave and honest for writing that blog and NOT resorting to the usual excuses about file-sharing). People needed the specifics. That's all I did. Until now the debate has always been Record Labels vs. The Technology Industry. Meanwhile the artists have been caught in the crossfire. We set out with The Trichordist to re-frame the debate about artist's rights. We figured it was a five-year project. We got lucky this week. It's still a five-year project.

Chris Castle: It struck me that you're really just one guy with a blog post responding to someone from National Public Radio. That's a mass media giant with 900-odd member radio stations and a pile of money in their endowment. And you didn't have the Google-style new media juice -- there was no Wikipedia blackout, no PR campaign, no lobbyists, no statements from the White House -- but Paul Resnikoff says "our digital innocence just died." How do you explain this?

David Lowery: Yes if this were an Arab Spring nation it would have been noted that this was one obscure blogger against the State Radio Station! Seriously though, it struck a chord with the public. It got outside the tech/music bubble. I mean I ran into a neighbor today and she says "they were talking about your letter after church today". Now that is viral. We are talking about tens of thousands of reads an hour, and there are still tens of thousands of reads today -- a week later. It took me completely by surprise. Especially since all the writing that I've done about this subject has been in the form of blogs over 4,000 words long. Four thousand-plus words really shouldn't work in our 140 character Twitter obsessed world. But I think that was part of the strength. "Debate" has devolved in people slinging one liners at each other through social media. I noted a few bloggers proudly proclaiming my letter was "tl/dr," or "too long didn't read" (and then debated it anyway?!!) Every time I saw this I laughed. To paraphrase Nassim Taleb "lies are simple, truth is complex." Yet I've always trusted the general public to be smarter than the self appointed experts. The tech/music blogosphere is an echo chamber.

Chris Castle: Your post drew out tens of thousands of heartfelt tweets and comments, mostly from musicians, songwriters or artists. Quite a few big names, but mostly young artists trying to make a living from their music. I was also struck by how many were almost grateful that a fellow artist was standing up and saying what they were thinking. Do you agree?

David Lowery: Their public support is greatly appreciated. I've been following one of the artists who had a great slogan: "Adapt or be Torrented." I entered this debate by speaking at the San Francisco Music Tech Summit. One of the first blog comments I saw about my talk was "F*ck you, we're gonna turn you into Lars Ulrich." It is a very real threat. Artists have been cyberbullied for a long time on this issue. I finally dumped my Facebook account for this reason. Look what happened to Lilly Allen! Brutal. The Trichordist has a number of musicians who step out like Mark Isham, Chris Whitten and Maia Davies, but many prefer to remain anonymous for this reason.

Chris Castle: I've also noticed that some music executives seemed to have drunk the koolaid on "sharing is caring" and got kind of personal with you. Why do you think these suits (or former suits) are so invested in suspending reality to preserve the misery of the status quo?

David Lowery: Current executives? My take is that these guys are Freehadists. I guess they're angry and they want to make sure no one else makes a living in the music business or something. I think they are externalizing their own personal crises. I refuse to give them oxygen by mentioning their names. But their schtick does work well in the hatemongering music tech blogosphere. Kudos. Moving on.

Chris Castle: Some people have focused on your calling out Spotify for obscenely low payments to artists. One reaction was that Spotify pays labels, not artists which is a little too cute because that just makes the ultimate artist payments even more obscene after the label share is deducted. Some have said a deal's a deal. Some have asked why you singled out Spotify, what's up with that?

David Lowery: On one hand I like Spotify. They try to pay musicians. As I said, eventually something like Spotify could work to build a sustainable music business. But not at these rates. My main criticism of Spotify isn't even in the article. Spotify is the perfect storm of big tech and big media. Everyone knows it's partially owned by the major labels right? When Spotify goes public or gets acquired are the labels gonna share any of that liquidity event with the artists they pimped out?