Podcast: New Words

Here’s another podcast version of my BBC World Service column, which runs on the World Business Report. It’s about new words and where they come from. Download it, or subscribe to the podcast feed here.

Podcast: Presence

Here’s another podcast of a piece I did for the BBC’s World Service ‘World Business Report’. This one’s on presence, a favorite topic of mine; Download it here.

(Thanks, BBC, for allowing me to republish it as a podcast. I’m told the WBR appears in the U.S. on WBUR and other stations in the NPR network, and in Australia on ABC Newsradio. I’m afraid I don’t know times but they’re all fine radio stations; I’d suggest listening to them 24/7.)

BBC ‘Is Devaluing Music’ With Free Downloads

Not everyone is happy that the BBC has given away Beethoven’s symphonies: The Independent Online  reports (via TechDirt) :

Managing director of the Naxos label, Anthony Anderson, said: “I think there is a question of whether a publicly funded broadcaster should be doing this and there is the obvious issue that it is devaluing the perceived value of music. You are also leading the public to think that it is fine to download and own these files for nothing.”

I love the idea of devaluing music (sorry, ‘devaluing the perceived value of music’; can you devalue the value of something?) by giving it away. Presumably everybody giving a free lunchtime concert or playing their violin for pleasure in the comfort of their own home is devaluing music and should be discouraged from doing so.

I didn’t really express myself well when I posted on this before (what’s new). I wrote

But why is it that listening to free classical music is seen as a way of encouraging a broader interest in the genre (and, presumably, encouraging the listener to buy classical music) but when the music is pop, it’s seen as dangerous encroachment on the rights and prerogative of the music industry and has to be stamped out?

Some reader replied:

Is it becasue [sic] the classical music is in the public domain?

That gave me pause. Is it? Sort of. But it’s not just that. The copyright of the music itself may be in the public domain, but the performance isn’t. The BBC still has to pay for the recording, for the musicians, for the studio etc. And Mr. Anderson’s ill-conceived comments show that in fact much of this idea of giving music away for free has less to do with the idea of protecting the performers or composers as about protecting the ‘perceived value’ of music itself. The usual argument about preventing MP3 file sharing is that it takes money away from the creators, so they won’t be able to afford to produce new music. But Mr. Anderson’s idea is different: The value of music is not an aesthetic one, but a financial one. Give something away and it won’t be appreciated.

Another argument was offered by Ralph Couzens, managing director of the Chandos label who was quoted by the Independent as saying:

“We have to pay premium prices to record big orchestras and pay full union rates and we have to pass those costs on to the consumer. If the BBC is going to offer recordings for free, that is going to be a major problem.”

Huh? Don’t the BBC have to pay the same fees? I suppose you could argue that as a public funded broadcaster it doesn’t have to make a profit and so therefore those fees are discounted, but if this was a valid argument, wouldn’t every commercial TV and radio station, every record label and studio make it against any publicly funded broadcaster?

Others have pointed out the narrow-mindedness of such arguments: If more people listen to Beethoven for free, the more people will love his music and want more of it, in the form of more recordings or more concerts, or more books, or whatever. With classical music that argument has long been won: That’s why my Dad dragged me along to every concert he could. He knew I would hate most of them, but eventually somehow the music would enter my blood and I would become addicted. But I guess my original post was asking, somewhat incoherently, why the same question is not so readily made of pop music? Surely if I heard Coldplay on the radio — for which I don’t pay — I’m going to be more likely to buy their CD if I see it in a shop? Likewise, if I can download legitimately one song — or even half a CD — of their stuff for free, aren’t I more, rather than less, likely to shell out for the full album (assuming I can’t download the other half for free)? With music, there’s no real end to one’s appetite. Surely any kind of music can only benefit by such gifts as the BBC made in its Beethoven experiment?