gig-shots blog – concert photography from mike gatiss
How To Guarantee A Future Filled With Mediocrity

I was saddened yesterday to hear that another music photographer is quitting the business.  Especially when chatting to him later he revealed that he still loves shooting music, he’s just got tired of the business and being expected to supply his shots for free.  He’s not the first music ‘tog to quit, and I’m sure he won’t be the last.  Unfortunately he’s just another victim of the “everything should be free” culture that has spread far and wide over the last decade, and it’s a culture that threatens to lead to a very dull future.

For obvious reasons, music photography is particularly close to my heart but it isn’t the only victim.  If the Lily Allen is to be believed, the music industry itself has been hit hard by fans wanting their music for free.  Newspapers and magazines are being squeezed hard and many have gone out of business as readers abandon them for the web – why pay for a newspaper or magazine when everything you need is available for free online.  Even TV Channels are losing out as people simply download their latest shows rather than sitting through the advertising which supports them.

Many are the calls that say simply “things have changed, either change with them or get left behind”, and to an extent that is true – the internet is a Pandora’s box that can’t and shouldn’t be closed, but if we’re going to expect everything for free we should know what to expect.

Part of the problem is that many talented people aren’t just talented in one area.  For instance, the talented music photographer is a talented photographer first and foremost so if music photography won’t pay the bills, he/she has little option but to switch to another type of photography that will.  The provocative writer that loses her job because the magazine she writes for goes out of business may have to turn to writing advertising copy instead to pay her mortgage.  The musician that can’t sell his albums because everyone downloads them for free will be stuck with jingles.  Oh I’m sure they will try to continue with their artistic side and personal projects but when it comes to food vs. art guess which will win.  The net result is that very talented people will sell their talents to corporations that realise the value of what they have instead of writing, singing, photographing or whatever they do for our entertainment and pure cultural value.  TV production companies will make programs that appeal to the widest possible audience for the lowest possible cost (reality shows anyone) instead of making high-risk intellectually challenging programs that may upset people for fear of losing what little advertising revenue they have left.  Newspapers and magazines will stick to sensationalist attention grabbing stories rather than spending their meagre funds on good quality investigative journalism and photography.

This isn’t an attack on file sharing, I’ve downloaded music many times myself but I’ve always had the attitude that if I like it I buy it (the CD not the digital download but I’ll save that for another day), if I don’t it gets deleted.  Instead it’s simply pointing out that if we don’t change and stop expecting everything to be free we’re in for a very dull future.

Also I don’t believe that advertising supported services such as Spotify are the answer either.  Whilst Spotify has undoubtedly been a media success and has gotten a lot of attention over recent months I suspect the majority of users are going for the free advertising based service which means they are will be relying heavily on advertising.  Unfortunately the internet generation have become pretty immune to online advertising so I have to question how valuable those advertising slots really are and whether they will be enough to pay the licencing fees demanded by the musicians and their labels.  There is hope however given that Spotify have had to restore their invite system due to the popularity of their mobile app.  Time (and premium subscriber figures) will tell.

Love him or hate him, Rupert Murdoch has already seen this in action as online news sites kill demands for his papers and plans to charge for online content.  The big question is whether we (all) are willing to pay for it and other forms of content.  If not the future’s dull, the future’s beige.