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A Magazine for Sheffield

Art for Art's Sake.

The advent of the internet and the rise of MP3 music has not only challenged the recording industry's monopoly on selling music, but has given numerous amateur musicians the chance to be heard throughout the world without the support of a global music imprint. It has also brought about a rapid increase in free music online. From the record industry's point of view, these changes have threatened to destroy their livelihood, but they have also called into question the way the music they produce is valued. Modern music is valued twice - once when it is created, appreciated or performed live, and once when it is sold. While we can value something for its artistic merit in terms of emotion, pleasure and the like, selling something gives it a monetary value, which is completely unrelated to its quality. A fallacy I have often heard is that to not charge for music devalues it. In reality, the 'value' that record labels talk of is not the value of the music itself, but the cost incurred to produce it. Don't get me wrong, to invest in a project financially does justify charging for the outcome and it is a great thing that artists are able to make a living out of their work. But it is important not to confuse the artistic and financial value of their work, the latter of which is reflected by nothing else but the price you pay for it at HMV or online. There are a number of examples of how this reassessment of music's value has led to good. Netlabels, which release music for free, have triumphed in the last few years. The idea of not putting a monetary value on music has gained a sort of purity amongst the Beatport generation - no pretensions to higher musical cause, no need to illegally obtain swathes of music from dodgy torrent sites, and in some cases, music of real quality. Running a netlabel is a labour of love which could not be achieved without attaching a creative and artistic value to music. What is missing is a price, which is a very different thing. Radiohead are another example of this. When they announced that their long-awaited LP In Rainbows would be sold over the internet at a price chosen by the fans, many condemned them as devaluing their art with a cheap marketing ploy. Lipstick-clad proto-emo Robert Smith even wrote a reaction to this on The Cure's website, condemning it and stating firmly that if an artist cannot put a value on their own art, they are not really an artist. This argument holds very little sway in a world where to be an artist can mean so many different things. Is the teenager who spends his time in front of his computer producing music for himself not an artist? Van Gogh only sold one painting in his life, but I hope Smith will grant the Dutch master artist status. Plenty of music is released posthumously, meaning that the artists did not place any monetary value on it - does that mean all this music is also valueless? Music has the power to make us laugh and to weep. According to psychologists and neuroscientists, it even has the power to ease the effects of autism and amnesia. It has been used to harness the powers of great armies, to tame the hearts and minds of restless cities. While it is not a condition of life to have music, the ability to make and appreciate it is without a doubt at the very essence of what it is to be human - not something you can put a price on. )

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