Storm in a tea cup

Storm In A Teacup Bemuso BlogI was mildly surprised so many music biz liggers got overexcited about the NPR article by Emily White and the predictable but largely wrong riposte from David Lowery. They should all know better than anyone music biz insiders don’t pay for music. Emily White interns at NPR and manages a college radio station, there’s no reason on Earth why she should pay for her iTunes library unless she wants to. And since she’s an intern we can guess her disposable income is somewhat less than Doug Morris’ or Rob Wells’.

She admits she has swapped music with friends and family but she says:

During my first semester at college, my music library more than tripled. I spent hours sitting on the floor of my college radio station, ripping music onto my laptop. The walls were lined with hundreds of albums sent by promo companies and labels to our station over the years.

Two thirds of her collection was sent to the station free by record labels. Where’s the outrage about the contents of Jimmy Iovine’s iPod?

Apart from the promo angle, which is old news, I really can’t see how this got to be such a big deal. Everyone borrows stuff from each other and passes on newspapers, magazines and books when they’re finished with them but nobody ever got hysterical about it like the record industry.

I always borrowed and swapped records when I was young, and taped them off the radio later. I bought them when I could, sometimes I had money sometimes I didn’t. Like today’s youth I went to work when there was almost none, in the early 1970s. And I always listened to music for free—that’s what radio is, free music. That was the golden age of the record industry when they had so much money they didn’t know what to do with it. Heck, they even raised The Beatles’ royalty from 1.2% to around 20%, eventually.

I’m not a huge collector but now I own over a thousand CDs and I probably bought the same again in other formats. That’s the way it goes. I don’t often quote Lefsetz but he is dead right when he says: the big problem for artists is not being shared, it’s being ignored.

But somehow this debate is only ever about two sides of the story: the web industry which allows people to share stuff and big middle men who don’t like it. Pundits praise or denigrate music fans on behalf of one vested interest or the other. The real content providers and consumers rarely get a look in.

So Emily White shouldn’t feel bad about the fracas, it’s not about her. I’m sure very few of the men with throbbing temples even read her article. Besides, judging by this sample most people are sympathetic.

  1. Drowned In Sound Thoughts On The NPR Intern, The Value of Music and The Music Businesses Unspoken Secret
  2. Jay Frank Is stealing music really the problem?
  3. Wesley Verhoeve Music industry quixotism (or why Emily White is right, and David Lowery is wrong)
  4. Wes Davenport Music Without Barriers: Emily White & David Lowery Edition
  5. Travis Morrison Hey Dude From Cracker, I’m Sorry, I Stole Music Like These Damned Kids When I Was A Kid
  6. Laura Snapes Don’t “my peers” me
  7. Techdirt David Lowery Wants A Pony
  8. Bob Lefsetz The David Lowery Screed
  9. Blackbook Why we’re still paying for music

But just in case David Lowery’s reply was insufficiently out of proportion:

Digital Music News Our Digital Innocence Just Died. And David Lowery Killed It…

No it didn’t, and no he didn’t. But this was never about the facts, was it?


Although the original spat seemed hardly worth the effort it continues to provoke some interesting articles, here are a few more.

  1. Pop Dose Tower Records: It was more than music
  2. Evolver David Lowery Might Be Right About Some Things, But He’s Wrong About Streaming, Money, and Artists
  3. Music Industry Blog The Tale of Emily White, Scarcity and the Future of Music Products
  4. Tunecore The Intern, The Artist & The Internet
  5. NYT Media Decoder NPR Intern Gets an Earful After Blogging About 11,000 Songs, Almost None Paid For


A latecomer but well worth waiting for… Dave Allen (Gang Of Four) The Internet could not care less about your mediocre band


I won’t include every blog or article I’ve read because many of them are not so good. The links I’m posting here reflect both sides of the debate and add something to the discussion, probably leaning somewhat towards my own view and away from David Lowery.

  1. Jonathan Coulton Emily White, David Lowery and Legos: Can’t We Get Along?
  2. Ethan Kaplan Are We Really Still Discussing This? – Or: My Response to David Lowery
  3. Gordon Withers Reflections on White/Lowery and a Way Forward
  4. Jim Donio NARM’s Response to the Emily White Controversy
  5. Dave Allen (Gang Of Four) again We Never Read: a postscript to the Emily White fracas


Zac Shaw In Defense of Free Music: A Generational, Ethical High Road Over the Industry’s Corruption and Exploitation

7 thoughts on “Storm in a tea cup

  1. I think that, while you’re right about it blowing up into huge proportions, I don’t think we should discount the notion that this whole kerfluffle sparked a conversation about what’s going on at the moment. It’s an attempt to draw a line in the chaotic sand of the Internet.

    I for one, have never seen such an outpouring of support for his general viewpoint, especially from the indie crowd. It’s something that should be celebrated, not pushed under the rug.

    • You’re absolutely right. When it kicked off I was mildly surprised anybody still cared, but for some reason this time round it triggered some of the best writing I’ve seen in a while. That’s why I posted the articles I thought added something useful, from both sides.

      I must admit I didn’t think a great deal of David’s first response. He makes a lot of good points but infuriatingly adds stuff which just seems wrong to me.

      • I agree that he does get a bit sidetracked (as the article is really freaking long). Have you read his New Boss/ Old Boss write up though? I find that it might put it in a different light for you, but who knows.

        It’s great you included that response from Jon Coulton… I really am so happy about that response – he’s so well spoken and really puts it all in perspective for fans. It’s easy to think that this whole thing is binary, but there are so many opposing view points it’s tough to make any sense of it all.

        • I did read the New Boss Old Boss article when it came out and I posted this. So, a bit but not entirely.

          I completely agree this is not a binary debate. A lot of what Lowery says is totally right but it’s important not to get carried away with general arguments that aren’t completely true. There are some things the Majors did well but there are many things they do badly. It is certainly true some artists from the past are losing money because of technology but others (old and new) are not.

          Regarding the Emily White debate… one of the things I liked about those articles is they mostly explored the issues without falling onto one side or the other. They disagree with each other of course but without finger-pointing.

          • YES! Especially Coulton’s response. It just flowed so well and so elegantly avoided laying blame to any single entity – which seems to be the “in” thing to do on the internet (at least to build views).

            It really spoke with the conviction I was looking for, especially from someone so aligned with the views of the internet at large.

Don't just sit there fuming, write something!