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The Winner Takes It All

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Jacob Clifton: A+ | Grade It Now!
The Song of Your Life

But information is only getting slippier and more free, and our ways of getting them proliferate at an exponential rate, meaning that any information industry is at or past the point of peak oil: At some point, there has to be a replacement for DRM or bringing billion-dollar lawsuits against children who use Napster. When you're only operating your dying industry in terms of the highest-selling units, you're driving even more traffic off the grid entirely, because if you don't particularly like songs that sound like Bruno Mars or Ryan Tedder wrote them, you're going to turn off the radio because that's all there is. In the short view, that's the definition of success.

And it's not a matter of cyclical, ups-and-downs, "recession economies create grunge revolutions" or any of those cultural lenses we're used to using: This is an evolution of the entire concept of information delivery, of what art and commodification even mean, and dancing on the edge of that shit is scary as hell. Entertainment and information are the quintessential American exports, and it's all predicated on a concept of scarcity that is already dead. There is no resurgence, there is no reconditioning, there is no way of coming back from that, because ones and zeroes have replaced physical objects.

In the short term, you've got to gather those rosebuds, which is what this show is about. It's a historical record of the last days of disco. But in the long term, it's next to useless to even look at it in terms of the industries themselves, because they are not the point. After this part of the process, the next stage is micropayments -- which we're already there, studying the top iTunes downloads, which is the middle tier of people still willing to pay at all -- and social networking to build artists' brands. But those are stopgap measures too, because after peak oil nobody knows what the hell you're going to do.

In order to keep from being the next Flint Michigan, LA needs to talk to the boys up north about how to monetize ones and zeroes in a way that doesn't feel like an Orwell novel, but that won't happen because they're still making the money. There's no reason for them to be scared about any of this, as long as there's a Scotty or a Sonyae willing to sell their unicorn to squeeze out another year in the black.

Because that's not the only kind of scarcity that's dying. On the artist side, you're also talking about scarcity of access to production equipment, access to broadcast, access to marketing, access to eyeballs and earholes. And now that writing a song or performing a song or making a beautiful video and then getting it talked about is as simple as uploading it to YouTube, it's all just noise. The business model that pays off other industry people to get access to those eyeballs is dying just as fast, because there is no way to apply normal business models to the abundance of attention that is possible for a talented artist with a computer.

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