Re: “McMusic” and Ryan Walsh

I’d like to thank Ryan Walsh for taking the time to read my “McMusic” article and write down some of his thoughts on the piece. Here are my responses to his four points:

1. Who says this [to sell consumer goods and create the demographics who will buy them] is music’s primary function?

say this is music’s primary function. With this sentence, I was not claiming to report on a well-established or evident fact, but was rather introducing one of the main ideas/arguments/theses of the essay. This is the primary function of introductions: to introduce what you are going to spend the rest of an article talking about or arguing for.

As for the “primary function” of music, I meant “function” in the sociological/structural functionalist sense. To elaborate, the function of a practice or institution is the effect it has on the system of which it is a part, the effect which in turn creates or maintains the conditions of its own perpetuation. In the case of the essay, music is the institution and America, for example, is the system. My argument, in case you missed it, was that the effect which enables the music industry to survive and continue within America is increasingly becoming the sale of products, since the music industry is less supported by actual album purchases these days and more by advertising/sponsorship/branding dollars. Hence, the “primary function” of music is to sell products, because the selling of such products is the systemic effect which enables it to survive and perpetuate itself.

Of course, I am conflating “music” with the music industry here, so I apologize if my essay gives the impression that I believe the primary function of, say, the high-school bands in Illinois is to sell cans of Pepsi or whatever. Also, I realize that my essay has jumped the gun somewhat, in that advertising etc. is still far from being the only thing keeping the record industry afloat. However, as I mention during the article, streaming (which is significantly dependent on advertising money and third-party interest in users’ listening data) is “already the most lucrative source of income for Warner Music Group, whose Chief Executive Stephen Cooper recently declared that, “streaming’s ongoing expansion will return the industry to sustainable, long-term growth.” It was for such reasons that I saw a need to highlight the direction in which music (the music industry) is heading, and since I also wanted to turn a few heads (which clearly I did), I decided to state this change in stark terms, declaring that the selling of products (rather than pleasing people enough to actually buy CDs and mp3s) was already music’s primary function.

2. To spin that [the disbanding of Faith No More, Helmet and Refused] as an industry protest of some sort is super lazy and ya got nothing to back it up, son.

No, I don’t got nothing to back it up, dad. That’s because this was meant to be a joke in reference to Ms Dion’s dominance of the charts. Given that the mention of these bands breaking up occurred within the same clause as the mention of “My Heart Will Go On”, I thought it would be clear enough that it was meant in jest. Clearly I was wrong, although it might be the case that you were so incensed by my general argument that you were desperate enough to clutch at any straws you thought might help you to undermine it.

3. To compare these two different values [“Music will have more value for corporations than for listeners, inasmuch [as] they will increasingly be the ones paying for it.”] with no caveats and a straight face is a bold put-on, and I declare it to be total nonsense.

Do you see the “inasmuch [as] they will increasingly be the ones paying for it” in that sentence? That’s a caveat.

4. Again, were you to even begin to try and prove that point [“They rob music of its essential value, which once inhered in its potential for solidifying communities and endowing individual lives with meaning”], you know you’d look ridiculous, and so you just say it and move on hoping no one would read your piece critically.

I’ll admit that I don’t have any evidence that the increasing commercialization of music is draining it of value, meaning or importance for people. Once again, this was a proposal, and I’d simply like to contend that having a festival, event or streaming service inundated or even provided by brands tarnishes the experience to a certain extent, diverting attention away from the joy of listening to good music. Maybe the Red Bull Music Academy or the presence of sponsorship at Coachella doesn’t bother some fans, but then again, all other things being equal, I think most people would prefer not to see logos while they’re at festivals and to know that brands are making money off the back of their subculture.

Anyway, that’s my bit. To sum up, thanks for reading my essay. I’m happy it provoked such a strong response and that you cared enough to write a rebuttal of it. Such things have given me confidence to think I must be onto something.

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