In 2001, American alt-country singer Gillian Welch released a song that, in her ever-so-quiet way, excoriated the download generation. Everything Is Free made a crucial observation: that musicians, artists and writers would keep creating content regardless of whether anyone actually wanted to pay for it or not.
“Everything is free now,” she sang plaintively. “That’s what they say / Everything I ever done / Gotta give it away / Someone hit the big score / They figured it out / That we’re gonna do it anyway / Even if it doesn’t pay.”
That drive – the physical compulsion to create – has always been at the centre of the artist’s core. They don’t choose to live in penury as such: poverty is simply the most common by-product of the fact that one doesn’t really choose to be an artist, either. It’s something that more often chooses you.
Welch wrote the song just before file-sharing service Napster was taken to the cleaners in the courts, but the damage was already done. Who wanted to pay for anything they could get for free anymore? Loudon Wainwright III put Welch’s viewpoint more pungently in another song, Something For Nothing: “It’s OK to steal, ’cause it’s so nice to share.”… Read more..