Powerful computers and easy-to-use editing software are challenging our conceptions of authorship and creativity. As usual, the entertainment industry doesn’t like this one bit.
While there have been odd pairings, match-ups and remixes for decades now, and club DJs have been doing something similar during live sets, the recent explosion in the number of tracks being created and disseminated is a direct result of the dramatic increase in the power of the average home computer and the widespread use on these computers of new software programs like Acid and ProTools. Home remixing is technically incredibly easy to do, in effect turning the vast world of pop culture into source material for an endless amount of slicing and dicing by desktop producers.
So easy, in fact, that bootlegs constitute the first genre of music that truly fulfills the “anyone can do it” promises originally made by punk and, to lesser extent, electronic music. Even punk rockers had to be able write the most rudimentary of songs. With bootlegs, even that low bar for traditional musicianship and composition is obliterated. Siva Vaidhyanthan, an assistant professor of culture and communication at New York University and the author of “Copyrights and Copywrongs,” believes that what we’re seeing is the result of a democratization of creativity and the demystification of the process of authorship and creativity.
We’ve been hearing for years how greater access to PCs and the Internet would revolutionize society and how people express themselves, but I wonder if all those visionaries expected it to actually happen and happen in the way that it did. I’m certain the entertainment industry didn’t expect that MP3’s would become a major thorn in their side. The irony of DVD movies being ripped from their discs and transported around the Internet in DivX format becomes obvious when you know that DivX was originally developed as an alternative DVD format that would have allowed media companies to charge you every time you watched that DVD. The genie’s out of the bottle now and organizations like the RIAA are doing everything they can to put it back in with only limited success thus far. Hopefully some day someone with some brains in the entertainment industry will find a way to embrace this new reality and change the business model so that everyone wins in the end.