Pete Townshend and the John Peel Lecture

The BBC and Pete Townshend came together to deliver a lecture to discuss the nature of the current music industry. This what Auntie Beeb has to say on the matter:

Pete Townshend examines the current state of music media and asks the question: Can John Peelism survive the Internet? In an age of free downloads and a disposable attitude to music, can creative people earn a living, and without radio how can the “unpolished” music that John Peel championed find an audience?

Now, I will admit I haven’t even had the opportunity to listen to the lecture yet, but will be doing soon. The rest of this post though, is about the questions raised in this press-prepared paragraph.

Firstly, is Pete “it was only research, honest, officer” Townshend really the most appropriate person be delivering a lecture about the internet? As a member of rock’s greatest generation, I have no problem with his musical output – vintage Who records are some of the most dynamic and thrilling music ever put to tape. But Pete Townshend is also part of that same generation who have recently won a copyright battle to ensure that they kept earning money from 50 year old records. This is not a change to the law to help nurture creativity or foster new talent – this is a change to keep rock dinosaurs in their gilded towers.

Can musicians earn a living in the internet age?

Music is as old as humanity itself, and although the recording industry is over 100 years old, it is only from the late 60s that the musicians have made much money from their albums: the Beatles were given a pittance along with Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and everyone else. The money – even from the days of classical composers with their printed sheet music – has for the rest of time been gobbled up by the publishing companies – the men in the suits.

For all of human history musicians had to earn their money by going out and performing it. We have had a 30-40 year window where musicians could stay at home and earn money. It could be argued that the internet has changed things back to how they have been for millennia – it applies to Lady Gaga who has made about $1.37 from over 12 billions plays on Spotify, but earns her millions through live performance. I’m not saying it’s fair, but when has life ever been fair?

What about “John Peelism”?

John Peel was probably most famous for playing the records that no-one else would touch with a shitty-stick. For every time he helped to launch a band into the big time (which I’m not sure he ever did!) there were a hundred that never made it, and these people made music for their sheer love of it. These long forgotten bands made roughly $0.00 in their entire music making careers, had to take day jobs to pay the bills, sweating it out in crappy pub gigs in Huddersfield, not headlining Wembley Stadium. Townshend and the BBC are conflating rock and roll megastars with the long forgotten, and erroneously equating them.

I think that “John Peelism” – music that is gritty and unhyped, bullshit free music created by people for their love of making music – not only survives on the internet, it positively thrives. The computer revolution can put an affordable recording studio in anybody’s home, and with an internet connection, you can have it heard around the world within seconds of uploading it. There’s Bandcamp, Soundcloud and many, many more sites that allow you to upload your music and make money from it – with no middle man. There are netlabels, there are internet radio stations, there are podcasts and more to help push it.

Much missed though he is, you no longer need a John Peel, you only need a search engine. BBC and Mr Townshend… welcome to the internet.