Thursday 15 September 2011

Google and the Golden Gob Iron

Last month at the Edinburgh Book Festival, Ewan Morrison set out a very bleak thesis on what the internet had to offer writers.

His assessment was that new technology was democratizing the arts but almost as an inverse consequence the returns were shrinking to the point where as he famously put it as regards author's advances, "10k is now the new 50k".

The outlook for unpublished authors was even grimmer, how J.K. Rowling would have made it these days is a moot point.

Anyway if you want to cheer yourselves up here is the article in full.

Part of Morrison's assessment of where this was all leading us was that labor on the internet is provided for free. Nowhere is this more true than blogging, where people are so keen to share their thoughts that they will happily type away for ages with a nice warm glow because they can opine and people will read their opines. Morrison's thesis is that the only people who really are making money off the back of the arts are the ISPs such as Google and Google are the people that were seriously pushing to digitally scan every book ever published to create the ultimate free cyber library. The plans have been ardently resisted and everything is in temporary abeyance but they haven't gone away completely.

But if you look at the arts in general you will pretty much find anything you want out there, labor provided for free by people keen to share their talents and enthusiasms for just the extra buzz of having an audience beyond their bedrooms. YouTube is an exemplar of this phenomenon, there are countless channels set up by bedroom wannabes, who are happy to expend a lot of energy doing Mariah Carey and Lady GaGa re-treads in the hope of perhaps securing the elusive record deal without suffering the angst of standing in front of Simon Cowell. Every street in the land has now got it's own mini recording studio and the results although often dire are all out there to share for free.

But while the serious earners such as Coldplay try to work out clever schemes by which to give away their latest album without forcing themselves to take day jobs, there are other musicians who long ago gave up on that dream and plumped for a solid day job instead. Here's just such an example:

Hakan Ehn is a Swedish engineer, so has got the day job well and truly sorted, but his other passion is playing blues harmonica and his over riding big influence seems to be Little Walter, who although he lived on the edge and eventually died as a result of one brawl too many, was an absolute genius when it came to pushing amplified harmonica to levels hitherto undreamed of in the 1950's. Hakan Ehn has adopted a lot of Walter's love of amplified harp and using a small Roland amplifier occasionally deserts his kitchen with T-Bone steak gently simmering and heads out for the metropolis.

He will then set up his equipment; Roland amp, i-pod with backing track, Shaw mic and Hohner (in this example Golden Melody) Harmonica   and unleash full on down and dirty Chicago Blues. Here he is at London's Tottenham Court Road Tube station:

You can see where Hakan's love of finding out how things work comes into play. By using a small amp he can get a nice sense of distortion by over-riding the little amp and he's not averse to tiddling around with the draw holes on his Marine Band harmonicas to get even more out of his playing.

The irony is that without free entertainment on the internet we wouldn't be able to check out artistes like Hakan Ehn, but for artists without back up income, making money out of their art via the new technology the prospects are challenging to say the least.

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