Elton John, in his apparent abundance of technological wisdom, has alerted the world that he would like everybody to take a 5 year sabbatical from the internet. Now, the fact that he alerted the world through 'The Sun', the British tabloid newspaper, is not exactly a great starting note for the pop-icon to begin his tirade against the internet. And, in reality, it really just went downhill from there.
The 60 year old, who has himself labeled himself a technophobe, believes that the internet is stifling creativity. "The internet has stopped people from going out and being with each other, creating stuff. Instead they sit at home and make their own records, which is sometimes OK but it doesn't bode well for long-term artistic vision."
He goes on to say that "I do think it would be an incredible experiment to shut down the whole internet for five years and see what sort of art is produced over that span," and continues in his downward spiral by saying that "...there's too much technology available."
Now this is without a doubt an opinion piece, so I won't beat around the bush. The news is out there, and it's essentially just Elton John proclaiming to the world that his music sensibilities overrule everyone else's, and that as a result, the internet should be banned.
Let me just, for a moment, list a few reasons why his opinions not only carry no weight, but actually would hurt the music industry.
1) Elton may believe that there is too much technology, and I would assume that maybe his opinion would include the iPod (and other related devices). However, in a world where hard-media such as tapes and CD's have long shown to have a limited lifespan, digital music is essentially the only long term option left.
And it is the medium of choice as well, with iTunes moving swiftly up the ranks as one of the biggest sellers of music, moving in to third spot on the American music retailers list (after WalMart and Best Buy). In addition, Apple have recently announced that iTunes has reached a total of 3 billion tracks sold. If it were just a cult fad like Betamax was back in the 80's, they would never have reached 1 billion, let alone 3.
2) Elton complains that people "...sit at home and make their own records...".
I would strongly oppose this point, simply on the basis that it's not really true. If, however, Elton is referring to indie musicians who are making their way through smaller labels and through websites such as MySpace and LastFM, then I would remind him that for a lot of these artists — these very popular artists mind you — that there is no healthy alternative.
For too long record industries have throttled the creativity and drive out of many of our greatest musicians, forcing them to record and create to a contract, rather than their own desires. Some of the biggest artists around have complained about the pressure to have an album ready to record by a due date, as if they had been set homework.
Not to mention the fact that the RIAA for example — the trade group that represents American music artists — has been taking on fans of various bands for the past decade or so, forcing people to listen to music for as much money as they can scrape out of them. This money will rarely see the inside of the musicians pocket though, with royalties and other fees depriving musicians of hard earned money.
3) Elton goes on to add that "In the early Seventies there were at least ten albums released every week that were fantastic. Now you're lucky to find ten albums a year of that quality." I would have to agree entirely with that assessment. However the likelihood that the mass of albums being released that apparently does not meet Mr. John's tastes are all indie based internet musicians calls in to question his credibility.
I won't impose my own music tastes on to others — with indie and classical making up the majority of my tastes — but I will suggest that simply, the desire for the great alums like Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band has simply faded away in to the night. Now the call is for sex riddled, innuendo laced trash that seems to be the soundtrack to a million one night stands. Very few bands or artists — in my opinion — strive for a full album of perfection, but rather stuff lesser quality songs around 2 or 3 hit singles.
4) Let's look at the impact that the internet is having on music itself — rather than the sales of music. Sites like LastFM have seen an upsurge of exposure given to some of the greatest sounds coming out at the moment. For example Bloc Party, an indie band for a long time, are finally getting the larger exposure that is deserved from a well thought out and executed band.
LastFM — for clarification — is an online community of music fans. The simple goal of the site is to allow users the chance to see what other people are listening too. If, for example, Johnny sees that Jimmy is listening to Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand and Jesus and Mary Chain — all bands that Johnny love's — but sees that Jimmy is also listening too Of Montreal, he might try out Of Montreal and find that he too likes their music.
It is a chance for music lovers to expand what they are listening too, something that everyday radio just does not necessarily provide for. The set track listings and copyright's that prevent DJ's from emulating their ancestors from the 70's and 80's has set the music industry back dramatically, and I believe that the internet is the only thing that is going to allow that to change.
5) Lastly, I want to comment on Elton's comment that he hopes "...the next movement in music will tear down the internet." As I said above, I believe the internet is what is going to allow music to make its great comeback. But I believe that is already happening. Online video has already produced at least two stars that I can think of off the top of my head in Sandi Thom and OK Go.
The internet is allowing for more creativity, with the video clips of yesteryear making a return as an important factor in the music. For too long have they been the babe ridden sex fests that have sent millions of parents — and not just the religious fanatics — running to turn the TV off. Where else were we going to see 4 guys doing a synchronized dance on a treadmill, or a young girl walking down a street for no apparent reason singing "I Wish I was a Punk Rocker!"
Elton might be excused for being a Luddite, but his opinions are damaging to an industry which is already taking hit after hit thanks to bad management and decision making by those at the top. The internet is what is finally bringing about the change that is so desperately needed."