Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Value of Source Material

I met [EMI's chief executive] on a plane once. I said: "What is the problem? I want to do it, we all want to do it." And he explained that in the deal that we want, they feel exposed. If [digitized Beatles music] gets out, if one employee decides to take it home and wap it on to the internet, we would have the right to say, "Now you recompense us for that. And they're scared of that."

These comments by Sir Paul McCartney on why The Beatles have kept their catalog off of downloadable music outlets like iTunes have made the rounds of the blogs in the last couple weeks, and Sir Paul has been beat up pretty extensively for not understanding the Internet. I don’t find any of that very interesting (whether he’s daft or not, the bottom line is they own the rights and they can exploit them as they see fit).

Mixing Board by phil dokas.What I do find interesting is the suggestion that what Paul is actually concerned about is not mastered Beatles tracks finding their ways on to P2P networks (he’d have to be an idiot not to know they’re already there via ripped CDs etc.), but the studio source material—that is, the raw, unmixed results of the recording sessions, including, I guess, individual tracks for instruments and voices, etc. See the lower part of this Gizmodo post for further explanation. He’s afraid these will be leaked by EMI in the process of putting their catalog on iTunes et. al. (I cannot fathom how this would work, but I know nothing about the process.)

I get that this is a different thing than finished files getting leaked, but I’m struggling to fully understand the value in digitized copies of the unmastered multi-tracks and the harm in losing control of them (the actual acetate tapes are another matter still—their value I think I understand). Paul’s concern seems to me a little like a picture book artist worrying about unflattened Photoshop files leaking onto the Internet. I’m not saying this is trivial at all. Quite the contrary, I’m saying I don’t fully understand the economic or artistic harm.

Maybe it’s because I default to text when it comes to art, and I really don’t see an analogy here for novelists. If the digital folder full of Word files will tracked changes of a novel leaks, if it of interest to anyone other than future scholars and does it threaten the author economically? I think not.*

* Somehow, I should be able to tie this to Knopf’s publication of my favorite author all time’s unfinished last work, complete with facsimiles of his manuscript. But I can't.


Jennie Englund said...


Andrew Karre said...

Ding! Jennie wins.

Blythe said...

I would be very interested in reading "The Original of Laura" if it came as a sheaf of loose index cards in a box. I'd also be interested in seeing a hypertext version of "Giles Goat Boy." I am oddly uninterested in reading the unedited short stories that became Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."

Concerning Sir Paul and his interest in protecting the sound of those original tracks, I sympathize. It is not a rational position, which is why I have to resort to the irrational, the sympathetic.

I suspect that Paul's relationship with those sounds he is trying to protect is rooted in the desire to protect the synthetic moment--the moment when the artist sees what is making. It is one thing to surrender the finished work (most artists have that intention) it is another to risk exposing the synthetic moment.

Or he may be deluded and simply following a formula of protection that has served him so far.