reverse rivals

It’s not just that copies of a song aren’t rivalrous. It’s that the more copies there are, the more the song is worth.

That’s because one of the functions of music is to be cultural currency. Michael Jackon’s “Thriller” is a good conversational topic. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a landmark that we’d use to describe similar, but less known, works. Thriller and Beethoven’s Ninth wouldn’t be useful in those ways if they weren’t so well known.

Shared references are the power source for mashups like Girl Talk. Because everybody in the crowd recognizes the source samples, the audience can understand they music. The better known the song is, the more people get the reference. And the more copies, the better known.

9 thoughts on “reverse rivals

  1. Copies are a rivalrous good. It’s the intellectual work upon them that isn’t.
    You can’t use my CD while I’m using it, but you can listen to the same song upon your copy at the same time as I listen to mine.

    The music is not the copy.

    The copy is not the music.

  2. So the hard drive on which the copy rests isn’t rivalrous? Is that what you’re thinking, Crosbie?

  3. Is a song a rivalrous resource? I have been thinking about this for months. Today (monday), I would probably come down on the side of ‘yes’, it is. Unchecked, a song that’s repeatedly covered, shared and played by everyone gets used up; the resource does deplete.

    Actually, perhaps the resources that’s depleted is crowd attention?

  4. The material is rivalrous, the pattern isn’t.
    The copy is rivalrous, the song isn’t.

    Even on a hard drive or in RAM, users of the copy have to take turns.

    Well, ok, it’s theoretically possible that simultaneous concurrent access to the same media can be contrived, but when people talk of copies it’s invariably in the rivalrous sense. My copy, your copy.

    Anyway, bar that weeny gripe of mine, you are right to observe that the value of a song increases the more it’s copied. After all, who gives a fig how much the copies decrease in value? Except those who manufacture and sell them…

  5. “Freshness” gets consumed. That’s one type of value a song can have. It’s the natural opposite of “cultural currency.”

  6. Although art once created is impervious to time and the beings that appraise it, its value is a product of its cultural moment. A joke that was funny in 1900 is likely to be understood quite differently a century later, despite being as novel to those who first encounter it today as it was when published. The art hasn’t changed. The cultural environment has – and audiences are a part of that. It’s possible we can still detect ‘cultural freshness’ aside from novelty, that a joke from 1900 has subtle cultural references we subconsciously recognise as stale. Similarly for music.

    So perhaps the more detached a work of art is from its cultural environment (its zeitgeist) the more likely it will find appreciative audiences in the future, e.g. Mozart’s symphonies perhaps?

    Popular art may be embraced and pervade the cultural moment, possibly even defining it, but that doesn’t consume the art. If anything it makes it more permanent, more likely to withstand the erosion of cultural memory. When the last copy of an artwork disappears, and when the last memory dies, only then could the art be said to have been consumed. Culturally ingested, any goodness enjoyed as it permeates our culture, and finally excreted. However, though forgotten at least it lives on as a contribution to humanity – who without it may have been the lesser for it.

  7. The genius of 20th C. recording industry culture was to create a shared experience in a known song more successfully than the oral tradition or sheet music industry had done. The Girl Talk knack for taking those shared experiences and creating new experiences is fascinating.

    I wonder, though, about whether this is new. I read that in Iceland everyone learns the same folk songs, so that there is a massive shared simple song culture, which would seem to me a rich and less ‘rivalous’ way to share culture.

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