During moments of change, people always long for a return to an earlier time when things were simpler, gentler and more civilized. Something new comes along, disrupts the established order, and, like clockwork, nostalgia kicks in.
Here’s the thing: at wherever point a halcyon day may exist in our memories, disruption almost certainly preceded it. It’s always been thus. And it’s why most nostalgia is really just myth.
Two recent examples of the nostalgia myth stand out. The first involves the rise of streaming music services like Pandora, Spotify and Rdio. The second involves the sad and silly tale of Manti Te’o and his modern day courtship ritual that ended in embarrassment.
Where streaming music is concerned, musicians and their record labels are bemoaning the fact that royalties paid by the main services are too low – that musicians can’t live on the income produced by the like of Spotify. According to the New York Times:
Spotify, Pandora and others like them pay fractions of a cent to record companies and publishers each time a song is played, some portion of which goes to performers and songwriters as royalties. Unlike the royalties from a sale, these payments accrue every time a listener clicks on a song, year after year.
The question dogging the music industry is whether these micropayments can add up to anything substantial.
Music streaming services upend the still-new music download model, which upended the relatively new CD model, which upended the vinyl record model. Live musical performances, which existed in large and small venues all over the country in the 19th century, were upended by radio, which itself was upended by TV and home entertainment equipment. Record players begat tape players, which begat digital players, and so on.
Here’s the thing: over time, as massive numbers of people follow the change and move from one format to another, money does, too. At first, you make precious little from the new model. But volume begins to kick in and the revenue does, too. From the Times:
If those subscriber ranks grow, royalty rates will also climb, recapitulating a process seen whenever new technologies have been introduced, said Donald S. Passman, a top music lawyer and the author of the book “All You Need to Know About the Music Business.”
“Artists didn’t make big money from CDs when they were introduced, either,” Mr. Passman said. “They were a specialty thing, and had a lower royalty rate. Then, as it became mainstream, the royalties went up. And that’s what will happen here.”
Which brings me to the sad tale of Mr. Te’o, the Notre Dame football star and wunderkind, who’s love life exploded into public view when it was revealed that his much celebrated relationship with a terminally ill young woman was, indeed, a hoax. He was the victim, he claims, of naiveté, bad judgment and the ill intentions of those who were jealous of his fame.
As a result, people and the press waxed nostalgic for a time when boys asked girls out on proper dates; when they sat on porch swings, holding hands, and sweetly made plans for the future. You know: the good old days before OKCupid and match.com; before Facebook, text messages and Grindr.
But courtship has always been complicated and messy. Naiveté in youth is nothing new. And scams and cons have always been with us. We just have new ways of courting; new ways of conning and scamming. Same old stuff; whole new mediums.
Back when I worked at Technorati running communications and marketing, we were at the center of the new phenomenon called blogging. We were the only blog search engine back then and there was general alarm among the press that blogging was cannibalizing the mainstream media, and that the Fourth Estate was in danger of extinction.
Here’s the thing: people have always blogged. Cave men and women wrote on cave walls: today we hunted; tomorrow we gather. Or: look! fire! In Roman times, there were the callers of the news, who proclaimed in public squares all the news of the day. When the printing press was first invented, there were leaflets that were posted and distributed by all sorts of people. And then books. And then, finally newspapers. Which begat radio… and so on.
The Fourth Estate will survive. So will recording artists. And so will dating. And the human race. Everything changes. And nothing does, too.