‘To push into other models.’
There are half a dozen different ways to look at today’s point from the Enough Records Manifesto, whether you head in the direction of expanding netaudio into other structures and models of distribution, sharing and community; to create new sound structures under the aegis of absolute freedom offered by the basic concepts of what we do or, as I myself am probably most enthusiastic about, taking the free model that we’ve created and extending it beyond the boundaries of music and into, well, anything and everything.
It’s easy to see why music stands at the forefront of the free and open culture movements – after all the technology which makes these new structures viable is the same technology which has opened up the creative process to a vast swathe of people who, previously, faced the choice of either investing endless amounts of money into the equipment and training required to put together even the most rudimentary of sounds or accepting the limitations of traditional instrumentalism, learning to use one tool at a time and, more often than not, defining your musical evolution by that initial path. The latter of course still applies as even the technology we have today can’t offer absolute mastery over sound even if it makes the process of learning vastly more egalitarian and open. At any rate, the musical revolution of home producing hit just at the right time to make this vast scene of ours an inevitability – a sense of timing which hasn’t extended to other arts for whom digital mediums, especially in their free or open form, remain something of an odd fit.
Writers, visual artists, designers and the rest can, I know, find endless potential in the new communities opening up around sharing and Creative Commons licenses but unlike musicians they still face a slightly awkward transition over to the new model. There’s been no real explosion of literary or artistic exploration borne of the internet age, no technological structures emerging around such creative acts and, by and large, no sense of community thriving around them and that’s not a result of a lack of talent or will from those seeking to get their work out there. Rather it’s a mark of the disadvantages and cultural perceptions which make the transition to independent, digital sharing rather more of an uphill struggle than our particular scene faces.
To pick out writing, as the example I know best, there remains a definite deference towards the commercial sector and the authority of traditional publishers. There are, of course, plenty of ‘Indie’ publishers out there and an increasing number of them are adapting the concepts of free culture to their work but historically there’s never been a sense of those small, often collectively run ventures being a valid part of the greater literary scene. The DIY ethos in literature has never been granted the same attention and credit as it has in music and a lot of writers are so trained into a certain sense of arrogance towards it, or at least aspiration towards the commercial alternative, that there are rarely fierce advocates of self or collectively managing the work. Which remains the case despite the fact that the mainstream of publishing is rarely any more generous or quality conscious than the mainstream of music – neither should be viewed as any kind of authority on what creative products are worth attention but the reputation of the former has taken far less of a beating over the past couple of decades than that of the latter. Add to that the revolution that centred on MP3 players and the ease of sharing music over the hitherto stunted structures for sharing words and the relative primitivism of the free writing scene hardly seems a surprise.
There are, however, changes emerging – with the advent of Amazon’s Kindle, tablet computers and even smart phones it’s finally becoming viable to actually enjoy written work which has been downloaded with the same ease as audio work and as that spreads it can only be hoped that a community like the free music one starts to emerge around publishing. As with home production of music the ease of creating a simple .pdf file and from there proprietary formats for the new generation of e-readers could mark a new epoch of distribution, attempts at which have already been made on various scales, perhaps the most succesful of which are the literary e-zines which, whilst they focus on the shorter forms, have already gained some notoriety even without a clear model of distribution. That more ambitious models such as the Portuguese ‘Synapses‘ project and my own short-lived Geckovilla site have failed to make an impact perhaps shows that in isolation, without the sort of community framework surrounding free music, the road to establishing a freely shared literary culture is a hard one to follow rather than any actual fault in the concept itself. I have nonetheless come across other similar sites around the place but again they seem to be attempts to construct something new without a genuine framework under which to do so.
That evolutionary process, however, takes time – or at least it did for music, but with an already thriving community in existence it may be the case that writers won’t have to start from scratch but may instead learn lessons from net labels and independent musicians. And that process, if it’s to flourish, relies on a certain inter-connectivity between the two movements – with the established one encouraging the new and offering a launching pad for both artists and audience to build up their own networks.