Fair Pay

Three things coincided recently.

1)  Jana Hunter, the singer for the band Lower Dens, recently wrote about her band’s relationship to streaming music services.

2) Scott Repass, Houston writer and saloon keeper, said in an article in the Houston Chronicle, “Our profit is actually made by a community. You know when you go into a bar that you could get that beer for half-price (at the grocery store) and drink at home. You’re coming because you want the community that bar is creating.”

3) I rented The Campaign from the Redbox machine installed in the lobby of my El stop for $1.30. My wife and I watched it, making it a 65 cent rental each.

These three things occurred within a two-week span. I love Lower Dens and I’ve been listening to their new album, Nootropics, like crazy. On Spotify. By Hunter’s math, after three months of heavy listening, I’ve now given more money to a single street musician then I have given to her band.

The math of the world is off. I’m not the first person to say this. I spend more on the things that I absorb music/movies/books on than on the things I listen/read/watch. I also don’t know how to talk about this without coming off as a scold or so full of self-recrimination that the paragraphs end up eating themselves.

Repass’ statement is interesting to me, this idea of paying more for community. After an election season where “The Business Model” was held up as a panacea for all problems whether they were economic, educational, or social, I’m fed up with it and I would like it to go away now. I know that the lowest price always has higher costs built into it.

But I’m addicted to the lowest price. $1.30 for a new release rental? Hell, that’s a fourth of what I would be paying five years ago (the little calculator in my heart goes wild totting up the deflation.) I spend $7.99 a month to glut myself on everything Netflix streams into my eyebuds. I spend nothing and Spotify offers me so much music that I am positively obese with it all. I stay in all day just so I can cram it all into my ears.

I fool myself that micro-payments mean anything other than fractions of fractions of pennies.

I’m a working artist too after all. I shouldn’t be so easily fooled.

But I sometimes forget in the perpetually full sloptrough of streaming media—a vomitorium of disposable distractions—that you pay more for the beer at the bar for a reason, that listening to ads doesn’t constitute paying for an album, and that I shouldn’t carry around my entire library with me when I can only read one book at a time.

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About David S. MacLean

David S. MacLean is a graduate of The University of Houston (PhD), New Mexico State University (MFA), and Warren Wilson College (BA). He was named the Best Emerging Non-Fiction Writer by the PEN/American Society in 2011. He is a co-founder of the Poison Pen Reading Series in Houston, TX. He lives in Chicago with his wife and their pets.His memoir The Answer to the Riddle is Me will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Fall 2013.
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2 Responses to Fair Pay

  1. Shelley says:

    When the use of language contracts (texting), then community contracts also.

  2. Akshay Ahuja says:

    An excellent post. Trichordist wrote very convincingly (for me, at least) about the things that we are and aren’t willing to pay for, and how our priorities have gotten very messed up, at least if we care about art continuing to be produced.