Currrently, there is a whole lot of flap and furore going on about Zoe Keating and the draconian policies that Google/ YouTube are attempting to smack her (and, presumably, every other artist who uses their service) down with.
By Zoe’s account, it appears that Google has been playing a classic game of bait and switch with her. After permitting her to develop her business on their site for a few years, they have suddenly changed the terms by which she is able to use it (to their benefit). And now, she is receiving those inevitable phone calls from her contrite, diplomatic, yet firm YouTube rep pressing her to make some decisions.
When YouTube began implementing their new Music Key streaming service, they allegedly presented Zoe with an ultimatum. Based on her transcribed interactions with said YouTube rep, Google’s ultimatum was this- accept our terms and sign with Music Key or reject our terms and get blocked from using your YouTube channel (which you spent years building).
At any rate, this is Zoe’s version (including a transcription of her conversation with her contrite, diplomatic, yet firm YouTube rep)-
As expected, Google have already publicly contradicted Zoe’s understanding of the Music Key agreement and refuted her “version” of the conversation between her and her YouTube rep. This not so unsubtle attempt on Google’s part to publicly shame Zoe Keating looks for all the world like another bait and switch- albeit, performed hamhandedly with incredible sloppiness and zero panache. This is why her meticulous transcript of the aforementioned conversation between her and her YouTube rep leaves little room for interpretation.
On a grander scale, the resultant furore isn’t really about Zoe Keating at all. We can all profess our righteous indignation and stand in solidarity with Zoe- the artist who was wronged by the evil empire.
However, her primary function is no longer about who she is or what has happened to her, but what she signifies. She has become an archetype- an internet meme- and her plight represents that of everyone else in the creative community and indicates what they now have to deal with if they want to deal with Google.
It’s really the rest of us who are incensed. Zoe Keating is simply a catalyst- an individual artist who will, presumably, resolve her problem as she sees fit.
We artists have all come to look upon Google as odd bedfellows. They are partners on whom we feel we must rely, in spite of the tenuous relationship we must endure if we wish to remain in their good graces.
Maybe it’s just me, but this brings up a few questions. The first question is; apart from the infrastructure they provide and the brand name recognition- what does the artist community actually need Google/ YouTube for?
Isn’t the specific function of YouTube- relative to artists- to provide an avenue to promote themselves and show their wares?
Honestly, when I think of Google/ YouTube, I imagine an vast horde of glorified, high-tech middlemen. Honestly, the breadth of their achievements- and in such a short amount of time- is beyond impressive, but really- apart from the very extensive and all-encompassing platform they’ve built, their primary service is about finding new ways to connect people; to exploit and to advertise what other people make.
With respect to art, YouTube simply creates and facilitates connections between artists who want their work to be visible and people who are either looking for those artists or just trawling for stuff to look at. While creating advertising opportunities for themselves and their business partners.
Am I wrong here or just missing a major piece? Do Google/ YouTube have an exclusive lock on the internet content playback site business, or do they now own us all and our content, too?
And, if Google keep demonstrating that they are a conglomerate of megalomaniacal, anti-artist, gluttonous sociopaths for whom too much money/ commerce will never be enough, the relevant question is- what do they do for artists that artists couldn’t do without them?
Is this about Google’s ubiquity; their complete domination and subjugation of content, intellectual property and artists? If you’re an artist and want your wares accessible via the internet, is dealing with Google an unavoidable, foregone conclusion? Or are we a community of people who insist on putting their hands back on a hot stove, even after repeatedly burning ourselves?
Google do a great job of presenting themselves to the general public as a noble legion of white knights who have our hearts (and minds) in mind. They conjure up an image of a passionate- yet dispassionate, monolithic, egalitarian bastion of free speech, free thought and free enterprise. A glorious and luminous herald which clutches the scales of justice and represents the dawning of an unbiased, techno-centric universe where information flows fluidly like water to whatever source wills it.
I think that most people have sipped that Kool-Aid and perceive Google as an archetype. They are either Satan incarnate as a corporate establishment comparable to the council of Gods on Mount Olympus- absolutely untouchable and beyond culpability- even in matters where they are antagonists.
Be that as it may, in its aspect as partner to content creators, Google/ YouTube is the living embodiment of American neo-capitalism at its most ruthless. Through their actions, the acquisition and consolidation of power seems to be these guys’ primary goal. By adopting the motto, “Do no harm” (and subsequently doing a great deal of harm) they’ve proclaimed the antithesis of their true intentions and clearly used a bait and switch ploy similar to how they rooked their YouTube artists.
In a sense, Google is kind of like Darth Vader- but, hey- at least it’s our Darth Vader. Although, when Darth Vader betrays you- and he always does- most people act like it’s your fault for having trusted him in the first place. After all, the leopard does not change his spots.
Have a look at this segment from a documentary about the NSA, it’s surveillance of individuals (in and outside the US) post- 9/11 and Google’s involvement.
This part of the documentary pertains to a meeting between former California State Senator Liz Figueroa and the founders of Google. It provides some insight into how these guys handle people who plan on stopping them. Lest we forget- they’ve done this dance plenty of times in the past with much bigger partners. They are prepared- are lawyered up, have a war chest from hell and clearly do not give one solitary fuck.
There are people who talk about trying to “stop” Google, but with all this in mind, that sounds as feasible as holding out your hand to stop a speeding freight train without brakes, as it tears down the side of a mountain.
Am I missing something here? Is there some game-changing element that I am unaware of?
Anyway, this essay can stop being about Google/ YouTube now because they are not as important as we believe. To wit- they aren’t artists and they don’t make music. Instead of trying to go through them, perhaps the conversation should be about how to go around them.
Perhaps we, in the arts community who depend upon promoting our work via these avenues of convenience and access, could simply pool our efforts and create our own infrastructure to address the issue. What’s to stop us from creating our own service with unique channels to address our own needs as a community, instead of relying upon others whose interests are clearly at cross-purposes with our own?
The answer to that question may tell us a little about ourselves, as well as our community, if we are willing to be honest and unafraid.
And, while I am loathe to address this, that answer touches on a host of maladies which plague artists and musicians. Simply put, we- artists- are often allergic to taking care of our own business; we often expect others to solve our problems for us and frankly, some of us languish just a little too long being victims.
Now, while I apologize to anyone who reads this and gets offended, it needs to be stated and I am not so vain as to attempt to hover above my own indictment. I freely acknowledge my own frailty and can recognize these faults in myself.
We artists are often drama-addicts; quick to avoid unpleasantness, quick to blame others for things in which we share responsibility (and that we are capable of changing ourselves). It seems to me that by confronting this issue with Google, we, as a community, are presented with a unique opportunity to be brave and face our own demons.
If Google begins to make life on YouTube untenable for those of us who use their service, do we need to stay there? I can’t help but believe that this is a chance for us to be proactive on behalf of our community and ourselves- to think rationally and realistically about what we really need- not what we need to give up.
(Incidentally, by making these assertions and using Zoe Keating’s name in this essay, I am by no means implying that she is evading responsibility for anything or behaving like a victim. In fact, if you read up on her, you’ll probably wind up feeling that she’s handling herself with dignity and grace- as do I. If anything, I hope that what I’ve written helps motivate artists to act on their own behalf and enables others to see individuals like Zoe as people- not merely as archetypes.)
It’s time to cut out the middleman. The fuck with Darth Vader- this one, or any others. Let’s build this thing someplace else.