Maybe the most mind blowing idea I've heard expressed so far at SXSW that's either thrillingly liberating or crushingly depressing, depending on your perspective, was voiced by former Clash and Blue Oyster Cult producer and McGill University professor Sandy Pearlman at a Wednesday panel called The Cloud vs The Paradise of Infinite Storage. Right now, Pearlman estimated, digital storage that will hold all of the music that's ever been recorded over the course of human history can be had for price of approximately $1500. Within seven years, Pearlman guesses, that cost will essentially be negligible, and the technology will exist to embed all that information in an implant within the human body. As one wise guy asked, "What are the implications of that for the Porn industry?"
The gist of the wonky discussion among the digitally articulate dudes -- lots of talk about "grokking" and
"freemiums" -- was the question of how music will be consumed and stored in the future. Which will prevail? Will it be "the cloud," the inneffable aggregation of musical and other informational content which we can all press play on whenever we want, and have it stream onto our hand held or living room based delivery system, without having to worry about storing or "owning" it? Or is the cloud, as Pearlman put it, really the latest "centralized paradigm the intellectual property oveerlords" - i.e., the record labels - want to construct to gain back the control over revenues they've been losing? Is it better to keep on hoarding your stuff, or hand control of it back over to the man?
One other comment, which was an answer to a question fielded by Eric Garland of BigChampagne (that's sort of the Neilsen SoundScan of P2P file sharing), was enough to send any musicians hoping to "monetize the web" looking for a razor in which to slit their wrists. "Should anybody - anybody - be expecting to be compenssated for their work on the Web?, Garland was asked. "God, I hope not, for his own sanities sake," he answered, and then went on to wonder about how bands that don't play live and tour will continue to make money in a no record sales music business model. "What about someone like Andy Partridge (of XTC) who just records his music but doesn't ever want to leave the studio? "What if it's only bits and bytes? What if you don't tour? What's his monetization model? I don't know."
Previously: Tuesday Night Kickoff