As is pretty well known by now, the Polish pianist became upset during a piano recital he gave a little while ago in Essen, Germany. It seems that someone in the audience was capturing his performance on a phone-camera – and when he saw this, he left the stage. A few minutes later, he returned and complained that unauthorized YouTube posts of his performances were damaging his career. (You can read more about it here.)
She’s the Ukrainian pianist who – frustrated with a lack of momentum in her career – started posting YouTube videos of herself in 2007. Within five years, her videos had about 50 million hits. Her concert engagements took off, and she signed a recording contract with Decca. (You can read about it here.)
So what’s the take-away from these two stories? If YouTube doesn’t kill you it will make you stronger? Perhaps – but I also think I can detect a pattern here.
It occurs to me that in the debate about YouTube, and other websites that facilitate the posting of “pirated” audio and video, people like Zimerman – who have done well by traditional (and legal) models of dissemination – tend to oppose free uploading to the internet. On the other hand, artists like Lisitsa, who have been denied access to the traditional models – because they’ve been overlooked by the major labels – tend to be more open to freely giving their work away, so the world can learn who they are and what they can do.
Like any new technology, YouTube has its advantages and disadvantages. And, as often happens with a new technology, those who figure out how to use it for their benefit will prosper, and those who try to stand against it will fare poorly.
And in this particular case, those opposed to new technology seem especially unlikely to prevail, because they place their faith in moral arguments that are both abstract and self-serving. They seem to think they can browbeat and shame the world into seeing the issue through their eyes.
But regardless of whether the clandestine recording and posting of live performances is “right” or “wrong” from a moral standpoint, it is now a fact of life. Opposing it is like trying to stop the incoming tide. And even King Canute knew when his feet were wet.
Here’s a YouTube video of Lisitsa playing the third movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” I could also post a YouTube video of Zimerman playing something – there are several to choose from – but perhaps he wouldn’t want me to.
© Colin Eatock 2013