How the tech revolution failed creatives

Tech firms once claimed they could set us free. But, as a new book points out, for those working in the creative industries, the offering has proved a particularly bad deal

“I’m an autoworker. I’m a steel man. I’m just another person in the history of the world where their industry has become archaic, and it’s gone.”

This is a quote from musician Kim Deal – she of the Pixies and Breeders. It comes from one of around 140 interviews with creative people, including musicians, visual artists, writers, and the creators of film and TV, in a recent book by critic William Deresiewicz. The Death of the Artist: How Creators are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech examines the impact of the digital revolution on the creative industries and how its promise of a creative revolution has proved to be a decidedly mixed blessing. It makes for pretty depressing reading.

Deresiewicz contends there are two narratives about the impact of the tech revolution on the lives of artists (by which he means anyone engaging in creative practice). The first story, as told by Big Tech and its evangelists, is that it has never been a better time to be an artist. The old gatekeepers (record labels, publishing houses, etc) have been swept aside, allowing anyone with an urge to create to reach a global audience. Creative software and hardware have massively reduced the cost of production, while social media and the web allow for free, worldwide distribution. We can all be artists now. 

Sure, we can all be artists, just as long as we don’t expect to be able to make a living doing it

The other narrative, while accepting the undoubted benefits of cheaper tools and processes, and the opportunities provided by digital distribution, describes a world in which these same forces have destroyed the value of art and the means by which it was possible to sustain a career as a professional creative. Sure, we can all be artists, just as long as we don’t expect to be able to make a living doing it. And if we care about quality, that’s a problem for all of us.