Where is the music industry headed?

Question: Where is the music industry headed?

Moby: I don’t really have too many musician friends; most of the musicians I know have day jobs.  So they play music at night, and they would love to get a record deal, but because the record companies are all falling apart, most people have been, it has forced people approach a more DIY, or to take a more DIY approach.  The musicians I know, they are starting their own record companies, they are releasing things online, they are getting friends of theirs to do publicity, people are getting more self-reliant and a lot more autonomist which I think is great because the record companies aren’t going to be around in five years, you know, or at least they are not going to be around in anything resembling the form that they have had in the last fifty years.  So it is a frightening time for a lot of people, and I know this sounds cliché but its also a really exciting time, and I think music has benefitted, the actual quality of music has been a lot better, because a lot of people are putting out records purely for the love of putting out records and not hoping to sell millions of copies, because no one sells millions of copies.  So the rise of like the Indie rock scene, independent music in general, I think it has been really good for music creatively and has also, it has turned the music world into more of like a Scandinavian country as opposed to a South American country, meaning if you look at like Paraguay in the 1970s, all the wealth was concentrated in like .1 percent of the population, and everybody else was poor.  Or you look at Sweden where it was sort of like the wealth was distributed evenly among most of the people in the country, and the music business up until recently was like Paraguay in the 1970s, where you had .0001 percent of the musicians on the planet selling tens of millions of records, and all the other musicians sort of like, you know, struggling to try and get the attention of a record company.  And what has happened now is you have a lot of musicians and a lot of DJs are selling ten thousand records here or fifty thousand records there, and they can make a living, there not getting rich, but they are doing relatively okay.
I personally think, I mean, the demise of the record business is almost, if you have to point blame anywhere, sadly it is at the record companies themselves, you know, because in the ‘80s and ‘90s, they kept charging more and more for CDs even as the costs came down.  So it’s almost like the record labels would arbitrarily just keep charging more and more, and they were signing bands who had a shelf life of about six months, so there is no loyalty.  You know, people were buying CDs in the ‘90s because they liked the song they heard on the radio, but they could care less about the artist. 
And, so, the labels were not doing artist development and as a result there was no loyalty engendered, and so when the record companies fell apart, most listeners, you know, it is hard to get too upset for record companies falling apart when they have treated artists terribly for so long and treated consumers terribly for so long.

Recorded on: 6/16/08

The demise of the record industry originated with the record industry itself.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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