It is possible to have an artistically relevant and economically viable career while abiding by basic punk-rock ethics of independence, fairness and inclusivity.
To explain his approach to business, Albini told me: “The first thing is I was forged in punk rock. Everything about the way I conduct myself and the way I see the world is a product of seeing the punk scene in action. The punk scene had to operate on limited resources. It had to be inclusive, because there weren’t enough people that you could afford to exclude anybody.”
“There are kind of two perspectives on business. One of them is that a business exists to make money for the investor class that has a stake in that business. That’s one perspective. So, from a stock-market perspective, from a shareholder perspective, from an investor perspective, that from any publicly held company’s perspective, the company’s reason to exist is to make money for those people,” he explained. “And if you’re not making money, you’re a failing company. If its share price doesn’t go up, then the company’s failing, whether you’re making a profit or not. The idea is that the fundamental reason for that company to be there is to make money.”
Albini contrasts this approach to how he runs his business. “From an entrepreneurial standpoint, from someone like me — someone who builds a business for a reason — the reason my company exists is to make recordings of music. And in so doing, every now and again we’ll turn a profit. But that’s not why we’re in business. We’re not in business so that we can make money. And there’s a pretty strong argument that most businesses that are not part of the public sphere, not part of the investment transaction or equity management or whatever, most businesses operate on that level,” he said.
“Like a bakery opens because a guy wants to make bread. A tavern opens because a guy wants to serve beer to people. That’s why people start businesses. It’s because they want to do something with their time. They want that enterprise to be how they spend their days. But from an academic standpoint or from an analytical standpoint or from the standpoint of publicly held companies and investment class and everything, the reason the company started is meaningless. All they want to know is the share price going up. And for people like me that seems insane.”
“It’s like defining a marriage by the size of the house it occupies as opposed to defining the marriage by the love between two people and the life they build for themselves and the experience they share as part of the marriage. […]
“If I see a competitor studio that’s having trouble with something that’s a problem that we’ve solved here at Electrical Audio, I’m not going to keep that information to myself and watch them flounder. I’m going to share that information with them. And that from a ‘business’ standpoint is a mistake — from a corporate thinking Art of War, Sun Tzu bullshit kind of scenario — that’s a mistake.”
“But from being a decent person seeing someone else in trouble and helping them out standpoint, that’s just being a decent person. And that’s where I feel like if your basic principles are based in these business precepts, you’re prevented from being the best possible person. You’re prevented from being a good guy.”
“I think that it’s an ethical way to conduct myself; otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. I do think it’s ethically sound to treat everyone fair and to be open and equal in your treatment of everybody and to be inclusive of everybody. I think that is an ethical thing to do,” he said. “And I have less respect for the profit motive. In fact, I kind of feel like the profit motive is a pathology, because it engenders sociopathic behavior, and on a corporate scale, the profit motive is extraordinarily destructive. So I don’t have respect for it. But because of the way capitalism has been portrayed in this country, I don’t expect other people to think that way.”