I entered the fray about copyright issues and music downloading, and how music in general has been affected
The US constitution on COPYRIGHTS – To promote the Progress of
Science [includes literature] and useful Arts, by securing for limited
Times to Authors [..] the exclusive Right to their respective Writings…
So the constitution is clear here -”clear” ? ha, I’m in trouble
already. Congress is mandated to promote innovation in knowledge and
And a key component is the right granted to creators over their
This is going to be a long process where we fight over the rules that
dominate the information age. We’ve been spared the messiest phase of
this battle because for several decades the technology to deliver
information, outpaced the technology to copy it. In the music industry
and community, we’ve focused on unauthorized downloading, but
unfortunately the debate is on a scale involving the essence of culture
and group communication. This has broadened the issues to the point
where it becomes difficult to apply any of the principles to a specific
problem. Disney cartoon characters are a completely different type of
conception than Martin Luther King’s “I Had A Dream” speech, or than
news reports in a daily newspaper, or than scientific research papers –
but copyright laws apply to all these.
I like the wording in the constitution. To all of us, an artist’s
ownership of his work is intuitive. We understand that “creative
control” is important. We don’t want an artist’s work to be changed by
someone outside that creative process, ie: someone at a record label. We
bristle at radio edits that change a revered song. We generally want
the creation to be a clear expression by that individual artist,
unmodified – it is not society’s – it is self expression.
Yet somehow in the fray, copyright and the concept of intellectual
property has been demonized – largely the result of aggressive tactics
by large business interests, and the ensuing backlash. Innovative
organizations such Creative Commons have promoted important new concepts
in copyright, with what I see as a heavy dose of fear-mongering.
According to Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig: “..creators get
to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from
the past”. Well I don’t know too many musicians for whom that statement
would apply. Not too many want to include a snippet or sample of Britney
Spears in their songs anymore. Also, not all those you might seek
permission from, are “powerful”. It’s not as simple as us against them.
There are casualties right here, amongst us.
I believe the more one knows of how the middle level of the music
business works -independent labels, distributors and booking agents- the
more one supports intellectual property rights.
Some of the issues as they pertain to downloading and independent music culture:
Free sharing benefits artists
Providing free, but limited, products and services to generate
demand is as old as commerce itself – ie: “the first one’s free”,
“special introductory rate”.Providing promotional, free copies of music
to radio stations is nothing new. And even as far back as the 70′s, The
Grateful Dead were authorizing unlimited bootleg recordings of their
live shows. That made obvious business sense for them, because they were
a gigantic live act and could simply sell tickets.
So it’s important to artists and their labels to control and select
what is given away promotionally. That’s business, and if that’s a dirty
word for some people, that seems to suggest that artists shouldn’t be
able to earn money from their creations. Music making is expensive –
both recorded and live. Where there’s music reaching the people, someone
is treating it like a business
Some people are suggesting music itself shouldn’t have to be paid for, only performance – live performance.
“If all the money is on the road, why not give out more recorded
product free” Bob Lefsetz (The Lefsetz Letter – music industry blog) on
Taking to an extreme, I believe diversity in the art of recording
would suffer. A recording budget basically pays for the 1st copy, so you
need to sell subsequent copies to justify the initial expense. And
having time to spend in the studio with good equipment and acoustics, is
part of a tradition of great record making. But we’re seeing how large
recording studios are closing in droves, and large live-music venues are
multiplying. That shows how things follow the dollar. I believe that
despite the renewed popularity of vinyl, most people don’t really care
about recording quality. There are few audiophiles amongst us. But we
should know there’s a cost here. There are also many important creators
in recordings – producers, engineers, arrangers, extra musicians – who
would not receive royalties if records are not sold – or would not be
hired in the first place.
The enduring importance of labels.
The music industry is like the financial industry, in that it has
shrunk but has not disappeared. There is a whole infrastructure that has
remained entrenched, and on some fronts is being re-enforced. One
reason is that there is a flood of self-released records. Many
publications – like on-line megazine Pitchfork – have an official policy
of only reviewing music that is on a recognized label, maintaining the
old vetting system of record labels. Also, booking agents will usually
only consider artists who are on a label that’s based in their territory
– they know that an entity interested in selling the music itself in
that territory, is necessary to help create awareness.
Less new artists are being signed to labels big and small.
Many well regarded small labels have greatly curtailed the signing of
new artists. This feels like the equivalent of banks chocking off the
supply of credit. An example would be Young God Records which discovered
Devendra Banhart (other artists include Akron Family, Larkin Grimm).
The label has turned down many worthwhile artists because of diminished
revenue from distribution
Is downloading truly to blame?
On average, yes. The tanking of the record industry has been across
the board, hitting both Davids and Goliaths – and it was underway many
years before the current economic turndown. Napster just passed it’s 10
The penalty for unauthorized downloading ?
I feel it should be a social taboo – like not tipping your bartender
or driving a gas guzzling SUV. With that in mind, I’d like to say how
gratifying it is to see music blogs taking a lead on this. Most blogs
that post MP3′s urge you to buy it, if you enjoy it.
Why are some fans not getting this?
There’s a misplaced schadenfreude about the music business collapse
And there’s a misperception about the term “independent”. There’s an
assumption that the machinery of the industry only applies to the major
labels, when actually the machinery is very similar on a small scale.
Also many artists with large fan bases who make a big point of their
independence, were once on big labels and benefited from the big
promotional push. And many perceived DIY artists, are actually on small
labels, and work with small booking agencies. Once an artist goes beyond
his home region for extended periods, true DIY starts being impossible –
an artist needs to tie into some kind of machine. So small out-of-sight
music biz entities that are in jeopardy, don’t get the kind of sympathy
that small businesses get in our physical neighborhoods.
Different rules apply to the rock elite.
When Nine Inch Nails released Year Zero in 2007. Trent Reznor told
fans in Australia to “steal the record” – in protest of the Recording
Industry Association of America’s outrageous lawsuits against individual
downloaders. But yet his record had sold 187,000 in its first week, and
reached #2 in Billboard. I don’t personally know any touring musicians
who could afford to ask audience members to steal their records from the
merch table. Records sold at shows are a crucial means of financing a
tour for independent artists
Musician ghetto and the fan base paradox.
It seems like there are always those who will have fans, including
Myspace miracle buzz bands with viral fan bases. And it’s now generally
easier to build on an existing fan base.
But it’s hard to know what we’re missing. It’s hard to know why
artists drop off the radar. So when you really know the situation
intimately, you see the contradictions – apparently successful artists
unable to tour with extra musicians, or to record at a good studio. Many
are increasingly asking for donations,,, $5, $10, $20 helps.
It’s hard for the public to see artists as workers in the classic
sense – who’s livelihoods we have a common interest to protect.
Intuitively people see the arts as a wild west niche in society. A
tremendous amount of ideas are not really seeing the day – many artists
have to simply give up. You can apply the notion that the true
visionaries will persevere, and so even independent music is a Darwinian
sink-or-swim ruthless environment.
A lot of music is shrinking away in horror.
“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for
limited Times to Authors [..] the exclusive Right to their respective