25 April 2009

Something 4 The Weekend # 115

Aside from dreams of riches and fame (and groupies) I still believe that most people who become musicians do so out of a deep need to create and express themselves...To share their music with as many people as possible...Ahhh, sweet validation...

And if they're good at it, at some point the lawyers get involved, the dream gets complicated and twisted and lost, and we end up with Cobain eating his shotgun.

Sure, that's a crass exaggeration, but it serves my purposes here.

Last week's S4TW was taken down by Blogger after the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry sent them a warning about copyright infringement on this blog. According to the email, IFPI represents "over 1,400 major and independent record companies in the US and internationally who create, manufacture and distribute sound recordings". In this case, the Universal Music Group, who manufactures and distributes CDs for Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

You'll notice that the IFPI represents the record companies and not the artists themselves. Now, surely it can be argued that by protecting the sound recordings of the record companies, they're also protecting the intellectual property of the artists on those recordings, but if you visit the IFPI's website, aside from album cover art on their home page, you're unlikely to find any sort of discussion of the music or artists themselves. They make reference to "our content" countless times, but mostly, they're main concern is protecting the revenue streams of these 1400+ record companies. The artists themselves are really an afterthought. Collateral at best. It should be no surprise that if a band is making money, it's from touring and merchandise, and not from sales of their recordings.

The IFPI doesn't give a shit about Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which is probably as it should be because they're sole reason for existing is to represent the recording industry, not the artists. In fact, in recent years, the recording industry has attempted to legally restructure the entire royalties process to give their contracted artists an even smaller percentage of generated revenues.

I DO give a shit about the artists, whether their recordings are made and distributed by "the big four", or any number of small, independent labels. My reason for posting a new S4TW every week is to share songs I like by bands I like, for the 6-8 regular readers of this blog (I'm really not exaggerating the extremely low traffic of this blog). If you like something I share here, my hope is that you might go out and purchase those songs and albums for yourself, whether on CD, or from a legitimate downloading service that insures that the artists who make all of this possible get at least a little compensation for their hard work.

Emphasis on "little", because when all is said and done, the artists themselves are getting a very small slice of the pie, a pie that generates more than $10 billion dollars in revenue every year, no matter how much they might bitch and moan about filesharing and home-taping.

This was the official stance (and logo) of the British Phonographic Industry back in the 1980's, when the fear was that blank cassettes would be the ruin of the recording industry. Of course, here we are, 20+ years later, and the recording industry, as I previously mentioned, still generates $10+ billion dollars in revenue annually.

Indeed, the recording industry has got it all wrong. They were 100% wrong about home taping in the 1980's, and they're 100% wrong about filesharing today. Filesharing has a negligible impact on the industry's bottom line. There are any number of studies that support this claim, and I'll leave it to you to investigate on your own if you feel like it. Here's one simple link.

Anybody with any knowledge of marketing will tell you that word-of-mouth has always been, and will always be, the most effective marketing strategy. You're more likely to buy that new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album because I raved about it last week (and shared a couple songs), than some print ad you saw in Rolling Stone magazine. Now, that might be because nobody buys/reads RS these days, but that's a different topic for a different post, I suppose...

I'm not sure what else to say about this topic except that Shakespeare had it right in Henry VI, when Dick the Butcher, while discussing how to create a more utopian England with Jack Cady, pretender to the throne of England, suggested that "the first thing we do is kill all the lawyers"...

The world is not black and white. This whole topic is much more nuanced than "legal" and "illegal", and my streaming of an MP3 or two each week is completely and utterly inconsequential to the recording industry and the artists they market and distribute. With one lawsuit, they could effectively ruin my entire fiscal life, and yet, here I am this week with another song for you. That's because I care about Fugazi, and I think it's worth telling you that I believe they're one of the finest rock bands ever. A band that never charged more than $6 for their shows or $8 for their recordings, and ultimately were (likely) more fiscally successful than any of their friends who signed with a major label. Not that filthy lucre was ever Fugazi's reason to be. It's about the music.

If you like this song, do 'em a favor and go buy the album.

Hotcha! Hank

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