Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Musical Genocide: The Record Industry

Temptation - Duquette Johnston (mp3)
Valessa - Glossary (mp3)

Did you know that a bar that plays the radio in the background is expected to pay BMI and ASCAP royalties? Same goes for a restaurant that uses a jukebox. If you let bands play live at your dive, then expect this cost to go up a good bit, unless they play only original material. And maybe even then a royalty check is still expected.

Did you know that these companies can track, with mind-blowing accuracy, what songs get played where and how many times across most media formats? At present, humming earworms like "Blame It On the Rain" at your desk is still beyond their reach, but give them a few years.

I'll get back to this. First, I have an important statement: Devo can eat my gnarly, grody to the max shorts.

On July 7, I wrote a post bragging about the surprisingly enjoyable new album from '80s new wave demigods DEVO. The post was entitled, "Oh No! It's... Been 20 Friggin' Years!" You won't find this post on here anymore, because lawyers have requested it be removed three times.

The first time was de rigueur at this point. I'd posted two of their songs. Lawyers didn't approve. They sent cease and desist orders to Box.net and Blogger. As our side note says, I quickly and respectfully removed them, as I always do upon receiving notice. I then re-published my complimentary review of Devo sans music.

This is where it gets fun.

Four days later, the post was again removed for copyright violation. Assuming this time was somehow an error, I reposted it with no changes, and three days later, it was removed again.

I want you to think about that for a minute. Lawyers demanded the removal of a post, without any copyright violations, that proclaimed good and complimentary things about the band they represent.

So here's my new post, and the lawyers won't get this one removed, because it won't have any music on it that they care about: Devo's new album isn't that good. It's certainly not good enough to survive a boatload of lawyers and their fees rowing along the waters of pop culture.

This is why, this is why, this is why they suck.

There's Devo on one side. On the other are bands singing songs in living rooms.

I spent last Thursday at a really cool living room concert with members of the band Glossary with a dude named Duquette Johnston opening up for them. These cool and dedicated folks played with the kind of relaxed swagger and passion that reminded me what being a great modern musician takes. It takes being able to play in a living room, with only 40 or so people sitting around, most of them mostly paying attention, yet pulling it off like you were at Radio City Music Hall.

You don't need a stunning voice like Dennis DeYoung. You don't need to chop a guitar like Clapton. You just need to hit the notes and do it with a presence that lets everyone hearing you know you mean it, that it's coming from somewhere deep and valuable inside you.

Duquette was kind enough to chat with me in the kitchen between shows about his experiences with the kraken known as The Music Industry. It's devoured and destroyed more musicians than it will ever save. Some of the better ones figure out how to work around it. Superdrag, Patty Griffin, Nate Ruess (fun., The Format) and others have been determined and amazing enough to come through the jet engine alive.

But how many others -- hundreds? thousands? -- had their talents murdered by the same kind of idiots that now work for Devo (and, to be fair, Rush, who has done the same thing to me)?

As if anyone who truly loves music needed one more reason to hate the industry.

"The Music-Copyright Enforcers," a detailed piece in New York Times Magazine, is as even-handed and fair a piece on the music industry as you'll find. Reading this piece, you can't help but appreciate the significance of BMI's role in the Business of Music. Music is that rare product of creativity that, like kudzu, can grow and spread almost uncontrollably, and unlike architects or oil-based painters, the creators of these strings of notes and lyrics have virtually no way of keeping a leash on their creation and earning what is, debatably, due them. [NOTE: The awesome co-creator of Creative Commons, is quoted late in the article.]

Read some interesting responses to this on TheNashvilleScene's site. Especially the one about record stores:
Lately ASCAP has been hitting up independent record stores asking for fees. There is an exemption for record stores since we sell the music we play in-store but the greedy bastards have been sending those letters, hoping to dupe some unsuspecting stores.
Life would be too easy if everything were as black-and-white as Sarah Palin sees it, if there were bad guys and good guys and no one in-between. But for all the nuance and good intentions, BMI makes me seethe more than smile. They work against The Better Angels of Our Nature, as Glossary might say.

Oh yeah, and I guess you better start getting ready to pay a few bucks for the "privilege" of singing some Billy Joel song at a karaoke bar. Yes, BMI, that deserves a big fat WTF.

If the Music Business is right about one thing, it's that too many people steal too many songs without doing anything to help money get into the hands of the artists. Please consider joining eMusic, buying a few dozen songs each month, and helping some passionate and creative artists make a few bucks the right way.


Daisy said...

I know that as angry as you might be you are secretly happy that Rush and Devo know who you are!

Bob said...

You know, speaking of eMusic, I just upgraded to the $99.99/year plan. If you do it now, you get 24songs a month plus 100 extra downloads. That about 25 cents per song.

Foleysquared said...

Great post, Billy. I've been seething about the record industry ever since I was a teenager buying cd's and realizing how little of the ridiculous markup they charged me was actually going to the artists. I think they reaped what they sowed with the advent of digital file sharing, and I'm enjoying watching the ship go down as smart artists learn how to DIY using new internet business models.

By the way, loved the concept of a living room concert... damn great idea!