A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

22 October 2006

Bitchslapping the Music Industry Part II

Long post, but the issues are complex, and I have to write longer to excavate the truth from the thickly-spread bull$#!7 chanted by the music industry.

Earlier I wrote that the Music Publishers' Association of America, Recording Industry "Artists" Asociation and their relatives had pissed me off yet again by shutting down guitar tablature sites. And a week or two back the RIAA launched another 8000 lawsuits.

They are, as usual, portraying the poor old artists as the injured parties. This is a myth. Indeed, the whole legal framework upon which these suits are based rests on a cluster of false assumptions:

It is inherently wrong or illegal to reproduce and distribute copies of songs.
Traditionally, most copyright law has allowed a certain amount of slop. While it might be a violation of copyright in the strictest sense, the recording industry relied on a certain amount of shared playing, and even reproduction, of music to further sales.

Secondly--what about portability? It's perfectly legal to load a song onto my player, or copy it to a CD for personal use. I paid a license fee which allows me to listen (what a conceit!) to this song. To the intellectual property which is the notes and words. Not to a particular device or gadget.

Digital file-sharing was unforseeable, and lawsuits are the only way of fixing the problem.
The music industry had at least ten years to get its $#!7 together, but played dead until they got poked. They were trying to hold off until they developed proprietary standards. No-one wants to be the next Betamax, but everyone wants to make it impossible to listen to music on any player or format but their own.

But the technology had grown beyond that before Napster even clawed its way into Mettalica's black and greasy little hearts. We'll talk about the joke that is "digital rights management" later.

The RIAA and friends have no other way to regain the lost monies.
Thansk to the RIAA, when I buy blank media or a digital player (the same, as far as I know, does not hold true for tape decks or record players--or radios, why?), I pay a "blank media levy" propelled into law by the RIAA and friends.

1) Assumes I'm a pirate and will promptly go about copying and distributing music.
2) Puts cash in the pockets of music companies who either have nothing to do with the transaction or are in fact profiting from it.
3) Actively penalizes me for wanting to listen to the music they produce! and
4) costs me, as far as I can make out, more than the royalties per song even if I did steal all my music.

If the music company makes the player (such as Sony) then they're already getting their pound of flesh. If they don't, then I am giving them money in return for nothing; Sweet deal, eh? And in either case, they'll get a share from the CDs or downloads they sell me. But not anymore--we'll get to that one later too.

They will immediately share out equally with their partners and friends the musicians.
Music attorney Don Engel once challenged artists to provably deny that music companies underpay royalties by up to 40%, without killing their careers. Whatever the case, the flood of cash from penalizing people for wanting to listen to music is nothing but a trickle at the artists' level.

The monies reaped through these taxes and lawsuits represent only a fair share of what they've lost.
Load of crap. A CD costs pennies to produce nowadays--and co-incidentally the number of flawed copies has gone up too, as music industry companies realize they can make you pay for the gas and time to return it to the shop.

Add "development cost", which actually are usually borne by the band, unless the band is actually Metallica or Aerosmith, or similar proven milch cows.

So a CD costs what, a buck-fifty to make? And sells for ... $15, $20, or more.

Of course, if I'm prepared to dispense with album "art" (would Sgt. Pepper's cover have worked on a CD?) and lyrics (which I can still find as text files online until the MPAA gets them too) I can have the album for a much more reasonable price--say ten times what it actually costs. A 90% profit margin? Maybe not, but the music industry isn't producing reliable figures. What do the artists get paid anyway? We don't know. We can't.

The artists are under non-disclosure agreements these days. Wonder what the music companies are trying to hide?

Clearly some artists do well. P. Diddy's Hummers (not to mention the coke, guns and hookers) aren't cheap. Obviously digital file-sharing is killing the poor boy.

Music companies risk huge amounts in development costs.
The RIAA would have you believe that music is like oil prospecting, a game of chance where one artist will "make it" out of a sea of prospects. So that a big hit has to earn enough money to cover the losses.

Bull$#!7. They have been working since the birth of the industry to eliminate that uncertainty and have, to a large extent, succeeded. There were still elements of risk in bringing out new acts until about the '90s, but as Stephen Tyler himself pointed out, a band breaking in these days has to have "something extra". And what that means is a sponsorship or advertising deal.

So the artist shows up and effectively pays to get his foot in the door. How many rappers make their money from showing the Nike swoosh in their videos?

There was precious little risk in Pepsi launching the careers of the Spice Girls, or the other "pop" artists they've foisted on us. They took some pretty girls who could sing, half-dressed them up, added the "superhero team" concept, and backed them with millions in advertising.

One day, when Janet Jackson flashes her other tit during the superbowl, the "wardrobe malfunction" will show the sponsor's logo tattooed on her boob.

But there's hardly any uncertainty now. If you want to know how talentless the toads perched atop the music business are, this is it: they can't even pick winners anymore. They have so little soul that all their hits are chosen by software-based "music evaluation".

Think about this. If you had access to the same software, and were able to evaluate the hit worth of a given song--how long would you need this layer of pimps between us and the musicians? Without this creaking apparatus to promote and produce the latest pop song, what on earth would we do?

As for actual sheet music, no one so far as I know was ever prosecuted for listening to a song until the needle/tape/disc wore out, transcribing what he/she heard, playing it, and photocopying the written results. Until now.

Next: the music industry and the mafia: at least the mafia are honest.

This post, like all the others here at Metroblog, is © Metro 2006 and "Metro" and any of the Metro logos are ™ me, Metro. I invite you to share it with your friends for free. If you felt like sending me money that'd be cool too. I promise not to sue unless you screw with the meaning of the piece.


At 12:27 p.m., Anonymous Curt said...

Great post. I can't help but thinking that the lawyers have more to do with all of this than the artists, at least in a lot of cases.

One of my hats is that of a pro musician, but as a jazz-minded listener, I've always found myself attracted to musicians who rely more on live performance as a means of communication. Which leads me to ask, was this debate going on during the bebop age? If so, could there ever have been a Bird or a Diz? Seriously, though--you don't have to look very far to find examples of artists who have routinely sold out stadiums without ever going platinum.

At 2:29 p.m., Blogger Metro said...

Thanks for the comment Curt.

And for the validation. Y'know, I always wonder when I post a monster like this whether anyone's reading it. Glad to see at least one person has.

The debate at the time jazz popped up was about radio and the emerging technology of recordings:

"Surely," fumed various producers (and a number of musicians) "Once they have our voices and music on wax, then they can play it over the radio. Then everyone will listen, and who'll need us anymore?"

Nothing going on today is new. In the 1890's, people were trotting out the "they won't need us anymore" argument about the player piano. And it's still just as false an argument today.


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