The Antidote to File Sharing

Bringing Back Artist Development

File sharing has been a touchy subject for the past few years, but lately the argument for or against it has begun to reach epic proportions. Music executives around the country have practically resorted to violence in defense of their opinions. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

For instance, when the Recording Industry Assn. of America, on behalf of the major record labels, took to suing 12-year-old girls and 80-year-old grandmothers for copyright infringement, I couldn’t help but laugh. It kind of gives you that feeling you get when you watch a dog chase its tail over and over again; everyone but the dog knows it’s not going anywhere running in a loop like that.

If the RIAA continues to play “Whack-a-Mole” with file sharers and shareware companies, sending lawyers to San Francisco, or Australia, or Fiji to stop the next wave of pirates, it will remain in a perpetual loop of litigation, lobbying and ludicrousness. Because the RIAA is constantly fighting the wrong fight and asking the wrong questions.

It is not a question of whether the peer-to-peer sharing of music on a global scale is legal-it ain’t. It is stealing, point blank. But think back to the days of Prohibition, when the government made it illegal to consume alcohol. Did that stop half the country from drinking? No. Everybody was doing it, and you can’t put everybody in jail.

I think the RIAA needs to examine file sharing from another angle. Like, “Hmm, I wonder why so many millions of people have stopped buying records, stopped listening to the radio and started trading songs illegally online?”

You have to admit, making half the country turn to criminal activity is quite a feat. And don’t say it is just because “it’s free.” Plenty of us will pay for a quality product: That’s why the Beatles’ collections are always at the top of the best-seller lists.

How did we get into this mess in the first place? One explanation might be because stockholders want more money than God. Another could be that mergers and acquisitions have become more important than the product the company creates.

When paranoia and complacency are the norm and when executives are so preoccupied with next quarter’s profits, it simply stops the pipeline of artistic expression. That pipeline’s main ingredient was artist development.

That phrase is a curse these days. It translates to “no immediate profits.”

I have this recurring dream where the public-the artists and listeners of the United States of America-puts the labels and media conglomerates on trial for cannibalism.

My case would go something like this:

Exhibit A: “Your honor, just yesterday there were countless independents like I.R.S., Matador, Minty Fresh, Caroline and Touch & Go roaming the countryside. By next Tuesday, there will be two labels left, Big Brother and Bigger Brother Records. Case in point: Sony BMG.”

Exhibit B: “Media giant Clear Channel buys up everything in sight, thereby turning our airwaves into generic strip malls of sound. It then reduces the number of artists on its stations to 10. With radio being the main source of public access to new music, Clear Channel shrinks the variety of artists available to the size of a chickpea.”

Exhibit C: “Since the public is only made aware of these few artists, record stores have little choice but to stock their shelves with copies of such artists’ product only, thus relegating everyone else to the cutout bin.

Tower Records and others file for bankruptcy protection because of low sales, which they blame on file sharing.”

Exhibit D: “The record companies become aware that P2P servers are starting to sprout like mushrooms after a good rain, and decide to ignore them thinking, ‘They’ll just go away.’ ”

Exhibit E: “Napster, Kazaa, Morpheus, Gnutella, Soulseek, Grokster, etc., arrive as the necessary evolution for a listening public that has been pushed to its limits by deafening monotony and pointless choice.”

Exhibit F: “The silent uprising begins. The public begins to experiment with guerrilla warfare. Record sales and the number of radio listeners plummet; concert attendance drops; thousands of people at the labels are fired (which is like blaming a weather vane for not predicting a hurricane). Labels get the urge to merge. Thinking there is strength in numbers, they pool their resources, fire everyone, and group together-closer than they ever thought they would be-to wait out the storm.”

My closing argument: “I’m sorry, your honor, but I just had to start file-sharing music. I don’t mean to take money away from the hard-working artist-I’m one myself-and hardly any of us see anything from record sales anyway. But, if I didn’t, the next time I turned the dial and heard the same song whining at me for the 50th time that day, I really believe I would have turned my car into oncoming traffic.”

In a perfect world, the judge orders the breakup of Big Brother and Bigger Brother Records and the strict regulation of radio station ownership. Just like the phone companies. Soon we’ve got 30 labels to choose from again, A&R guys actually signing artists and these new labels, instead of putting $100 million into one band, now put $1 million each into 100 bands.

The result: Radio stations playing more diverse music again, like when FM was just beginning; record sales and concert attendance reach record highs because there are so many more choices available; and label profits skyrocket. Wouldn’t that be glorious?

Then I wake up.


PdflogogtLAJ_April 2005 Vol. 1

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