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|• Mike McDonald (previously of Jr. Gone Wild, now of the Mike McDonald Band) discusses the day's hot topic, Napster. •
| Mike McDonald vs. Napster
Wow. Not eight or so hours after I sent out the last issue of the 'Papers, Napster got a reprieve and are still in business. The whole sordid affair is FAR from over, however. Already I've heard of two major labels starting their own "subscription" system, whereby you can download material for a lump sum. And this week, Madonna made her new song (I think it's actually called "MUSIC") available for FREE to download off MTV's website. Definitely a case of if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! Last Monday I was invited down to CBC Radio's Radioactive program, where I was on a bit of a panel with a guy who runs a cyber café. He is definitely on the Napster side of things, but the disturbing aspect to his presentation, and I fear it is a prevalent attitude, is that he seems to think that the world is sticking it to the record companies, and should continue to do so. The worrisome thing is that he seems to believe it is JUST record companies that stand to suffer. Once again, the magic word "EXPOSURE" is bandied about as if EXPOSURE can pay rent and feed hungry mouths. Look it up in your survival manuals…you can DIE FROM EXPOSURE!!! Sure, exposure is important. For an artist I mean (some of you girls ought to put your tits away). But it is only ONE of dozens of necessary things one needs for success. It is so easy to dismiss this whole thing as just Metallica whining about lost potential revenues, but really, they aren't the only concerned party. And I am not standing here trying to tell you that this Napster stuff is unjust. Check it out…when I was a sixteen year old kid, I bought into the rock n roll dream. I was in a punk rock band, and we knew nothing. All I knew was I had a strong drive in a certain direction. I wanted to be like and enjoy life like and be talked about like my heroes, who included people like Pete Townshend, Bob Dylan, and anyone remotely linked with the Beatles. I must confess as well (you'll get a kick out of this Louis I) that it was the Rolling Stones that gave me the idea that I could do it (I figured, Hey! Mick Jagger cannot sing and look how well he's doing!) Anyhow, part of the dream was selling piles of records and getting rich and living off songwriting royalties for the rest of my life. Well folks, the days of that kind of shit seem to be gone. It is NOT gonna happen that way for me, and that is why I fence sit. I see my dream of riches swirling down the toilet. On the other hand I know you cannot impede the progress of mankind in any way, and that we are on the cusp of a cultural revolution. My bitch is that I finally almost figured this business out, and it goes and changes on me. Fuck! Anyways, I hope the Napster guy is enjoying himself cuz when everyone figures it all out, they will bury him. The labels will crush him for taking them on in the first place, or he'll soon face very stiff competition. As for me, well, I got the luxury of the fact that I do this cuz I love it. Napster or no Napster, I write anyways. I will play anyways, and I will continue to put stuff out when and how I can anyways. Sign me, don't sign me! Buy it or steal it! It will exist nonetheless. Maybe now all those imposters who are only in it for the glory and money will quit, seeing as how the old ways of cashing in are invalid. I sure hope so. Maybe the bright side is quality will one day rule again. I long to be judged on merit and not on whether or not I took all the necessary steps. Furthermore, maybe if folks aren't spending money on CDs anymore, maybe the value of live performance will go up. As I said on the CBC, it is too soon to tell. The conflict is not yet resolved, but we can see the old garde aligning with the new technology. It has been suggested that the "Majors" had these sorts of software ideas in place already, it's just that they didn't count on all the Joe Schmoe's out there who can run a computer better than they can. So the labels are mad cuz someone beat them to it and all their great publicity scams are now useless. That makes sense to me. It still doesn't remove the anguish of finding out your career dreams as you knew them just tanked.
Some follow-ups from the subsequent issue, Vol. 2 #32...
Angus Wyatt (artist, Edmonton)
Two cents worth on the napster deal. Frankly I see both sides. There's no
doubt that for the individual consumer the notion of inexpensive access to
recorded material is highly attractive and definitely fits in with the
(idealistic) concept of how the web should operate. That having been said I
can't help but feel that somehow or another Napster is making money (I mean
they have staff, offices etc. it's not like they're a charitable
not-for-profit society bent on altruistically improving the quality of
everyone's cultural life - or am I mistaken?) To this end it only seems
right that if someone is making money off the backs of an (unknowingly)
contributing artist then there should be an equitable distribution of any
generated income. Obviously there are MP3 sites out there that work and that
pay royalties to artists based on frequency of downloads - proof that the
web can be used as an effective distribution network that potentially hugely
empowers the independents. For me I'm less interested in the 'threat' that
Napster poses to the Majors (let's face it Major labels will adapt and
certainly have the capabilities - financial and otherwise - to remain highly
profitable industries) than I am in the threat that things like Napster pose
to the perception of the artist. Sure it's nice to be recognized, and sure
one can be somewhat grateful for 'exposure' however there aren't many small
business owners or lawyers or doctors or computer programmers or chefs or
clothing designers or … (etc.) that are expected to give out their product
for free and be grateful for it. This notion that the cultural producer
should be prepared to give away their product devalues the work and the work
that went into it.
Ford Pier (artist, Vancouver)
Played last night with the Sons Of Rhythm at The Rail and
have NO idea how exactly I got home. Ideal shape, I reckon, to put in MY TWO
CENTS regarding the "Napster Controversy."
Bottom line, I've been paying the bills as a "professional
musician" on and off for some eleven years now. And sales revenue passed on
from record companies represent how much of the money I've made over this
time? Squinting that hard makes my head hurt right now. GIG REVENUE,
PERFORMANCE ROYALTIES (not Mechanical Royalties), and MERCHANDISE: that's
what I do for a living. "Record Labels" as percieved in general have
demonstrated themselves to be parasitic entities involved chiefly in
loansharking one the capital necessary for the manufacture of one's wares,
meddling in the creative conception of said work (it is, after all, THEIR
MONEY), and periodically doling out bet-hedging sums toward the ostensible
end of "promotion" (a poster! an ad!) which you get no say in the amount or
placement of, but are expected to pay back with interest before you see ONE
THIN DIME for your own role in this process. Oh yes, the writing and the
It's often forgotten in the swirl of crypto-Robber Baron
"ownership" rhetoric that misguided shills like Metallica's Lars Ulrich
righteously foam over at the mouth with (steal from a store? Gimme a break.
Everything on the shelf of a record store has already been paid for by the
distributor and made its ninety-two cents for the label and its eight cents
for Uncle Tom Ulrich and his managers, agents, etc.) that copyright
originated with publishers to protect the rights of publishers - the
creators don't really enter into the equation in any significant way. You
"wrote" it, no one will argue, but they "own" it.
I don't really see how anybody actually taking the time and
showing the interest to post my music on a website browsed every day by
hundreds of thousands of people who have nothing better to do with their
time than lazily probe the ether for more new and diverting things to
consume hurts me. Artists PAY - and pay big - to appear at "industry
showcases", make videos, have them shown, and have their likenesses printed
thither and yon. All of these modes of access to the artist are provided
Free Of Cost To The Consumer. Why not cut to the heart of the matter and LET
THEM HEAR ONE OF YOUR FUCKING SONGS? Maybe they'll come to the next gig and
buy a CD off the stage.
I've gone on longer than I intended to - and I could go on
longer still, but MY TWO CENTS begins to look more and more like the eight
cents lining Metallica's pockets that I alluded to earlier. Suffice it to
say that my website's almost done (launching on my 30th birthday in
September at the Railway club, if you're around) and it features TWELVE FREE
MP3s that are available nowhere else. Music is about, among other things, an
exchange of ideas that language alone is not up to. Who am I going to
exchange ideas with if I'm busy sulking like Achilles in his tent about not
getting paid enough?
Gotta go, I have a meeting with a record label guy.
Keep up the good work.
Justin Curtis (artist, somewhere in the USA...lost track of your whereabouts Justin...)
One point that people seem to miss is that Napster is already worth $2
billions dollars! That's $2,000,000,000 US (or roughly $2,980,000,000
Canadian). That more money than any other the artists that they are ripping
off, even Metalica, even Paul McCarthy (although he's getting close)will
Napster is worth so much because of the high traffic on the site.
Advertisers value that traffic. Napster's investment was almost nothing
because the attraction to the site is the music and Napster didn't pay for
I'm not one to defend the actions of major labels, but at least they do
finance the recordings, and they do pay some royalties.
Napster does neither and Napster has become a billion dollar company faster
than any record company ever did.
Why are we letting Napster get a free ride? Why are they getting rich while
most of the songwriters on their site are living on Kraft Dinner?
It might be different if every songwriter was already a billionaire. I know
a lot of songwriters and none of them are billionaires. But these guys who
started Napster have become billionaires and are not willing to payback the
songwriters who got them there.
Napster might hurt the major labels, but they will destroy the livelihoods
of the artists.
Before our modern day copyright laws even the greatest songwriters of their
time (like Mozart and Stephen Foster) died penniless. Napster threatens to
once again make it impossible to earn a decent living from songwriting.
Napster is more greedy then the major labels have even been, or at least,
ever allowed to be.
But then again, what do I know? I'm just a songwriter, not a billionaire.
Rich Hope (artist, Vancouver I believe)
hey man, thanks for getting back. glad to be on the mailing list, too. i
am with you on the Napster stuff too. A long time ago someone told me that
i should always be careful of what i do for exposure. seems every asshole
in the world can be famous now, given enough effort and a good plan. we
are in a strange gear shift at the moment...the clutch isn't quite engaging
and we are grinding into third...i do believe that the cream will always
Winkie (the closest thing I have to a spy in the government, Edmonton)
I saw an interview where Bono gave his "wisdom" and opinion on MP3 and Napster and stuff. I cant remember the exact quote but it went something like this: Everyone thought audio cassttes would be the end of record sales and everything is fine. The record industry will survive this too. Look at us, we're doing very well still.
He ended the interview with a huge smile.
Leave it to Bono to consider every artist on Napster to be making the same amount of money that U2 does.
Shauna De Cartier (manager and band mom, Toronto)
I think what the Napster issue has taught us is that the public is ready for
a new delivery system for music. What remains to be seen is if they're
willing to pay for it, and if so, how. Will it be a per-song download fee?
Or a subscription model, as some are suggesting? Or will music become free
for all? The latter is what the RIAA is fighting against.
The element of the Napster debate that bugs me is the prevalent attitude
that all record companies are evil. For all of you unsigned artists out
there, you must realize of course, that you in fact, own and operate your
own record label. Many of the interests that the so-called evil record
labels are fighting are actually the same as your own. Lucky for you they
have deep pockets, and are able to fight your battles for you.
The real battle that's being fought is the one against piracy. If you stop
making money from the sale of recorded music, then your already meager
income will decrease even more.
Reducing the revenue stream generated by CD sales will not automatically
mean that revenue from live shows will increase. It just means that live
shows will become pretty much your ONLY source of income. Fans won't be any
more likely to come and see you perform live just because they didn't have
to pay good money to buy your record. Nor will they pay more for tickets.
You'll still spend money to record your songs - you'll need a means to
promote your career. You'll just have no way to recoup, as it is with
video. And yes, you could sell t-shirts and get sponsors and sell all kinds
of things that have nothing to do with your actual music.
The introduction of a new distribution system for music will change the face
of the industry, to be sure. But make no mistake. This will hardly be the
demise of the major labels. Name one independent artist whose career has
broken solely through the internet. Yes, you can put your songs up on mp3,
alongside the other million artists there. How is the general population
going to discover yours over the next guy's? Marketing dollars and clout,
baby. And that's what the majors do the best.
Right now, the major labels spend a lot of money to control the gatekeepers
of radio and retail. The internet will undoubtedly replace these traditional
means of promotion and distribution. But chances are, the majors will
control the new gatekeepers as well.
It's fun for artists like Courtney Love to campaign against the traditional
system. The truth is, her opinion wouldn't mean shit if it weren't for the
millions of dollars her record label put into making her a celebrity in the
first place. She might be able to make her fortune now without their
support, but would she be in that position if she didn't first have all the
fame and clout her major label afforded her?
The system might be standing between you and superstardom, but that doesn't
have anything to do with a malevolent conspiracy to keep good music away
from the masses. The majors simply try to gauge what they think the public
wants, and fork out tons of dollars spoonfeeding that hunch to millions of
hapless souls across the world. Its the consumers that ultimately decide.
Those very consumers who are buying Cher and Ricky Martin and Britney Spears
and not your records. There might be a new system, but it's all the same
I don't think the majors are shaking in their booties about how the internet
might jeopardize their perceived monopoly in the music industry. There will
always be room for the independents, just as there is now. And consumers
will no doubt continue to display their bad taste in music, whether it's
done over the internet or through more traditional means. It's not that the
major labels stand to lose, it's that we all stand to lose. If there is a
saleable market out there for recorded music, have no doubt that the major
labels will be at the forefront. But if there isn't, then we're all the
poorer for it.
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