Sunday, April 19, 2015

To The Guy Who Says Streaming Doesn't Hurt Musicians

As in every part of the economic culture there is a class war between upper and lower classes. If one is at the top where the money is still good, stuff is curated and served up on platinum platters and the impact of the streaming services is felt as a lifestyle hit. The A-listers want more. They may need more but to be sure they want more.

Some such as Percy Sledge watched their incomes evaporate not because of streaming but because Sledge's one big hit was recorded before 1972 and copyright law today makes it impossible to collect. So where Michael Bolton got the money (and Percy did not begrudge that because he liked the cover), Sledge got zilch. Nada. Before he died Percy was being taken care of by friends in Muscle Shoals who played help gigs for him. Levon Helm was hurt by streaming and piracy. Once again, the music tribe stepped in to help but it was tough and is still tough for his widow.

The top tier is trying to organize themselves to compete and having a hard time of it because the image they projected for so long is working against them. It is simply hard to feel sorry for Madonna with her leg on the table trying to look young or a guy who walks on stage wearing a mouse head. They look spoiled and that doesn't make a good case for paying more money for their music if it can be gotten for less from legit but shady streamers. Good luck with Tidal but the zeitgeist is against it.

In case the impact of losing record sales revenue isn't completely clear, some years ago when working on web standards I debated those who said this was a good thing for music and musicians telling them that in the future the big bands would be the old bands that made it in the seventies and that ticket prices would be $300 a seat. They said it could never happen. The following is a screen snap of an online ticket ordering form for The Eagles courtesy of Michael Buffalo Smith.

A little depressing, eh? I underestimated by a factor of three.

At the bottom where the overwhelming vast majority of us operate, the ones the curators refer to as "strictly second rate" and are desperate to curate away, the results are mixed. We have to produce independently, watch our pennies and so folks such as I have to scramble and burn 401ks to bury our parents. We see pirates taking our music and streaming it out of Russia, shrug and move on because we can't fight them. Our best gigs are brew pubs that will pay 75 dollars a man a night because otherwise we are working for tips.

We can try to punch through the Nashville-We-Only-Work-With-the-Best crowd that turned Chet Atkins' Music City (a generous man) into a ten year town. We are told if we offend the wrong person at any step, we are done in that town. We are told we have to "write only with the right people" and anything we organize locally that helps locals, they send their representatives to take over. ASCAP/BMI/SESAC are johnny on the spot to collect fees even if all the songs are original and unregistered. They threaten small rooms needed to keep the beginners alive. They are the Mafia For the Labels. Reverbnation and YouTube get our music out there and whatever rate we are, we aren't curated into oblivion to satisfy the social warrior agenda of some industry maven who can't play a note but knows what he or she likes and everyone must like what they like or "it isn't good music". Meh.

For the lower class, these are better times than ever as far as distribution but we won't get paid same as the A-listers.

No matter what class we are in, artists are the losers. Almost all of the publicity you are reading right now about this is designed to help the major labels who are simultaneously buying up the streaming services, making deals and passing none of that to the artists while also asking for more of their touring income. Talk about gang rape; this is buggering by the bundle.

Music is a brutal business with hands out everywhere to take money from the artists. If the top tier is feeling our pain down here, well, they at least get to moan and cry in their Escalades drinking expensive vodka and telling us we need each other. That would be nice but I'm not holding my breath. I'm selling my mom's furniture, clothes and cookware for pennies on the pound because the man at the funeral home gives us six months. Not sure what happens after that. I don't think he can return her. Whatever.

Where money is concerned, we are not all in this together. The haves and have nots of the music business are still pretty much glaring at one another and that won't change. When they beg us to sign their petitions for new laws but can't explain how it helps anyone but the one tenth of one percent at the top, we shrug and go back to fighting each other for the brew pub gigs. As Waylon Jennings once said when criticized for his disregard of Nashville, "Man, I was just trying to survive."

On the other hand the comp-sci industry and the dumb-asses who think they have a valid opinion in the face of the largest hijacking of cultural wealth in history are most certainly the villains in this piece because at least we are producing something and they are taking and gouging eyes out. Like all class wars at some point the peasants will put pick axes through their skulls metaphorically or otherwise. Those servers out there aren't fortresses. Right now Google, Spotify whoever are protected by the rigged laws of the US of The Big Banks and Bought Senators. But there are third world countries where such laws don't exist and where there is plenty of hungry technical talent. Imagine a sharable app that has only one job: to ping the hell out of every streaming server it can find, an app that can be hosted outside the US, and which for those who are sympathetic can be put on their machines and run in the off hours the same way the SETI app was run.

Would I write such an app. Heck no. Even if I had the chops, it is war of money on money and anyone in the middle without the money would be phaser fodder by the time the first server goes blue screen. But as an analyst, I think it inevitable that some will. Consider the Richard Clark speech recently where he apologized and confessed the Internet and web applications are a cybercrime wet dream. There is no securing it and certain agencies who insist on putting their biggest secrets on web servers are stupidly manned. And of that, I am certain. But as the kids say, Whatever.

At some point negotiations break down and all hell breaks loose because the greedy and smarmy fail to understand we may not be in the same classes but we are on the same Internet. And they can be hurt.

I think the artists will still get fucked because when it gets down to it what the best of them and the rest of them care about is their art. Like Lenny Breau they aren't good at taking care of themselves and can end up at the bottom of a swimming pool strangled by persons unknown but probably their wives because they can't quit and they can't pay the bills.

And if the streamers and schemers and curators and mental masturbaters don't get that, may the bird of paradise fly up their noses. They suck.

Respectfully of course. We wouldn't want to offend them. :)

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