Thursday, April 6, 2006

Music blogs are killing music?

About a month ago a representative of the (excellent) Numero Group label left a comment on this blog asking to take down links to their album, and I gladly obliged. I appreciate what they are doing for all of us music heads by finding, compiling, and releasing great and obscure music, and besides they are legally the copyright owners, i.e. the last word on the matter.

However, along with the request to take down the links, the poster wrote the following: you are doing an absolute disservice to the artists and compilers by allowing others to steal this music. I doubt the truth of this statement, but I did not feel like arguing then.
Today I came across another flame war on the subject of piracy, and again people accuse us music bloggers of hurting (or even killing) the musicians and their work. As usual, the accusations come not from the musicians, but from well-meaning bystanders. But what do the musicians themselves have to say on this matter?

I admit that the feedback from the musicians is very limited, but whatever I saw suggests the opposite. I can point to three examples. One is a comment by Monty Stark, the virtuoso avant-vibist and bandleader of a jazz-rock group Stark Reality. He left a comment on my post sharing his album, and he did not ask to take it down, but used it as an opportunity to promote his current work via his website,

Another is a comment on my Sam Cooke post by Eric Greene, Sam Cooke's nephew and the author of "Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story From His Family's Perspective". Although Eric is not a musician, he is definitely an interested party. Curiously, he did not ask to take down the links, either, but used it as an opportunity to promote his book and website,

Finally, a comment at LostInTyme's post sharing three BLO albums (excellent 70s Nigerian Afro-rock/psych):
Thanks so much for doing this! You're awesome. I'm going to bring this to my dad's attention. dad is the L in BLO.

So, apparently the people closer to the music makers than to the music distribution do not necessarily view music blogs as evil.
Admittedly, there are situations where sharing the music would do more harm than good to the band - like with recently released albums that are still riding the wave of label's promotion, that are being sold at the shows etc.etc. I personally try to limit sharing the records of bands that are currently active. But I believe that in other cases musicians don't mind the exposure.
And for recordings like Cult Cargo, - Belizean music from the early 70s, - are the musicians even alive yet? I know that Numero's comps are properly licensed, but who exactly gets the profits? Is it the artists or just some random folk who happen to own the copyright at this point? I have no answer...

To sum it up: music blogs might be bad for the labels, although that is not so clear-cut, either; but I believe that musicians in general don't mind their work being promoted and shared through blogs.

P.S. I would also like to point you to several insightful articles by a SF writer Cory Doctorow on the subject of releasing his works for free:
  • An SF writer's biggest problem is obscurity, not piracy.
  • David Blackburn, a Harvard PhD candidate in economics, published a paper in 2004 in which he calculated that, for music, "piracy" results in a net increase in sales for all titles in the 75th percentile and lower; negligible change in sales for the "middle class" of titles between the 75th percentile and the 97th percentile; and a small drag on the "super-rich" in the 97th percentile and higher. Publisher Tim O'Reilly describes this as "piracy's progressive taxation," apportioning a small wealth-redistribution to the vast majority of works, no net change to the middle, and a small cost on the richest few.
  • ...and one article on copyright.

    P.P.S. Artists and songwriters of every style and genre are speaking out against illegal copying, including Madonna, Elton John, Eminem, Sheryl Crow, Jay Z, Lenny Kravitz and more.

    Also, here's the Blackburn paper referenced above:

    1. I wouldn't class blogs that give away albums for free in the same category as music blogs that put up just one or two mp3s and try to help promote records.

      Out of print records are ok to share I reckon, given a person probably wouldn't be able to buy it if they tried.

      But seriously, how does giving an album away for free really help the artist? Ok it gets their music heard by more people, but that wont mean any extra $$ in their pockets, unless they still tour extensively, in which case maybe some of the thieves will attend a show.

      "Record labels don't like blogs giving away albums for free" has got to be the understatement of the year, and why would they?

    2. I am not trying to argue that giving an album away for free helps the artist, I am saying that some artists don't mind. The negative feedback I see comes from the labels, not from the artists.

      "and why would they?"
      did you read the post to the end?

    3. Well, I think that the way things are right now, there's not that many people that would buy a record before listening to it.
      As happened before with cassettes, digital piracy makes people hear the record; and then, some people will eventually buy it.
      That's the case for many music fans that I know. They will buy their favourite artists' music just for being their fans; but the music output is so huge these days that for knowing a tiny part of it free distribution becomes a need.
      Radiohead's position in the charts is an example of the success of giving things for free. But it could be argued against this example for their great popularity. There's more discrete musicians that are also doing good in the charts after letting everyone listen to whole records for free. Take spanish Iván Ferreiro, who is definitely no spanish Thom Yorke; he reached #4.
      Music blogs are simply going ahead of companies that don't dare to show the music. And I believe they're better than p2p's since one has to be searching for the product, and not just looking for filling GBs of memory in a drive. Next step after a good listen is the purchase.

    4. how does giving an album away for free really help the artist?

      There are artists who earn their living from selling records, and there are others who earn their living through musical activities outside of making records (like scoring commercials, soundtrack work, studio work for others, playing live etc.etc.). I would venture a guess that the first group are Metallica-sized big shots, and the second group is everybody else. Now, for the second group records are a way to advertize themselves (while doing what they like). I know some bands that actually lost money making records. Why would they mind free publicity?

    5. I think that the rael point is, that labels want to earn zilions of dollars from ordinary people. But that is not possible anymore in these days. I will buy only that album whom I will have a chance to hear it before or I am not gonna buy anything. And we are in the computer ages and not in the seventies. Internet is for getting all kind of stuff. What they want, computers to shut down, internet police, total control. Then we will all be behind the iron curtain. Does anybody remember democracy....

    6. Musical resources turned into some customized marketplace not related to cultural values. Most of the time the artists "downloaded" are well known by the media.

      I'm sure is hard to believe, but there are people looking for new stuff, curious, proactive about sounds and expression and thanks to that there are people hearing new stuff from countries far way, old and new, different languages, different ideas... somebody is learning here, some are willing to change, to adapt their point of view... unfortunately this is just the transition time and many artists will take benefit of it while there are many others "so called artists" who will lose their old market fief horrified by the sign of the times.

    7. i'm in the thankful position of having the opportunity to meet & chat to many artists, and blogging is a topic of conversation that has arisen many many times...

      I'd say out of 15-20 conversations i've had, all with well known hip-hop artists, it's split right down the middle. Some think the promotion & exposure is great, others want to string bloggers up...

      As a struggling bed-room musician, i can empathise with the latter. If & when i manage to get something together, it's likely that i'll only be able to do an itunes release. If it was then to appear on a blog, i'm losing out on potential sales. The argument commonly goes that those people would have never purchased the album anyway, and they might mention it to somebody, or like it and buy the legit.. That's a lot of if and buts though, i'd much rather just deal with the actuals, that being, my album is for sale, you can buy it legit, or not at all...

      The argument that we have the technology to do certain things doesn't mean that it should be used for certain things. Just because music can be shared easily now, well that dosn't make it right. We have nuclear technology, does that mean we should use it, of course not..

      As for those who claim that they have the right to listen to something before buying it, get a grip. Do you read the first couple of chapters before buying a book, of course not.. And don't forget, you can still visit a record shop, and they'll be happy to let you listen to anything before buying.. Ok, so you live in a small village in the middle of nowhere and have no access to record shops, so donwloading whole lp's is fine for you cos you have no other options.. No, it's not. There's plenty of sites that give you snippets of songs to listen to, amazon, sandboxautomatic, plenty of others..

      Of course bootlegging has, and always will exist, and i don't really have a problem with it. The only major difference now is that huge numbers of people have access to bootlegged stuff, rather than a handful of people leaving an 80's gig and buying a bootleg cassette outside the venue..

      Don't try to kid yourself, bootlegging, blogging does take money out of the artists pocket. You either care, or not...

    8. I think that the example of Sam Cooke's nephew using his dad's fame to try to sell a book is flawed. He's not the copywrite holder and he's clearly just trying to make a buck and promote his book.

    9. yeah... nuclear technology and music industry, "great comparison"
      yeah... many insensitive people are taking advantage of poor unknown new artists because their music is "soooo good" like another myspace's new artist or that's just a hype from the musical industry?
      Some "kids" like the Ch-ch-Changes
      Don't want to be a richer man...

    10. Of course I read a couple chapters of a book before buying it. It's called browsing.

      As for as your plans to launch a career via iTunes, you might want to inspect your MO a little closer. It smacks of the Big Labels usual marketing techniques, where are rapidly become obsolete. Using iTunes to gain monetarily is missing the point. Like it was said earlier: Obscurity is the artist's main foe these days.

    11. I want to thank all of you for contributing to this discussion. I especially appreciate GiT's comment for his assessment of well-known artists' opinions. While the anti-blog stance seems questionable to me, I realize that it's every artist's right to choose the distribution; it's one's own decision to give it away or to charge for it, to shoot for fame or to stay obscure, to release it or to keep it in your head.

      I did not touch the technological aspects of file sharing on purpose, maybe I will write another post on the subject.

      Finally, I don't think that it is fair to say that Eric Greene (Sam Cooke's nephew) is "clearly just trying to make a buck and promote his book using his dad's fame." You might as well argue that the labels like Numero and Soundway are "just trying to make a buck and promote their CDs using the artists' fame."

    12. Funny story: I'm just reading this blog which I've started to follow for a bit now.

      Not two weeks ago, I bought a vinyl copy of Numero's Bosco album based on looks & label recognition. Also, I've been considering buying a Numero "subscription" where whenever a new release comes out they send you one, to the tune of over a 100 bucks a year.

      Anyway, the point: I never would have heard of Numero if it weren't for filesharing. A friend burned me a copy of an Eccentric Soul comp he'd dl'ed, which I've enjoyed immensely.

      Not to single out Numero or anything, but this kind of attitude is not making me want to buy from them anymore. People have been sharing music since the invention of radio & tape and it hasn't killed music yet. This is just a new way to do it.

      I think you could make a better case for copyright law itself killing music by restricting the creative use of recordings to make new ones. Ever hear of Lesson One? Copyrights kept it from being released, but what if they'd kept it from being heard?


    13. As a musicmaker, and a music collector, I would like to offer my subjective opinion on this matter.

      It has been my experience that the people who decry the dissemination of music through blogs such as this are not the creators of the works in question (for the most part) but entities involved in the production, distribution and sale of such works - and their representatives, or shills if one prefers.

      Thus, what the issue really might be is less one of copyright infringement (arguably a justifiable accusation, but nevertheless requiring the holder of the copyright to safeguard their own interests), and more one of competition that lacks the financial motivations of the complainers.

      I might proffer many tales of corrupt accounting practices on the part of recording companies, none of which would justify infringement, but would no doubt render hollow the arguments presented by non-artists that the scenario in question is more damaging to a creator's pocketbook than the machinations of the industry itself.

      The bottom line - I like to listen before I buy, and if the industry had its way this would have been outlawed also, the better to stuff reams of inconsequential product into a distribution pipeline and splash it out onto unwitting consumers.

      Music blogs like this one do the public a service, alerting them to music outside of conventional tastes and creating a better class of informed listener who can spend their purchasing power in a discerning fashion.

      A simple rule - If you like it - buy it when you can. If not, don't and delete.

      Thanks, LesTP.

    14. Appreciating the well thought out comments, and main statement. Most of us reading this are avid enjoyers of music. We probably have extensive music collections or aspire to. By buying new , second hand ( no royalties there ), borrowing , swapping , copying downloading via subscription , or blogs like this. Most of us would want the artist compensated to some degree- depending on our means, possibilities, inclination and morality. I think blogs like this try and bring it back to its purer essences - and not as a metaphor for the consumerisation/capitalisation of any and everything. I do not accept the entities putting things out in public domain should have complete control over them ( ie donald duck belongs to every one ). Some of the stuff in the community is an eye & ear sore etc. A lot of copyright law is bullcrap- a way for the haves to maintain power and domination- how long should we pay for "happy birthday to me"? Musicians, authors whose reason to be is solely to be is monetary - are probably not listen/read much to by your readers- though I can enjoy a well crafted pop creation out of a hit factory as well.. Enough blah, musicians will be with us forever independent of an industry. If you can't change something , accept it - that folks will infringe your copyright- enjoy the pleasure of giving and making, and hope for a better way of distribution happens.
      ps I don't think record execs mostly pay for cds.
      pps the commercialization of sacred music etc is not totally ok

    15. Sadly every blogger with a net connection thinks because they have the ability, they must upload every CD they own or something.

      In some cases, such as old & out of print records without proper royalty procedures anyway.

      Labels are the caretakers of much music, and I feel bad for indies especially like Numero Group. They are upstanding, and do hardcore archivist work with the best possible procedures and liscensing.

      What incentives will labels have to package up new or old lost music for the public in the future if they know it all for nought the minute you giveaway yours?

      In many cases of old material posted these groups would never have existed without the labels efforts to record and promote their music over the decades.

      Some of the records posted on blogs are indeed lost treasures, out of print, and obscure. But Sam Cooke's music is not, it's for download on eMusic, Amazon, iTunes etc and in stores.

      Although Sam had a great many feuds with Specialty records, made less than his fair share of the royalties, it is not in your legal decision making power as to it whether all of it should be free. ( Ironically, these days the owners of the Soul Stirrer's catalog featuring Sam are now a subsidiary of Starbucks!)

      I feel like a writer, that is sharing a sample of some work is relatively benign, rather than one that is simply uploading the entire back catalog. While I may find myself tempted by these downloads, ultimately if the material is still in print, then they really do a dis-service to artists and label copyrights.

    16. Great to read all the comments, sorry to those who didn't appreciate my hastily and ill thought out analogies.

      For some small UK hip-hop artists, blogging really does hurt. For example, one artist i know left the links for his LP alone on blogs that he was aware of. It's now over 8 months since the release of his LP, and the amount of downloads from 5 blogs exceeds purchases of said LP over 5 times..

      All i know is, we managed for many decades to enjoy & purchase music, whilst managing to maintain the structure that gives musicians a sustainable career. Yes, overinflated prices of cd's has also had a huge effect, the remedy being too little too late. But i'm seriously of the opinion that the overwhelming support of blogging/bootlegging has more to do with modern apathy, the 'i deserve this and that' attitude more than anything else.

      My local record stores used to be crammed on a weekend, people climbing over each other to get at the vinyl, people 5 deep at the listening point ready to check their recent finds. I wish i could say it's the same today, but it's not. We now have the 'bedroom diggers' who simply find stuff on the net..

      'crustcore' i'm sorry you dislike my comparison so.. However the point remains. Simply because you can do something doesn't mean you should, or doesn't make it right. Simply attacking my poor writing doesn't change that. And i really don't understand not supporting upcoming artists. Can't you think of a single artist or band you like whose first LP was poor..??

      For me it's this simple, and yes i am a simple man. Like it or not, there are people out there who used to buy music becuase it was their only way of getting hold of it. Now some of these people no longer buy any music at all, they simply take it all off the net, for free. I know people like that, and i'm sure we all do. Yes, that hurts the artist, their label and everybody involved. When these freebie people become the majority, then we'll be killing the music industry. Are we anywhere near that point, no.. Will we ever be..?? I don't know.

      I refer back to my conversations with artists. Of those who don't mind their work being on blogs, they're of the shrug of the shoulders type opinion, yer whatever man, i don't care. And of those who don't want their music on blogs, livid would be one word.. The point being, those against are much more emotive than the former, and that speaks volumes to me..

      'soniclee'. I am no way affiliated with Majors, and not everybody that release via itunes are being marketed by the big evil hand. I have friends who have released their 'bedroom' music on itunes simply because they do not want to approach labels, and they don't have the finance to press their release. Also the worldwide exposure is something they could never get elsewhere. It's the ultimate punk DIY approach, only on a modern scale. And it can work, an 'accquaintance' made his tinues release, and several months later was approached by a well known indie label and signed for a short deal..

      I'm not arguing against blogs, they have their benefits, i wouldn't be here otherwise. All i'm trying to say is please don't kid yourselves, this does take money out of peoples pockets. So i guess i'm saying that in time, music blogs could kill music, and that's when the majority of people are simply taking all their music for free. Yes that's a long way away, but if current trends continue unchecked, it will happen in time...

      apologies for the long rambling rant.....

    17. Although i download albums from this blog (and others like it), my blog is strictly one-file, with embedded links to artists sites, etc.

      The reason for that:

      I feel uncomfortable posting an entire album without the express permission of artists, especially those who record for small, independent labels. There's a *lot* of overhead involved in recording, mastering, producing, booklet and packaging costs, etc. - and it's very difficult for most folks to recoup that investment. I've known musicians who have run up huge amounts of debt in order to get their work recorded and issued - and it takes a long, long time to pay that off.

      I do visit many other blogs and have seen comments by some artists requesting that people take down the links to CD/LP uploads, while others are open-minded about this.

      There's a lot going on re. who owns the rights to any given recording that might not be so obvious. Most musicians/composers/songwriters don't own the rights to their own compositions and recordings, unless they've either done self-produced work or have somehow been able to purchase their masters, etc. I used to do a show on, and it burned me that, in most cases, it was the US's Copyright Royalty Board + major labels that were getting the fees I paid in order to broadcast legally - not the artists.

      Here's the thing: if you really *are* wanting to promote artists and their work, it's important to keep the backstory in mind. (My take on it is far from complete, but it's a start.)

      I do believe that good MP3 blogs can be used wisely and well - they're a lot like specialist stores and radio shows in that respect. I have made quite a few Cd purchases based on rips that I've downloaded - and have avoided making others, because I've had a chance to listen to cuts in their entirety. I'm sure everyone who reads (and comments on) this post has done the same.

      In sum, I hope that my blog really *is* helping people to seek out unfamiliar music and artists - and that those who stop by end up purchasing those artists' work. It's up to each of us to evaluate this, and (I think) to blog responsibly.

    18. I only buy vinyl. Most of the albums I buy are used, from the 70's. I rarely buy new music and when I do, I buy the vinyl. Music blogs such as THIS ONE are an INCREDIBLE resource for knowledge, NOT an opportunity to save money or steal. I wish these music blogs helped me save money. NOT THE CASE. I hear these great albums and I'm out there digging for them, getting ready to drop more cash just to get these records so I can play them at parties, sample them or share them by playing them for friends.

      I am a musician, and I make music, but it's a hobby, not a living. I have a day job that pays me.

      When my album is done, I'm sending it to all the blogs. That's the greatest, widest, most effective distribution today, and it's free! Do you think anyone would pay to hear my album? I doubt it. But I garauntee you that they would check it out for free!

      Keep music free and keep the blogs running!

    19. I have to say that this argument has left me feeling conflicted for years now. I'm writing both as record appreciator and as an active musician whose has been involved with self released albums as well as albums on small independent labels here in the US. This topic comes up a great deal in conversation with other musicians and while I full understand the perspective of the naysayers to the music blogs (which I think is probably a minority amongst independent musicians, at least ones I know), I have to say it neither bothers me nor do I see it as an evil thing. Particularly, blogs such as this one open so many new musical doors and really further my listening in ways that would not be possible otherwise. Do I go and buy albums I've downloaded and enjoyed? Occasionally. Do I find certain artists I absolutely loved through blogs? Well of course. When I see other albums by these artists when I'm browsing in record stores or when I decide to order some new albums? Very regularly. From my personal perspective cheers to a great blog that is respectful of the music it is dealing with. Please keep up the amazing work!!

    20. keep the faith, music blogging is the way forward

    21. Please continue your BLOG.

    22. First of all, I'm a music-blog addict.
      BUT I can understand the arguments of the numero group label. I really wouldn't like it when the label can't bring out this dope ass compilations anymore. It is one of my favourite labels when it comes to funk/soul stuff.
      I have also downloaded some tracks of the numero group catalog before I bought the records.
      When I like the music I always try to buy the original records. BUT do all the people do that? I hope so..

    23. would you like to share links of our blogs ?

    24. Lostintyme was lost?. It is very regrettable.

    25. There is a difference between posting a copy of an out-of-print album...which might raise interest in it and lead to a re-release...and posting an album that is available for sale.

      Post a few cuts off the commercially available stuff...

      It's the right way to do business on a blog.

      This blog, btw, is the worst offender as far as posting small label, commercially available albums in full that I have run across. E.G., Ghana Soundz, pays the musicians who made it upon posting the entire album, you have taken money directly from artists who deserve fair compensation.

      You could promote the album with a few tracks, and do those artists a service. It is not blogs in general that are a problem, but there are certainly abusive practices going on...some right here on your blog.

    26. From the article you link to...

      "Thus, this paper finds that file sharing has had large, negative impacts on industry sales and that the RIAA’s strategy of suing individual file sharing users has led to reduced file sharing activity and sizeable increases in sales."

    27. This is the way to promote small artists in this day and age...

      You can hear some of it, buy CD or MP3, artist does it all themselves, no label involved.

      Let the artist decide what music to give away for really isn't your choice

    28. Do you continue this blog?

    29. The digital revolution changed the parameters. It is just proper that the artist earns his living by playing his music for live audiences instead of being a part of a hype capitalistic machine that exploits the artist as well as the audience.

    30. Thanks everyone for your insightful and thought-provoking contributions. I will think over the issues and opinions that were voiced here. Meanwhile, this posting is moved way to the back.

    31. LesTP,

      I just wanted to add a comment on the best dl I've found on this blog to date: "Perdon," by Los Tres Diamantes.

      One MP3 file, one song.

      You have good ears - I'd love to see what else you come up with in the way of one-fil (single track) picks.


    32. This comment has been removed by the author.

    33. Muito obrigada, LesTP! (yeah, I know it's Portuguese... ;))

      I ended up posting "Perdon" on my blog last year, because it struck me as a nearly-perfect bolero and fit well (I thought) with the other cuts I posted around that time.

    34. as for "Madonna, Elton John, Eminem, Sheryl Crow, Jay Z, Lenny Kravitz and more." who are against p2p

      you can calm down lenny, i wasn't going to download your album anyways

      are there any artists a little more "current" and "relevant"? most of these people complaining about file sharing have reached the end of their careers anyways. eminem has blown his creative load already, and has resorted to unremarkable guest appearances on akon tracks. jay z has already "retired" once, and elton and madonna have already gotten fat and rich by flooding the earth with enough of their plastic.

      i've never used the itunes music store before.. i've spent enough money making steve jobs rich already. if you are going to support an artist, the best way is to see their show, see and hear the un-canned experience for yourself, and buy their merch (and for fucks sakes put down the camera phone)

    35. here 's my 2 cents plain...which was also a counter order for a fountain seltzer AND how much opinions used to be worth. (or maybe it was supposed to be an ante in a poker pot? etymology is always fun...) today? i have no idea, but considering how many have voiced one here, i shall venture my copper pence.

      i used to be tangentially part of the music industry in both the advert and marketing ends; the former as a journo, the latter as a manager-editor of copy at a direct-mail record company. this put me in the (perhaps) unique position of seeing things from both the artist side and the business side (i.e.: profit center).

      before i go on i shall cite one authority only. there was an article, a decade or so ago but probably no less telling, by steve albini. it detailed the processing of artist-generated creations into rack-jobber goods, including a highly lucid, cogent, and easy-to-understand analysis of the industry standard contract for vending of same. i can recommend it for any interested in the process but, to be brief, there is a signing advance for the initial recording along with options on all work following, usually a three-to-five-album deal. (you may recall the famous clash "count-down" wherein joe strummer kept track of on every sleeve, anticipating their freedom...which, unfortunately ended in "cut the crap".) point being, the artists either blow-up fast and rake in huge profits, or they have to limp along on the company stipend and hope to pay off their advance with one down the road. this is why so many labels drop promising bands after only three albums: non-performing performances by their performers.

      all that aside, the royalties. yes, we must not forget the royalties. how much? well, according to the industry standard, like nickels on the net until the advance is paid off. however, the publishing changes the equation further. what was a royalty on vinyl was NOT carried over to cassette, 8-track and then, the CD, and that comes down to pennies. so what do you think the percentage is for mp3's? (i don't actually know myself--that is a rhetorical flourish.) however, when it came down to my day-job, i'd had enough exposure to the folks in a&r to know that our licensing deals were a license to print money (negative-option being especially lucrative). how else do you think we could make a profit on membership offers like "TAKE 11 GREAT CDS FOR A DOLLAR!"?

      now, for my tiny bit of glory days. i offer the following as an anecdotal gem rather than the obvious name-dropping, so bear with me.

      i was doing a story on jeff buckley, and his publicist at columbia, howard wuelfling had decided to take us both out for a slap-up dinner and chat in a fine midtown eatery (on lexington, i think it was). so, to preface, howard had come into the company after being in a band called the nurses, and still had a rabid following among a small group of fans. he has this wry, dry sense of humor, and is nobody's fool. (i'm not sure, but i think he was intro'd to me by gary lucas, who used to have his job and went on to dazzle audiences with his solo guitar extravaganzas. i don't know how it is today but 15-20 years ago, things were more porous; you could come into a good job w/o an mba or experience with spreadsheets, and could be thought of as valuable for having an appreciation of the scene, the vibe, a sound, a life.) jeff and i had met many times before at places all over the east village, so we were pretty comfortable with each other anyways, even though we'd never had an in-depth discussion. (ok. just to remind you of who he was...nah. you know. but as a new yorker? he'd do readings from his dream book about a midget in a bordertown brothel, show up in audiences at PS 122 just to see what's new, same for gallery crawls in soho, and found we both shared a passion for the poetry of the sufi mystic rumi and he was hoping to collaborate with nusrat fateh ali khan, the qwawalli master, long before eddie vetter ever got the idea.)

      we'd been through the appetizers and main course and were dallying over dessert and coffee and the subject of the industry itself came up. howard broached the philosophical position "did you ever consider that this is all about turning the most intimate of artforms into one of the most widely and clinically packaged and distributed products?" i said something like, "you don't have to tell me howard. you know what i do for a living." he laughed and said, "but you realize how many catalogue albums went gold because you pushed them in red tag sales? or selections of the month? face it, man--you ARE the record industry!" "ok. point taken. but i still can't get over the fact that we're ripping off the artist," i said. "that's just how it works," howard said. "did my band make money when we sold singles out of the gigs? sure, and that's the way it was supposed to be. D.I.Y.--right? but we never made much more than gas and rent. is jeff going to do better by being with the label? i hope so, but he's never going to beat springsteen." I said something like, "he could if he'd do something big and impersonal, like an arena-rock ballad." jeff laughed and said "why would i want to do that? when i was growing up...the 80s? everything was shit, except the smiths. morrissey did his own thing; it was personal, but it sold, but you saw how fast he dropped the band after they'd fulfilled their contractual obligation? he knew what he wanted. he could have gone on to be huge with them but he went for himself. and he's done ok. but...yeah, would i still sing if no one paid me? i did it all the time when washing dishes at sine." (that's a cafe that used to be on st. marks place at avenue a.) "but you realize you're going to be doing it, now, for pennies," i said. "and that you'll be lucky to break even before getting out of your contract unless you get a hit single?" "so what? i sing for the beauty of it. its nice to make a few bucks but i'd rather have one person listen to me than make a dime."

      (i rather enjoyed that dinner.)

      at any rate, that seems to be the argument in a nutshell. the problem is, the amount of downloads is never going to put more than a jackson in anybody's pocket. sorry. that's just economics. i didn't make this stuff up. so here's another uncomfortable truth from an economics guy. karl marx envisoned a state, a worker's paradise, where everyone would be artists. and the way you'd get to this was the same way that howard and the nurses did: workers control the means of production and means of distribution, and each pays according to their needs and abilities. unfortunately, as both jeff buckley noted (in passing) and theodore sturgeon is quoted, "90% of everything is shit."

      well, they also forgot that the other 10% is occasionally repackaging for new audiences and new media. why do some people buy "the white album" 10 times is 10 editions? because they are buying the dream, the vapors--not the art. the art is in how we listen. and i think that was what jeff might have been aiming at. just to have one person listen--really listen--to you should be enough. art was never supposed to be a commodity. is celebrity an art? well, yeah--it is, but a diseased and corrupt one, selling the dream of "the new beatles/tupac/dylan/smokey/hank/patsy/miles" etc. as their holy grail. oh yeah, and "the vapors"? remember biz markie's one big hit? that was a good rap, and true! watching the music industry from the outside, these days, i can see a lot of that 90% being passed off quite successfully as that 10% and very little i'd want to buy. but, as well, very little WORTH buying. the art is secondary to the profit. maybe tertiary. perhaps i'm just showing my age but i do prefer my sounds to be more adventurous, speculative, emergent than found in today's commercial product. (and when you have bands/performers actually getting exposure thru television adverts, this is not denigrating; it is accurate.)

      then i started to visit the blogosphere and found the aforementioned music sites and said, wow! there are people actually JUST LIKE ME! and they've got the exact same taste--or better! and they're just giving me this stuff? so, yeah, when i felt particularly guilty, i'd actually leave a post as a token of esteem. (a little like this.) it was exactly the sort of generosity of spirit that comes with sincere appreciation of art--the expansiveness and wish to share with the world. and there is absolutely zero profit motive, as far as i can see. so forget the copyright infringement: there is no sound basis for this as attempting to deprive the owner of their just and due wealth...or at least no "unjust enrichment". unlike the rap albums of old with their controversial "sampling" problems, there is no question of making a profit from posting things for download.

      and it was just one of my postings for an old record that someone from that band read and sent me an e-mail of thanks. it is certainly a fact that everyone would like to receive a little check once month representing a past investment of time, money, and youth, but how about a small bit of appreciation? isn't that worth something? in the beginning, of it all--not just the the post-WWII boom in which jukebox replay lists led to "Cashbox" magazine's creation of charts which led to the development of vending arms allied with publishing empires and the creation of a popular song machine which mutated into...ah, nevermind!--all the artist got was applause.

      that's what these blogs are. a community of fans who, if they knew each other, lived down the block from each other, and this was 30 years ago?--they'd still make tapes for each other. why is it we never hear about magazines getting pissed off when people make xeroxes or flag articles for others? because that's already factored in as part of their advertising revenue! "home taping is killing music"? nope, just profits. music will go on and artists will be putting up stuff on a facebook page and be glad if ANYBODY dl's them.

      i am aware that this can sound like a convenient rationalization, giving myself a pass for all those albums. and that's a valid crit of this. so i'll add in one last thing.

      this is something i'm grappling with as well. a long time ago i wanted to be a writer...not just those ephemeral scribbles of yesteryear. and when i couldn't find any outlet, i took up the suggestion of oscar wilde that "only a fool writes for nothing." so yeah. i stopped. i'm nobody's fool too.

      but then again, this is fun. whether or not you enjoy it, I DO. then, any pleasure you may derive from it is tangential, but, as well...sort of nice to think about. so when i decided to put up a blog, it was more along the lines of writing for the hell of it...or the heaven of it. you may or may not understand that for some people, an inelegant sentence, unorthodox punctuation and dialectic arguments presented as a distracted conversation is rilly keen! (and sure, henry james and jane austen novels are fine...if you are having trouble sleeping.) what i'm now coming to grips with is that i care less about what's in it for me--as a profit center--and more or a odd kind of satisfaction.

      i mean, what are we talking about here: making art or punching a clock?

      and if that was too long, just change the header: "in for a nickel, in for a dime".

    36. Hell, remember the 80's? Home taping was killing music. Seems like there's still plenty to go around to me.