Why I Can Never be a ‘True Artist’
While killing time on the road today I was paging through a copy of Relix magazine. Somewhere towards the front, I noticed a page called Talk Back. This is where Relix reprints reader’s responses to a monthly question from the web site. Okay, the views expressed don’t reveal any Earth-shaking insights. But they are wide in scope and cover a multitude of opinions. While some are wacky, and some are narrow, others are bitchy while some are just plain ignorant. And that’s fine with me. We’re an eclectic crowd: We may run shy of sanity, but we’re long on tolerance.
The Talk Back topic of the month asked readers to discuss a federal court ruling between the Recording Institute of America (RIAA) vs. Verizon, an internet service provider. Apparently, the RIAA has its tits twisted because nobody wants to go to record store and actually pay for music anymore because it’s so easy to down load for free. To protect financial well being of their clients, (musicians and recording companies), the RIAA asked Verizon to hand over the names and addresses of a few of their internet subscribers for prosecution. The judge ruled that Verizon doesn’t have the right to harbor fugitives and ordered the communications company to supply the names of the suspected swappers. Thus the RIAA can surpass the vast legal expense of suing Kazaa out of business and proceed with the impossible task (and unimaginable cost) of prosecuting every little shit that swaps Green Day for Avril What’s-Her-Fuck.
Of course, Verizon balked. Lobbyists representing privacy and consumer groups filed briefs on behalf of Verizon, claiming that Americans hold the privilege of retaining anonymity while surfing for porn and stealing shitty rock tunes online.
Great stuff, I thought. Both sides have semi-legitimate arguments: The amnesty of petty thieves vs. the bigoted and culturally bankrupt power behind said stolen goods.
We all know that college kids are excited to down load themselves into academic probation. Conversely, those faceless and evil corporate entities have shown their intent to shake down America’s youth out every penny that didn’t go towards tuition. Thus the arguments have been drawn between those who distribute music and those who consume it. Shouldn’t there be a compromise? Perhaps a middle ground where the Man gets his buck for the music listened to by the persecuted masses? I don’t think it takes King Solomon to find a solution. But caught in the flotsam and jetsam of this mythical middle ground are the very chumps who actually write, arrange, record, and perform this very commodity.
Since minimal ink has been granted to those who make the music itself, I thought that I might take this opportunity to piss off every jambands.com reader by using Relix readers responses as a springboard to stand up for the cadre of helpless suckers caught in the middle. That’s right: I hope to plead the musician’s plight with you, the gentle reader. (It’s only fair, as I’ve spent enough time whining about the razor-sharp shaft slid up the asses of musicians by record labels.)
Never mind that we pour our guts and feelings into sonic compositions that interpret the human experience in a way that triggers your own unique introspection of reality. Call it a ‘song’, a ‘mantra’ or ‘copy written material’, it still moves people enough to covet it. For my money, (and theoretically it is), it doesn’t matter if the music is coveted through the old ‘five finger discount’ or the fashionable ‘one click download’. Somebody (read: the musician) is getting screwed.
Relix readers, like any relevant cultural cross-section, voiced a rainbow of opinions in Talk Back. However, the opinions expressed tended to reflect the level of inconvenience readers would endure to get their paws on J. Lo’s new CD. Thus, while I mean nothing personal to those wonderful souls who chimed in, I feel zero guilt toward using their opinions to get my point across.
(For ease I summarized responses and used initials to identify respondents. I’m here to make a point, not further the debate beyond the obvious. So if Relix abridged your response in Talk Back and I misinterpret your feelings, don’t yell at me. Take it out on Jon Schwartz. While he doesn’t have anything to do with the Talk Back department, the distraction caused may give me enough time to slip out the back door of the prison he’s holding me in until I finish my article…)
TALKING BACK TO TALK BACK-
As far as the participants to Relix Talk Back, I am happy to announce that not everybody is insane. Some writers simply recognized that a problem exists between the RIAA and Downloaders Without Moral Compasses:
SH: Until the RIAA and record companies realize that the only way to combat online piracy is to embrace the Internet instead of fighting it, they will continue to alienate their public… These latest tactics show they have no interest in evolving… They are scared about the future… Their demise will follow…
AP: The song swapping companies are legit… When patrons share copyrighted music, it brings down the whole company… Don’t participate in illegal music sharing… Padre Says: Undoubtedly, when record companies discovered that there was no reason to release more than one copy J. Lo’s latest ode to sonic-horseshit-on-a-stick, they grossly undervalued the price. By foolishly putting it on the market for $16.98, they neglected to take into account sales projections would fall short about 999,999 units sold to cover the nut of producing it. As we all know, some jerk bought the first copy (wearing the same hang-dog look of a man buying tampons for his girlfriend) and then posted free copies on Kazaa. This left her record company with a projected gross deficit of $16,979,983.00.
When the accountants at Her Majesty J. Lo’s record company saw that the American appetite for her highly unique and original pop groove had been satisfied after one copy sold, many company meetings ensued. I’m sure they came to two conclusions:
1) Since J. Lo has more than one fan, some one has been illegally distributing copyrighted material for free: i.e. STEALING...
2) Or they should have sold the first copy for sixteen million dollars (give-or-take a cool million).
I feel comfortable betting that the first of the two conclusions were found as more palpable to the accounting office. Thus the gents writing the checks for J. Lo’s life did the only reasonable thing. They called the cops. And the cops said, ‘Sue the fuckers!’
Which brings us to where we are today. The music industry is broke, and incidentally, so am I.
Other writers expressed the difference between ‘sharing files’ and pirating ‘copyrighted material’. File sharing, if done without infringing those copyrights, can be a positive:
JG: I think the music industry should take a lesson from the Grateful Dead… Allowing taping of their shows… I can’t tell you how many times I heard a performance… Then went out to purchase other recordings from the group…
JT: Ninety-nine percent of the music being swapped or downloaded in our community is perfectly legal. That is what makes our community so unbelievable…
Padre Says: Damn straight! In these circumstances, the musicians freely gave fans permission to tape, trade, swap, upload, download and enjoy those sonic nuggets we refer to as ‘songs’ without any restrictions.
Following the precedent set by Mr. Jerry Garcia, folks are free to enjoy whatever reproduction of a live performance they can get their hands on because, ‘Man, after we get done playing it, we’re done with it. The people can do whatever they want to with it.’ Well said Jerry.
Of coarse, this applies to bands that have ‘taper friendly’ policies. Which, at least for this forum, includes every band.
However, there is a new marketing angle going about with bands on tour these days. Several bands, including the Dead and us, have stuck deals with recording freaks that go on tour. These tapers record superior sounding soundboard + audience mic mixes and sell the shows at the venue or over the internet. I don’t know how much the Dead’s people sell their shows for, but ours go for $12, including shipping and handling.
If your first reaction is ‘What a fucking rip off!’ don’t fret. Every band that does it always allows tapers to record the goods for free. Which is good. Nobody with a conscience would ever meddle with the good works of a taper. In fact, if I had a real gripe about downloading, it would be that people are missing the best part of trading: Making a connection with other brothers and sisters in the community by searching for, contacting, and trading music worth hearing. Not to mention the multitude of friendships forged when people rely on each other to move the tunes around. If you’re just pressing the ‘Download’ button, you’re missing the best part of our scene- people. What’s good about a bunch of recordings if you don’t have anyone to share them with?
As far as the selling of the same recordings you can get for free by meeting a taper, it’s not as if anyone is making a million. Due to downloading, the monetary market value of these recordings has a short shelf life. A couple of people buy a show and before you know it, anyone can download them off of Kazaa. Thus we can conclude that these recordings are for people too lazy to buy a taper a beer. (Do tapers drink beer? They always look too possessed with their equipment to enjoy something so frivolous as Old Style…)
Since this is a confession and not a lecture, I’ll let y’all know what we fat-cat musicians plan on doing with the few scant bucks that come in from the ‘Taper For Dollars’. We’ll use the money to offset the hotel, gas, and food expenses we incur while traveling on tour. If you must know, we don’t make a lot of money and the bills add up. Since no one wants actually purchase the same CD they can download for free, a few spare bucks from any source helps support our touring habit.
On the far side of the opinion spectrum, some of the other esteemed respondents are gleefully off their rockers. My personal favorite went as far as to pass the blame for theft right back to the musicians:
MI: If artists are real anal, like Metallica, and want all the dinero for their 12 songs, then that is their choice. If the artists are truly for their fans, then they would allow us to get their music for free, realizing it’s hard for us ‘little people’ to afford much…
Padre Says: Before I get on with berating him for the rest of his ignorance, I would like to point out that Metallica has earned their reputation as a ‘fan first’ band from day one. When they released a small collection of covers in 1988, they had the art director print ‘Garage Days Re-Revisited: The $5.98 EP’ on the cover as insurance so Electra Records couldn’t boost the price beyond what they thought the album was worth. Beyond that, Metallica has always had a ‘taper friendly’ policy at their shows. Not that any tapers from our scene have touting any crisp mixes of Master Of Puppets>Drumz>Damage Inc. from Dallas 98. So get off their dick…
That aside, MI, I can’t be too hard on you. Your wide-eyed innocence hasn’t been tainted by the realities of the adult world. I sincerely would like to think you still believe that living expenses, such as Mercedes-Benz cars, dental insurance, and maintaining a drug habit are free. Perhaps, Sonny, they would be if I happened to be married to a dentist who’s father owned a Mercedes dealership. (I’ll worry about the drugs on my own time- somewhere in between watching the kids from her first marriage and seducing her secretary at the dental office.)
However Mr. I, (if that is your real name…) the music you propose to be made free for you ‘little people’ cost us musicians real live ‘money’ to produce. Take the Big Wu’s last effort Spring Reverb as an example. After adding up all incidental costs, (including, but not limited to, buying out our retched contract with Phoenix Rising, band salary, producer agreement, legal advice for said producer’s agreement, negative income for the shows we didn’t play for a month while we where recording, the actual recording expenses, monthly bills such as credit card debts and car insurance, food, beer, dental care, etc.) we spent well over fifty thousand dollars. Fifty thousand fucking dollars. Most of which we never really had in our pockets to spend. All because we wanted to make a kick-ass record without our creativity being stifled. Or worse, having some jerk-off with a checkbook tell us that a song doesn’t sound ‘radio friendly’ enough.
To hear that musicians can’t achieve the exalted status of ‘true artists’ unless they run up bills higher than the U.S. trade deficit is insane. Believe it or not, fame and riches (whatever that may be) are a million-to-one gamble. But rent happens every month. Especially to ‘true artists’.
Not that MI wanted to leave me in a lurch. I don’t think he wants me and my ilk to be utterly destitute.
MI: True artists should make most of their money of their live performances, where they deliver their art directly to the fans…
I could go on about the gross underestimation of adjusted gross income, but that’s for another column. Let’s just say that playing in touring band is no get rich quick scheme. Additionally, I harbor suspicions that if a guy won’t pony up a lousy ninety-nine cents to buy a tune off of Applemusic.com, he isn’t about to pop for five ten dollar tickets and take his pals out to see the Big Wu.
Most of what I’ve written has more to do with the very real price we musicians pay when people steal music on their computer. If I was to tell you the truth, I would suggest that we go back to stealing music the old fashioned way: The Five Finger Discount. Now we all know this is really wrong. But at least shoplifters lay their dicks on the line. You know, risk something to get something else. And why not? After all, the poor chumps that made the music in the first place risk more than they have to record it. That being said, can’t the average music thief put their criminal record where their intentions lay?
Besides, things not worth risking something aren’t worth much. If you disagree, go tell your loved one about your adversity to risk… Then get your sorry ass good and comfy in the doghouse. Tell’em Padre sent you.
I don’t want to end this little ditty with mere rants about the injustices of the music business. Shit man, this court case is about FREEDOM, not petty theft. So I want to leave you with my favorite Talk Back response as a parting gesture:
JV: Everyday our rights to privacy are being stripped away. If I want to sit at home sticking Crayons in my ears dressed up in a chicken outfit while me and my friends take turns treating objects as women, that’s nobody’s business… **********
I was caught with my pants down this month. Since we’re touring the East coast with the Recipe, I didn’t have my collection of cookbooks to scour. But I do have a cell phone. So I called my reliable friend from Chicago, the one, the only, Tony Santosaprano. You may recall his generations-old Spaghetti sauce that I included a few columns back. If you tried it, you know why I call Tony when I’m looking for something to eat.
Hands down, Santosaprano makes the best pork chops in the Midwest. He served this recipe at the Big Wu Family Reunion last May. They’re easy to make and better than anything from the local steak house.
TONY SANTOSAPRANO’S PORK CHOPS:
2 LBS. PORK CHOPS (FEEL FREE TO USE THE MARINADE BELOW WITH BEEF OR CHICKEN)
5 CLOVES GARLIC, MINCED
2 TSP OLIVE OIL
3 TBLSP WORCHESTERSHIRE SAUCE
1/3 CUP BALSAMIC VINEGAR
1/2 CUP BROWN SUGAR
12 OZ CHICKEN STOCK
TABASCO, SALT, PEPPER, AND OREGANO TO TASTE
Mix together, and marinate the pork in the fridge for at least a couple of hours. Cook at 350 degrees for a half an hour, or better yet, grill them. Serve with Old Style… *****
Speaking of that fully kreausened nectar, this month’s Old Style Zealot is our newest roadie and taper for hire, Joe Tolbert. Joe forks over a cut of the CDs he sells when he’s not busy hauling my bass rig to and from the tour van. Theoretically speaking, Joe is paying me to carry my crap so I can drink beer after the show. (Joe hasn’t figures out that he’s being played for a sucker yet so don’t him…)
Remember: Don’t steal music, drink your milk, and be nice to your mother. Go in peace, Padre