Friday, April 24, 2009

Thoughts On: Stealing

Taken from a response I posted here.


Lots of talk on this thread about the role of RIAA/labels/music in the context of file sharing. For a good expose on how the music industry found itself in the horns of this dilemma, check out "The Way The Music Died". It is well done, fair, and thought provoking.

I've lived in Nashville, TN since 1999 and for most of my time here, I had no aspirations for being an artist but was more involved in the session scene. Nash-vegas was once home to a thriving music industry comprised of a tenuous relationship between artists, labels, and songwriters. I joined ASCAP ( American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers ) in the early 2000's and have realized mechanical royalties on songs I've written and co-written. I've played on a slew of custom albums ( read: low-budget ) where I played drums, sang BGVs, arranged, wrote string arrangements, programming, etc. I also received payouts from the Musician's Union for playing drums on "Shadowlands" on this album. And prior to all this, I played percussion for a series on The Learning Channel. Why all this "bragging"?

Because I've only earned about $100 in royalties for 2 songs that were recorded on a limited release ( @1000 copies pressed ). And the payout from the Musician's Union for playing 1 track on a nationally released, major-label album? About $45/year in mail-money. Now that I'm no longer pursuing music in a professional capacity, I can comfortably say: There is NO MORE MONEY in making music. Not in the established model. Some of this is the fault of greedy label execs. But a lion's share of the blame also belongs in the laps of people who view "songs" as algorithmic sequences of 1's and 0's - coldly detached from the hard work of people that are never seen and almost never recognized; that these products are somehow the inherent right of the digital denizens.

In this volatile economic environment, I've seen my friends lives reduced to panic-inducing shambles as a once dependable - albeit flawed - system of monetary compensation dried up seemingly overnight. The closest thing to retirement for these individuals is the steady stream of royalties on a large body of work. It is serendipitous income and a far cry from what I read between the lines of most protestations of the "right-to-file-sharing" adherents - that somehow the music industry is getting its just desserts for a century of decadent living. These friends of mine are living lives far from opulence, even when the DOW was well neigh 12,000. I think my engineer friend put it best, "its like complete strangers coming up to my supper table and stealing food off my kid's plate."

Some may argue that the internet levels the playing field, making it easier for unknown artists to be discovered. That maybe true, though I'm skeptical that any singular source of discovery will not necessarily homogenize. Fact is, it takes many talented people to create good music: songwriters to write the songs, engineers to capture quality sounds, producers to guide the artistic vision, mixers to blend the constituent elements into a complete musical thought, mastering engineers to combine disparate vignettes into a cohesive whole. These people are talented and deserve to work. I've heard some good indie music online...but the quality sucks. My bias is observed. Consumer electronics has done much to put power in the hands of the many, but when you see a professional at work, these devices seems like crude toys. It is an inspiring thing to "watch" the creation of an album.

Some may also argue that these poor folks should suck it up and get real jobs like everyone else. News flash: you assume that they don't already. If we adhere to the thinking that art is not worth compensation, I would ask if we would ever stop paying professional athletes just because we can toss a ball around every once in a while? What if the teeth of the digital age set its edges on your career? In many cases, it already has. We should not wait for higher courts to legislate what ultimately is a moral decision: taking a product for free when it is meant to be purchased, regardless of distribution methodology, is stealing. Period.

I understand that some will disagree with me. But before you do, I invite you to come to Nashville, TN. I'll give you the southern hospitality tour of the city and the surrounding areas. I'll show you the historic points, serve you some sweet tea, and top it all off with a trip to some of the songwriters and engineers most affected by greed in its many forms. I invite you to explain your rationale to them.



John McConda said...

Hey Zach, great post. It's especially informative to have someone's perspective from the inside on this issue.

I got here through your post to Heusser's blog. I'm another tester who loves playing music, though I'm still one of those playing around with the "crude toys" in that department... :-)

Zach Fisher said...

Hey John!

Great to "meet" you! We should start a band.

We could use some kind of testing nomenclature in our name. Something like, "Ad Roc Testing" or "The Unexpected Results". If we were an 80's cover band, we could call ourselves "AGYLE MANIFESTO".

We could play soaring, guitar-driven power ballads like "Why Doncha Pair With Me", "I'm Feelin' Scrummy", and "Tools for Fools".

Seriously, though. I'd love to hear your stuff! Oh, and I'd love to talk shop, too.