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Big labels or Google - who is the songwriters' worst enemy?

Digital rights raise artists' hackles

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Who are you listening to at the moment and what new music interests you the most?

Luca Mundaca, a fabulous new Brazilian jazz artist who plays great guitar, sings like an angel and writes amazing melodies. I have no idea what she is singing about since I don’t speak Portuguese. But the songs knock me out anyway. That’s what I call great songwriting.

Where do you think that songwriters are going to end up in the next five to ten years? What role do you think they will have in the music business?

Songwriters were the number one losers of income in the US economy in 2004, with music piracy taking its toll, so we are used to tough times. I hope to see a bottom form somewhere in the steep drop in record sales and a rebound sometime in the next ten years. If that doesn’t happen I guess we will all end up sleeping in the subway!

The real role of songwriters in the music business is to add meaning to people’s lives. That is not a job you want to leave to amateurs. It is a job for professionals.

Do any of these companies ever come to you to ask what you think or try to make a deal with your members?

Yes, we have had companies come to us about deals. But that is because our catalogue administration programme has some hit songs that you must have to compete in the market. So in terms of whether these services are "reaching out" to smaller labels and music publishers, the SGA is not a good gauge.

If you had to rank the top five online companies, meaning the most friendly to songwriters, which ones would they be and why?

Songwritersguild.com would be number one *grin*. After that I am not a fan of any particular online company since I have had to spend the last three years of my life fighting them in rate court to try to get a decent interactive streaming rate - which we finally won! But I am a subscriber to Rhapsody and I check out MySpace a lot since I have so many friends who are artists and in bands. MySpace, at least, has exposed a lot of indie music.

And the five worst?

Whoever the top five p2p sites are today. And just for the record, I am not a fan of Google because I believe its search algorithm reduces all art to the lowest common denominator. That’s a real culture-killer if ever I saw one.

Anti-copyright organisations often try to tell musicians and the music industry that they have their eye on the wrong ball, that they can offset the decline in CD sales by selling another T-shirt to fans who would be easy to find because they are all on email.

Songwriters don’t sell T-shirts. We’re too ugly and we dress funny. Songwriter fan clubs meet in phone booths so the email lists are too small to monetize effectively.

But seriously folks, songwriters don’t sell concert tickets or ancillary merchandise. We make our money on record sales and radio airplay. Or, we used to make our money on record sales. Illegal downloading ended that. Now we are looking for new jobs.

The most infuriating thing about being lectured by anti-copyright groups about how songwriters need to get a new "business plan" is who gave them the right to tell us how to make a living? Who are they to say we shouldn’t fight to defend our rights? In truth, I find their suggestions unbelievably arrogant and self-serving.

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