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

Digital rights raise artists' hackles

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Do you find that there are a lot of self-appointed music industry experts who have never sold a record? I was sneered at by Eben Moglun at Future of Music Policy Summit II in 2001 for questioning the effect of piracy on independent artists and I was told more or less that I was a primitive thinker because I didn’t see that declining CD sales would be made up by merchandise.

I was also on a panel with Corynne McSherry of the EFF at which, in shades of Karl Rove, she wedged the audience by asking the crowd whether "Silicon Valley" was going to let "Hollywood" push it around. Thankfully, the "Silicon Valley" fans and the "Hollywood" fans hadn't been tailgating or painting themselves funny colours. [Editor's note: And if "Silicon Valley" wouldn't listen to "Hollywood", would "they" listen to musicians in Bollywood, Miami, Seattle, Austin, New Orleans, London, Harlem, in no particular order?] Have you had similar experiences?

There do seem to be a lot of people trying to make the rules who never played the game. I have had some interesting back and forth on some panels but I must say that the most interesting panel I ever witnessed was at the Leadership Music Digital Summit a couple of years back. The subject was how the music biz could "compete with free".

For some reason there was an actual economist on the panel who was totally silent throughout until the very last when he spoke up and said that anyone who thinks there is a business model that competes with free is out of his mind. In any capitalist society, consumers are taught from cradle to grave to always get the best "deal" they can, and no deal beats free.

I mention his comment only because it was the first time that I ever saw these "self-appointed music industry experts" ever called on any of their malarkey by a real expert and the discussion was concluded in one sentence.

If you had to pick the most important issue of 2009 for songwriters, what would it be?

Same as every year for the past ten. Illegal downloading. If I may quote a real economist, “Nothing competes with free”.

Is rock and roll dead?

Yes, rock and roll is dead. The genre was played out by the mid-1970s but it has survived in a zombie-like fashion for 30 years past its expiration date.

Part of the charm of rock music is that practically anyone can play it. It can be written by amateurs and performed by teenagers without those difficult and expensive years of training that other forms of music require. Unfortunately, that also makes it the perfect "corporate" music.

You can get kids who don’t need money to support families or pay house notes to sign contracts that no thinking adult would sign. This allows a record label to exploit "this year’s model" for all they are worth until they reach the end of their contract and want to renegotiate for decent terms. Then they simply replace them with another teen idol. The simplicity of the music has allowed the major labels to treat recording artists like temp workers.

Hopefully, with the decline and fall of the major label system, we might finally get to see where the music really wants to go once it is released from this corporate death grip. ®

© 2008 Christian L Castle. An extended version of this interview appears here on Chris' blog. Chris wrote about a detailed analysis of Google's new book registry here. Read an extended interview with Chris here.

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