Monday, February 04, 2008

Ask Not What the Recording Industry Can Do For You...

One can not easily avoid the cries of the coming doom looming for the record industry, and while the industry's concern is valid, whats missing seems to be the human side of the story--i.e. what happens to those whom the industry depends on for their income: the bands, the stores and especially the fans. Naturally, being a music collector even since I was 10, I feel I have supported the industry in a huge way buying everything I thought Id like. My favorites I bought over and over in every format--just take a look at the photos and you get the idea of the depth of my obsession. Lately it seems the only major label stuff I've been buying are old LPs which have not been reissued, and a good many reissues of excellent music which, unfortunately, have to be imported from Europe or Japan due to lack of a US release. Many of the current bands I like are on small labels or release their own stuff, and independent releases now even make the charts almost regularly. Do I feel I owe the RIAA anything? Have they enriched my life or merely lined their pockets with the $17.98 CD?

Should I feel sympathy for an organization that bites the hand that feeds it as they go after the evil downloaders? Well, I guess i am sort of biased being a label, albeit a small one, who is always looking for a friend or support somewhere, but still the RIAA never asked me to join their little party and they are winning no friends, other than attorneys, with their actions. It seems to me the only thing these trade associations like the RIAA and the IFPI, their European counterpart, are interested in is lining their pockets and giving consumers less choices. Their arrogance and smug, hypocritical attitudes can only add to their downturn in revenue, and that may be their well deserved just dessert.

The mighty IFPI declares a 40% rise in paid digital downloads last year (not nearly enough to offset loss of CD sales) and states illegal downloads outnumber paid downloads 20 to 1. They declare war on piracy and proudly declare over 10,000 lawsuits have been started against downloaders world wide. Their mission: "to safeguard the rights of record producers." Yes, that damn IFPI sure hates music thieves! Well, maybe only certain thieves they can get money from! If you have any CDs from the EU, and look closely at the center ring, you will see the tiny IFPI stamp that asserts "we belong to the IFPI and are not stealing music". You would think so anyway, since they state that is one of their prime objectives and reason for being. Well, it turns out sometimes the IFPI gives a shit and sometimes they look the other way! Can you believe it? I can. Every CD released on the notorious bootleg lable Radioactive has that IFPI stamp, and when I contacted the IFPI informing them that retailers were claiming the Radioactive issue of George Brigman's Jungle Rot CD had to be authorized because it bore the IFPI stamp, they simply said "that's not what it means at all". Would they be ashamed their valuable stamp was legitimizing bootlegs, and being used to claim authenticity? Of course not, they didnt lift a finger and let the bloodletting continue until James Plummer was hauled into court and made a public fool of by the Hendrix estate! Of course, Mr. Plummer's partner Steven Carr bailed only to plunder more Amercian artists with his new venture which once again most likely still has the IFPI stamp of approval.

The US IFPI, the RIAA, has an impressive record of success against consumers. Here, a Minnesota woman is fined $222,000 or over $9000 per song, for 24 songs she may have shared. In the current day's equivalent of "caught with the meat in your mouth" she was assessed $9000+ for sharing (or intending to share) a banal Journey song! The cynic in me says it served her right, having that crap on her computer, but I feel the societal embarassment was certainly punishment enough! It almost seems as if the RIAA is a modern Gestapo or thought police as once you look at the cases closely, the offenders only had to place their songs in a shared folder. Recently, the Washington Post created an brouhaha by stating that in an Arizona case the RIAA was claiming merely uploading purchased songs to a computer was a crime. The RIAA cleared the air by blowin smoke and claiming it was not illegal to rip the songs, but it was illegal to "place them in a shared folder". The mere act of placing them in a shared folder was declared illegal, not the actual sharing! Hey, revenue is down, and you have to resort to creative marketing, right? Look for new ways to increase income--you know get a piece of the band's merchandise sales, go after kids, old ladies, and music consumers, maybe rip off a few bands legally, or maybe just dont pay them!

The actions of the RIAA more than anything point out that they are a self sustaining entity and feed off the blood of consumers. As major labels ax their budgets for devoloping talent, trim their roster and court blockbuster hits, they leave the door open for real music and real musicians to sell their own wares without pandering to the lowest common denominator and conceding to label demands. Today's music scene is not in bad shape, the music industry is. Fueled by lust for profits, their attempts show they are willing to extract exorbitant settlements from everyday people with modest means to further their own parasitc existence and make some lawyers rich. As I said, the music world continues to be varied, exciting and constantly changing, and the internet provides artists with a valuable tool to sell their own work. Just look at the Bona Fide lineup, George Brigman, the Left, and Waitin On A Train, as proof that you can find great music if you dig a bit!
The music industry may soon have to change its tune if it wants to hang around. I am reminded of the great 70s campaign "Home Taping is Killing Music" directed at the makers of blank cassette tape. The crossbones below the cassette hailed impending doom! Instead, cassette culture helped the spread and creation of new music and new concepts. The strength of the RIAA lobby even got a tax passed on blank tapes! One now has to look to the Digial Millenium Copyright Act and its DRM encoding and wonder how could the industry being regulated write its own law? Surely, I dont think the RIAA or the IFPI has demonstrated they have the artists and consumers interests in mind, only their bottom line. Sounds weird doesnt it? The industry effectively writing a law that regulates their business. Hmmm...what kind of country would stand for that?

Next time you are thinking of buying a CD maybe you better check the indy shop or the used bin. Maybe a local band selling their own cd deserves your support. Better yet go check them out live. The impending doom exists for those who have encouraged it and noone else. Its time to wave our freak flags high and to support those who deserve our support! Ask not what the recording industry can do for you, but what you can do to the recording industry! Like buy more Bona Fide Cds, please!

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