Don Henly of Eagles fame sounds off in the Washington Post with Killing the Music
He hits most of the waypoints to a good solution for the tribulations of musicians, and then sadly, bales out when it comes to fixing the problem. Hint Don: Getting legislators to force people to give you money is not the way to do it.
When I started in the music business, music was important and vital to our culture. Artists connected with their fans. Record labels signed cutting-edge artists, and FM radio offered an incredible variety of music. Music touched fans in a unique and personal way. Our culture was enriched and the music business was healthy and strong.
That's all changed.
Today the music business is in crisis. Sales have decreased between 20 and 30 percent over the past three years. Record labels are suing children for using unauthorized peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing systems. Only a few artists ever hear their music on the radio, yet radio networks are battling Congress over ownership restrictions. Independent music stores are closing at an unprecedented pace. And the artists seem to be at odds with just about everyone -- even the fans.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the root problem is not the artists, the fans or even new Internet technology. The problem is the music industry itself. It's systemic. The industry, which was once composed of hundreds of big and small record labels, is now controlled by just a handful of unregulated, multinational corporations determined to continue their mad rush toward further consolidation and merger. Sony and BMG announced their agreement to merge in November, and EMI and Time Warner may not be far behind. The industry may soon be dominated by only three multinational corporations.
The executives who run these corporations believe that music is solely a commodity. Unlike their predecessors, they fail to recognize that music is as much a vital art form and social barometer as it is a way to make a profit. At one time artists actually developed meaningful, even if strained, relationships with their record labels. This was possible because labels were relatively small and accessible, and they had an incentive to join with the artists in marketing their music. Today such a relationship is practically impossible for most artists.
In their world, music is generic. A major record label president confirmed this recently when he referred to artists as "content providers." Would a major label sign Johnny Cash today? I doubt it.
He hoes into the radio business as well, but don't get me started on my old industry and then makes a pretty fair case for why music stores are also dying in droves. I especially like his anger at being used by WalMart as a loss leader. Touch of elitism horning in there, but he has to have his pride. Then he goes for the doctor to fix it.
The music industry must also take a large amount of blame for this piracy. Not only did the industry not address the issue sooner, it provided the P2P users with a convenient scapegoat. Many kids rationalize their P2P habit by pointing out that only record labels are hurt -- that the labels don't pay the artists anyway. This is clearly wrong, because artists are at the bottom of the food chain. They are the ones hit hardest when sales take a nosedive and when the labels cut back on promotion, on signing new artists and on keeping artists with potential. Artists are clearly affected, yet because many perceive the music business as being dominated by rich multinational corporations, the pain felt by the artist has no public face.
Artists are finally realizing their predicament is no different from that of any other group with common economic and political interests. They can no longer just hope for change; they must fight for it. Washington is where artists must go to plead their case and find answers. So whether they are fighting against media and radio consolidation, fighting for fair recording contracts and corporate responsibility, or demanding that labels treat artists as partners and not as employees, the core message is the same: The artist must be allowed to join with the labels and must be treated in a fair and respectful manner. If the labels are not willing to voluntarily implement these changes, then the artists have no choice but to seek legislative and judicial solutions. Simply put, artists must regain control, as much as possible, over their music.
But that isn't going to help either. Legislators are not there to preserve defunct business models, still less those like the music business that seems intent on committing suicide.
And Don and his mates should read this from the LATimes
So not intimidated Dorm downloaders aren't fazed by recent lawsuits, they've just sharpened their skills.
On a recent weekday afternoon, a 19-year-old college freshman named Shawn sat in his dorm room at the University of Southern California and broke the law: He illegally downloaded a copyrighted song off the Internet. Shawn knows all about the record company lawsuits against those who download without permission — including more than 500 filed last month — and ongoing investigations by the Recording Industry Assn. of America into downloading activities. And he doesn't care.
"The lawsuits are a joke," Shawn says. "That doesn't stop me and my friends. It gives us something to joke about. When I'm downloading a song, I'll say, [sarcastically] 'Here I go breaking the law again. Hope I don't get sued.' "
Across town at UCLA, Jessica, a third-year sociology major, has developed a firm rule to avoid getting in trouble: "Don't share files; don't get caught." That doesn't mean, however, that Jessica has stopped downloading music. Her desktop computer in her dorm is full of songs by Britney Spears and Radiohead, all taken illegally from file-sharing services like Kazaa and Morpheus.
She noticed that the lawsuits focused on Internet users who made their song file libraries available to others and who traded more than 1,000 songs. By making her files inaccessible to other downloaders and by keeping their number well under 1,000, she feels confident she won't get sued.
Is it working? The RIAA says yes, noting that 56% of college students polled last month were supportive of the downloading crackdowns.
But recent visits to dorm rooms on the campuses of UCLA and USC revealed a student body more interested in avoiding the authorities than obeying them. Most of the students interviewed continue to download music, movies and TV shows using their universities' high-speed Internet connections unmindful of possible legal action. In their view, it's easy and available, so why not?
"The way I see it, it's only illegal if you get caught," says Shawn, who proudly notes that he shares every song file on his computer.
Students interviewed knew the name of at least one person whom they could turn to for downloading missed TV shows and a student at UCLA showed clips of everything from "Fight Club" to "Finding Nemo," all available from a menu on his computer screen.
instead of acting as a deterrent, the lawsuits have made many college students more savvy of what type of online behavior will get them noticed and what they feel they can get away with.
Earlier RIAA arguments that stealing music only hurts the artists don't carry much weight among the students: The biggest downloaders also claim to be the biggest music fans. They see themselves on the side of the artist, helping to spread the word on overlooked bands while sticking it to overpaid big-ticket acts. Shawn has a place of honor on his wall for merchandise from his favorite band, Avenged Sevenfold.
"Small bands like that make all their money from touring and merchandise anyway," he says. "They don't see any money from the sale of their albums. It's only the really big bands who are complaining about that." There's an animosity toward both the major labels and their superstar acts, whose extravagant lifestyles the students view as being funded more by greed than the love of the fans. "A lot of musicians show us their giant houses on 'MTV Cribs,' " says Nikki, a UCLA freshman, talking about the music network's hipper version of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." "Do [musicians] really think I'm hurting them if I don't buy their CD?"
Don Henly talks about the good old days of close relationships between performers and their fans; the only way they are coming back will be when musos get out from under the billion dollar umbrella and start taking risks again, providing what their fans want, at a price they can afford and using new technologies in ways that make sense. Suing the fans, suing the recording comoanies or bringing in the politicians will not cut it.