WHY ARTISTS WILL LOSE ANY BATTLE AGAINST THE RECORDING INDUSTRY, THE TECH INDUSTRY AND EVERYONE ELSE WHO CHOOSES TO EXPLOIT THEM

One of the current “hot-topic” issues artists are facing is how their ability to control their compositions/works is being threatened, co-opted and in possible danger of being entirely hi-jacked by an amalgamation of interests in the tech community. This list includes such ubiquitous names as Google, Spotify, Pandora, etc- not one of which would shed a solitary tear were the very concepts of copyright or intellectual property utterly and perpetually obliterated, lickety-split.

These companies are (in case one had been living under a rock for the past 20 years) megalithic, with extraordinary power, influence and fantastic coffers laden with money. They know exactly what they’re doing; how to mobilize, how/when to put up, shut up and lawyer up. They employ cadres of lobbyists and understated, well-groomed, well-educated individuals who received Ivy League educations in little more than how to roundly trounce anyone at anything with grave and spectacular finality. 

Some of these companies have the potential to control a good deal more than merely the specific business in which they’ve created a monopoly. Google, as an example, is diversifying and spreading its slimy tentacles into every potential area of future growth/mass-scale revenue generation/global influence from information collection to military contracting to robotics. They could probably underwrite the finances of a medium-large country. If they haven’t already.

Early last month, a guy I know started a grassroots petition/campaign to petition for new legislation providing greater protection to artists, intellectual property, copyright law, etc. He also wanted to call public attention to these issues and raise the general level of awareness to them.

I was discussing this campaign yesterday with a friend and he happened to mention that a few enterprising individuals in the artistic/musical community are splintering and forming their own groups in order to address artists’ rights, proper copyright controls, better quality lunch meats, etc.

Well, dig that.

Artists are a funny breed. They’re each such unique personalities and yet, they all react to certain things the exact same way. They’re so predictable, you can clock them with a stopwatch, if you know what to look for.

Anyway, here we have issues that affect all artists- effectively, the gradual dissolution of our ability to support ourselves via the fruits of our labors, courtesy of sociopathic, gargantuan and relentlessly evil corporate interests. The endgame to this (should it ever come) will potentially have devastating consequences for every last one of us, as well as everyone else who depends on us financially. 

Logically, one would think we, as artists, could all see the common ground we share, have that breathtaking flash of what Zen Buddhists call Satori- or ultimate realization; dispense with our petty differences and join forces. 

But where artists are concerned, things don’t quite work that way. Because, underneath whatever self-created veneer they hide, behind that heroic persona of themselves they labor so intently to present to the rest of the world, artists are intrinsically egotistical, infantile, insecure splitters who can’t find it in themselves to look at the bigger picture- especially not if it means stifling their egocentricity for even a fraction of a second. No matter that the reality of this particular bigger picture is being literally forced on them by way of a massive threat to their present and future livelihood. 

Benjamin Franklin said, “Listen to reason, or she’ll make you feel her”. The brutal- for lack of a better word- rape- the artistic community is presently enduring, (and here, the term ‘community’ encapsulates creators in every form of art or media which can be copied, exploited and represented in whatever context or form an exploiter wishes) bears Franklin’s statement out perfectly. 

And yet, with all the above notwithstanding, artists- those very same people who permit record companies, tech companies, managers and every other solitary soul who speedily approacheth them, waving a contract, check or wad of dollar bills, to have their collective way with them (until said artist can no longer stand upright)- still can’t form ranks. 

As the saying goes; they all want to be chiefs and but no one wants to be an Indian. And if they can’t be chiefs where they presently are, they’ll go somewhere else to start their own group, so they can be the chief there.

Not only won’t artists band together around a common cause, they will make a lot of incredibly transparent excuses as to why they won’t (none of which will pertain even remotely to the actual cause itself; ie- I’m jealous that the guy who thought this up got all the attention and I didn’t; I don’t like his music; he fucked my girlfriend; I fucked his wife, etc, ad infinitum).

Right now, the onus is on our community to challenge huge corporate interests- the tech industry, the recording industry, Google, etc (while also generating some attention to our plight in the public sector). The massive corporations which stand in opposition to this (and opposing is exactly what they are doing) are a thousand times more prepared than we are for this, or any other conflict. They have people who sit around and strategize about stuff like this. Meanwhile, here we are putting our best foot forward by fighting amongst ourselves, creating bigger and bigger rifts and greater divisions until there’s no longer any group left to address what we originally set out to do. 

No Indians- just a bunch of chiefs. I have a feeling that at Google, there is an overriding sense of who the chiefs are and who are the Indians.

We don’t need squabbling, we don’t need tiresome ideological splits- we need camaraderie and we need support. We need legislation- new laws to protect us from scavenging entities that see our work as their fair play and us as their lunch. 

We need a specific agenda, a timetable for getting things accomplished. We need strength- the strength that comes with great numbers of people. We need organization.

Oops- theres a word you don’t want to throw at an artist. Artists generally eschew organization on principle, seeing it as a means by which their rights can be violated by someone they don’t trust and therefore, resist it both tooth and nail. Artists are about as interested in organization as they are in having clean dishcloths or a day job at FedEx. 

Ironically enough, the latter option is where all of us may wind up if we don’t start extricating our heads from our asses.

Some more fun fact about artists. They believe they’re leaders, but they’re really followers. Although they will insist otherwise, they love being lead around by the nose, especially if there’s a carrot somewhere in the equation.

Artists make terrific activists- albeit, after they’ve become fabulously wealthy and are then, able to support causes which occur exactly halfway around the world from wherever they presently reside. 

Artists also have attention spans about as long and robust as those of fruit flies. And, once they begin to exponentially lose interest in the cause they’re backing (or have simply prioritized certain other things slightly higher- such as getting laid) and have concomitantly, completely screwed themselves (because they consciously chose not to consolidate, organize and mobilize), they make the world’s best victims. Artists- all artists- love to complain, especially about how they were, at one point or another, mortally, grievously wronged.

A wronged artist is one of nature’s most ardent and evocative complainers- especially if he was masterfully taken to the cleaners and then, instead of protecting himself, did something breathtakingly brilliant about it, like, er…..nothing. I’ll shoulder my share of that cross for the complaining I’ve done after getting shafted, consistently avoiding the dictates of common sense and thereupon, getting shafted again.

There is absolutely only one cool thing about reactionary wing nuts. No matter how repellent their viewpoints, when push comes to shove, they can put aside any petty, niggling differences between their respective ideological platforms to unite for a common cause. From a mild-mannered Neo-con to a red-blooded Ku Klux Klan member, they know how to form ranks when the situation calls for an army. By proxy, the implication is that your average artist is far less clever or resourceful than your average gun-totin’, Mein Kampf quotin’, queer-hatin’, Creationist, racist militia member. 

The reality is that our common enemy is completely aware of our Achilles Heel. He knows damn well that we lack the gene intrinsic to organizing or teaming up. He also knows it’s precisely that inability that is going to make his job just that much easier. We’re playing right into his hands and he knows it. In fact, I will guarantee you dollars to donuts that he’s betting the farm on it.

And so it goes. The aforementioned petition may crack 10,000 signatories. Another artist’s advocacy group has 615 likes on Facebook- perhaps they’ll get a few more. God knows how many other artists are off creating their own little groups which will attend to their own personal agendas and needs. 

Good luck defeating Goliath if all you have is a slingshot, your unwavering convictions and a handful of “Likes” on Facebook. And, when the day comes that copyrights are as free as napkins and plastic utensils at your local MacDonalds, I hope you are proud of yourselves for doing all you could in service to the greater good. Until then, unless you are ready to consolidate your interests and out away your petty differences, the big guys will keep winning and the little guys will continue complaining. 

As for me, I’ll happily be an Indian or a chief in someone else’s army- even if I have to build my own teepee. The way I see it, the cause is far more important than my all too fragile little ego.

There’s a parable about a king who gathers his three sons and shows them three twigs. He puts the twigs together in a bunch, passes the bunch of twigs to each son, asking him to break it. Each son tries, each son fails.

Then, he separates the bunch into individual twigs and hands each son a twig asking him to break it. Each son does so with great ease. The king looks at his sons and says, “Each one of these twigs represents each one of you. Together, you are strong and unbreakable; individually, you are vulnerable and easily broken. The sum of you is mightier than each individual. After I die, I’m charging all three of you to rule my kingdom together- as a team”.

I have no idea how the story ended. Here’s hoping the sons weren’t artists.

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16 Responses to WHY ARTISTS WILL LOSE ANY BATTLE AGAINST THE RECORDING INDUSTRY, THE TECH INDUSTRY AND EVERYONE ELSE WHO CHOOSES TO EXPLOIT THEM

  1. As always, I’m afraid you’re right. Artists are just a little better than the rest of the world at being egotistic, and way less capable to fight to defend their egoes. But wait.. I am an artist and shouldn’t say it.. :)

  2. Kevin Lightner says:

    Wow. I hope there’s valium or xanax readily available after penning this one.
    All true, but have you any solutions suggested?
    Some are willing to take their 20 cents per $15 dollar CD sale.
    (or 3 cents per Itune sale.)
    Those that aren’t best find a viable distribution platform and lawyer up with protections.
    But as you know, exposure is king and promotion a devil of it’s own.
    Where does an artist draw the line between acceptable rape and all out abuse?

    • That exposure argument is a popular one- which also gets turned around (like an aikido move- I know you’re familiar with those) and used as leverage against artists in order to convinced them to give up their rights. As far as the question you asked, my only answer is- this is highly subjective. Some people can endure “acceptable rape”, some can even justify “all out abuse” to themselves, however, the same standard should not be forced upon, or applicable to everyone. The fact is, many artists want the freedom to determine their own destinies and similarly, the right to determine who gets to exploit their work, how they do the exploiting and what, if any compensation will be involved. There are virtually no safeguards for artists in this arena, these must be established as proper legislation which protects copyright and all intellectual property.

  3. Brian Kehew says:

    Interesting idea – what about United Artists – the film actors who broke the lock on contract actors, making actors FREE AGENTS for each project. The film companies hire them per project and no more. Google that history!

    B

  4. Michael Beinhorn says:

    Actually, their model and, at very least, their intent has been something I’ve been interested in for awhile. UA was created at a time when actors were being figuratively raped by the studios they were under contract to. Of course, it was like the Wild West back then- performers were more intrepid, the film/recorded entertainment industry was relatively new and there wasn’t much of a rule book.

  5. Kevin Lightner says:

    Good answers to ponder, Michael. (and hi Brian.. I didn’t know you were here. :)
    UA started a good idea, but that was a long time ago, especially considering it was Charlie Chaplin’s idea.
    It simply wasn’t continued as conceived. Much like sports where a player has a contract, but the contract holder then sells it to someone else irrespective of the artist’s wishes.

    From all I can see, the music industry has flipped- now one makes a record and gets pennies, but live performance and marketing is where the money’s at.
    I use Steely Dan as an example for this hypothesis of this 180 degree.
    They’d record the best into the best gear and touring wasn’t even considered.
    KISS and the Grateful Dead as opposite examples.
    A couple low ranking “airplay” hits but major tours for their bread and butter.

    It’s tough. It puts off artists from recording or at least recording to the degree as it used to be practiced. Not everyone can afford to have their tracks mastered, well or at all.

    Crazy thought as it might sound, I suggest that the popularity of wearing earbuds or headphones has overshadowed a dying industry, namely quality component stereo systems.
    So downloaders and CD buying patrons listen with earbuds, but then yearn for a physically pounding live performance and the social environment live engagements provide.
    They want to feel the music because their in-ear exposure can’t provide it.
    This crap of a human mannequin noodling on an IPAD against their own prerecorded tracks would have been laughed at 30+ years ago and now it’s considered the norm.
    In the old days, you’d have to be a triple-threat: singer, dancer and actor.
    Now they’re pushing buttons and think they’re talents.

    In the end, I think many of the musicians who used the old standard of releasing an album and embarking on a support tour is long gone. But few of these artists can perform.
    Practice and choreography was never their forte in the first place.
    So DJs are considered musicians, artists or “producers” and the recorded mix is done with how it should sound in booming car.
    That perception has to hurt especially for people like you Mike, a true producer.
    I’m guessing more “artists” now just want an engineer and consider themselves both the artist and producer.

  6. David McLean says:

    A friend shared this on FB (where I replied and tagged various parties, including Mr. Beinhorn). In short, I can’t say that I agree this time around. I love this blog and recommend it regularly to my music pro peers, students, and the like….but with all respect, I’m not sure I’m buying this one.

    You’d really just drop your ego (complete with your ideas about exactly what the problem is and how to fix it) and simply follow someone with a large army? Like maybe Lars Ulrich? Or would that be Lawrence Lessig? Don Henley or John Perry Barow? How about Ram Samudrala?

    I don’t think you would, and we’ve never even met.

    But, hey – we’ve never even met, so what do I know? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but then please do explain to me how you can see eye to eye with both Lars AND Lawrence with zero cognitive dissonance.

    • David McLean says:

      I re-read this (while it’s still awaiting moderation) and it sounds “angry” to my ears right now. Apologies if this came off as aggressive or sarcastic. Not my intent. I just don’t see anyone of one political persuasion following someone of another….or, to be concrete, that if you agree with Lars you’d be willing to follow a movement led by Samudrala or Lessig.

      • No offense taken- we need spirited, no holds barred discussion regarding these topics, hence, your point of view is appreciated. To me, politics isn’t a deterrent to joining forces with people whose fundamental philosophy turns me off, especially if we have a point of convergence that is mutually beneficial in the bigger picture. A great many movements were born and grew with this in mind- suffragism being one which often found itself aligned with groups whose foundational principles were in radical opposition to its own. I consider that a matter of survival- once the battle is won, then it’s time to start bickering and splitting hairs over individual ideologies. One big problem is, while a few people are speaking out about issues affecting artists, there is no greater movement to represent the artists. I feel that Lars Ulrich is more of a Marie Antoinette than Eine Volksmensch, and certainly isn’t an activist- except when something affects him directly. A movement which represents artists is going to hinge on people who actually can put their own needs into a larger context and think in communal terms.

    • Replied to this in FB post.

  7. Acea Lashley says:

    We need coldplay, U2, Katy Perry, Lady GaGa… Basically the biggest artist to form up and start a retail music chain and only offer theirs and other artists music there in physical format. Apply the digital fingerprint system to each unique copy and heavily enforce anti-pirating laws. That would fix the system after a few years. All of the artists who want in on it (even the creators) can pay a starter fee, have the ability to provide enough to stock the stores, and sign over a small percentage of sales to the establishment… Or however the small details would be handled. Set a medium barrier of entry. It benefits everyone if everyone was in on it. Even the little guy.

    • Interesting idea. In order to enact it, you’d probably need a system of enforcement that could supersede Google and with their power, that’s not going to happen. The music industry is just another conquest for them and small potatoes compared to what they have cooking re; intelligence, military, government, etc.

    • Thomas Malinowski says:

      The trouble with copy protection is its long and consistent track record of failure. Time and time again, with the gradual introduction of new mediums, the accompanying anti-copying measures have been broken and/or circumvented. The only exception to this that I’m aware of is in the video game industry, but that wouldn’t hold up as an analogy here (i.e. you don’t need to be privy to your opponent’s thinking process to play chess, but you still need the music coming out of your speakers or headphones to listen to music).

      But let’s go with your approach. In your ecosystem, I assume that every sold digital copy of music bears the (hidden) signature of its buyer, making it possible to trace any (illegal or otherwise) re-distribution of the audio back to the original buyer. I can only speculate as to the severity you have in mind in “heavily enforcing anti-pirating laws”. Given the context, it sounds foreboding, if not somewhat dystopian.

      People have their personal data compromised all the time. It’s easy to imagine how it would be possible to break into someone else’s data and bootleg their copies, thereby also conveniently framing the victim. Going further, what’s to stop two conspirers from purchasing a copy of, say, Katy Perry’s latest each- each respective copy with its own unique fingerprint embedded- then reverse-engineering the underlying fingerprint mechanism by performing an automated comparison between the two copies?

      I don’t have the solution (or even the whole picture, for that matter), but I doubt this kind of approach would work, let alone find much support.

  8. Thomas Malinowski says:

    My comment above was a late response Acea Lashley’s proposal.

    On to your article. This might run the risk of being a little long-winded as well as missing the mark somewhat. I’m not a professional in the music business, but more of an outsider trying to look in.

    I think you make a strong case for the need for artists to see through their philosophical and/or political differences and band together for their common good in what appears to be an increasingly hostile climate for professional musicians.

    And that seems to call for a movement. Not just a movement of artists (there are too few), but something bigger that equally involves consumers. Raising the consciousness of the masses seems essential.

    Based on my own observations, a successful movement needs terrific PR. Some movements seem to have the odds stacked in their favor by their very nature. Take, for instance, the current ALS “ice bucket” challenge. It’s hard to deny the importance of raising awareness of degenerative illness as well as the necessary funds to combat it. But what really got it going was the “ice bucket” gimmick. It went viral, fast, and straight into everybody’s consciousness.

    Back in 2009, there was a Facebook campaign to get Rage Against The Machine into the Christmas #1 spot on the UK charts- a spot that would otherwise have been occupied by the X Factor winner of the year for its fifth consecutive year. The campaign gained sufficient traction and achieved its goal, despite the precedent and the fact that, by default, RATM is undeniably a tougher sell than X Factor.

    Common to both of these movements are their clear goals as well as an element of boldness and danger. I don’t know how well that would translate into an organization and movement for the benefit of artists, but it seems critical to draw from past success stories, even if their respective premises aren’t entirely analogous to the situation at hand.

    Like you said, there are some serious obstacles. For one thing, creative types are headstrong and tend to resist (certain types of) conformity, but maybe some plan can be devised to get something substantial enough going to make a difference. Timing may be key; when Spotify revealed last year how little it pays musicians and songwriters, and the issue received wide attention, then that could have been used as a free boost in momentum.

    In any event, I appreciate your articles as well as the opportunity to weigh in, if only to form some clarity on my own thoughts on the issue.

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