Defending the artist is a bad thing?

RapReviews.com writer Adam “B” Bernard recently wrote an entry on his Adam’s World blog simply titled “Joe Biden is Down w/ The RIAA” — as if that alone is a damning enough statement to disqualify the Democratic ticket from receiving any reasonable person’s vote in the upcoming presidential election.  In his first paragraph, he accused Senator Biden of being “in bed” with the RIAA, thus suggesting that the Recording Industry Association of America should rightfully and universally be viewed as some AIDS-infested whore.  He would go on to quote a CNET article that reported:  “Last year, Biden sponsored an RIAA-backed bill called the Perform Act aimed at restricting Americans’ ability to record and play back individual songs from satellite and Internet radio services.”  Oh, the HUMANITY!  When it was all said and done, he outright stated that he was no longer voting for Barack Obama, in no small part due to his VP pick:  the “part time lover” of the evil RIAA.  He claims he made this decision because he cares about independent artists.

I’m an independent artist.  Mr. Bernard, allow me to explain why your writing does a disservice to us.

Before I continue, however, let me state that I am a fan of your work and I believe that you truly feel having Joe Biden as our Vice President would somehow damage my career.  This is by no means a personal attack against you.  I also acknowledge that the RIAA holds the interests of major corporations over my own.  I’m certainly not trying to equate the values of the record companies who comprise the RIAA with those of the artists who may or may not be represented by said companies.  But they’re not mutually exclusive, either.  For better or worse, the RIAA’s purpose is to protect both intellectual property and First Amendment rights.  You seem to hold the position that there should be no regulation whatsoever by the recording industry, and that is a dangerous philosophy to have if you care about my livelihood.

It is the job of the recording artist to determine how much access he grants the consumer.  For example, I pay to maintain this site and let the public read it for free.  That’s a business decision on my part.  Similarly, I release what I deem to be an appropriate amount of “free” music — whether in the form of a stream/download, mixtape, or radio single — in hopes of making new fans and enticing people to buy my albums.  We call that creating a buzz.  In an attempt to create this buzz, an artist may even decide to give out his entire album for free.  Conversely, an artist might be so confident in his ability to sell that he’ll charge for the air he breathes.  This is all at the discretion of the artist and any companies with which he’s involved.  It is the task of the consumer to decide if the artist did a sufficient enough job at “selling” the product.  Ultimately, the consumer must ask himself if the artist has made the case that the product will be worth his purchase.  This is how the music industry, and dare I say capitalism, works.

We know the bootlegging issue can be a double-edged sword.  As you argue, P2P networks and similar services can create exposure that wouldn’t otherwise be there for a new artist.  But they also take money out of our pockets, which can prevent us from creating new music.  Since you care about us so much, realize that we’re more hurt than major labels by bootlegging, because in our world every sale counts.  At the end of the day, us artists get to decide how much of our work we should be paid for.  If you don’t like the price tag, don’t buy it.  Just because you can get something for free doesn’t mean you have the right to.  The RIAA’s enforcement of this principle does not stifle the artist’s opportunity to succeed.  If an artist fails to get over, it’s because he failed to work the market properly.  And I don’t mean to trivialize that — that’s no easy task.  That’s why we need regulation to ensure that the artist has a fair chance, and isn’t deprived of it by well-meaning people convinced that stealing his music benefits him.

Now, I know I’m supposed to “keep it real” and hold the us versus them Hip Hop mentality which says I should be at odds with EVERYTHING, even the industry I work in and by extension my own well-being.  But despite the fact that “Perform Act” bears a striking resemblance to “Patriot Act,” recording songs off the radio for the purpose of illegal redistribution should be restricted.  If the intention was for you “listen but don’t touch” and you have issue with that, blame it on the artist who chose to release his music that way.  Don’t blame it on the recording industry for protecting its investment, and for the love of God, don’t blame it on the candidate who actually supports our rights.  What a concept!  That CNET article mentioned earlier actually chastised Biden for holding “pro-copyright views.”  Are you kidding me?

Adam, you now claim you’re likely voting for a third party candidate because of this.  While that is your right as an American citizen, maybe you should consider the fact that the Vice President doesn’t actually have that much power.  In fact, if Biden’s team loses the election, he remains in the Senate where he’ll have the ability to vote on and sponsor those horrifying bills that defend intellectual property rights.  If he wins, he gets to sit in a chair in the front of the room and break ties.  Meanwhile, the real reason us independent musicians are suffering — the state of the economy — will continue to worsen if enough people like you do not vote for the one viable presidential candidate who just might steer us away from the failed policies of the past eight years.

Just something to think about, from a recording artist to a guy who writes about them.

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5 Responses to Defending the artist is a bad thing?

  1. Adam B says:

    Hey, just caught your response. First off, thanks for reading. Second, I’d like to address one item you brought up:

    “I release what I deem to be an appropriate amount of “free” music — whether in the form of a stream/download, mixtape, or radio single — in hopes of making new fans and enticing people to buy my albums. ”

    The bill Biden enacted makes it impossible for you to have “free” music available on satellite radio or internet radio once you’re associated with the RIAA because the bill makes it so those stations have to pay the RIAA (bear in mind, they’re paying the RIAA, not you) for the right to play those songs. That’s my big issue here. Satellite radio and internet radio should be a haven for artists, but because of Biden’s bill it’s now a graveyard.

    The RIAA has only been around for 50 years. Artists did just fine before they were around and would do just fine if they were wiped off the planet.

  2. Pizon says:

    No problem, Adam. Like I said, I’m a fan.

    I’m not sure what you mean by the bill making it impossible to have “free” music on the radio. When I say free in this context, I mean free in the sense that listeners don’t have to pay specifically to hear the song itself when it comes on the radio. That’s how all radio — whether terrestrial, satellite, or Internet — operates. I’ve worked in Internet radio, and indeed the station did have to pay fees to play licensed music on the air. The fees are also so that publishing companies like ASCAP can pay out royalties to artists when their songs are played. The money was made back from advertising. You can argue that not all Internet radio stations will be able to make enough money on advertising to compensate, but those are the stations with no listeners who likely wouldn’t be on the RIAA’s radar to begin with. Satellite radio charges subscription fees, so they’re already making money that way. I disagree with the RIAA suing XM just for having recording capability — that’d be like suing Sony for having a Record button on a boombox — but the fact remains that technology advances are facilitating music piracy, and that’s hurting the business.

  3. Adam B says:

    Sadly, the fees, thanks to that bill, are significantly higher for the net than anywhere else which is why it’s fast becoming impossible to have internet radio.

    And honestly, I don’t think piracy hurts business at all. If you look at the music industry’s highest point it was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, when Napster was at its height. People were downloading, but also buying. Artists were going diamond even with their work being freely traded by everyone on Napster. The labels love to blame downloading, but personally I think if they had better artists people would be buying the albums.

    If you want to look towards a bigger enemy of the artists look to iTunes. People will gladly pony up 99 cents for a single and not buy an album now that the option is available. Kid Rock showed everyone how that works when he refused to put his work on iTunes and sold a boatload of copies of his album because of it.

    PS – Great convo. I hope others join in.

  4. Pizon says:

    I view the downloading issue like the chicken or the egg dilemma. You say people are downloading albums illegally because labels are not putting out good artists. From the industry’s perspective, most labels and artists are not putting out good albums because people aren’t buying them. Instead, they focus on singles and ringtones, because those do sell. It’s gotten to the point that some artists are being offered single-only deals. We’re now skipping albums altogether.

    Major labels should be in a state of panic, but they’re riding the iTunes wave for all its worth. They’re suffering, but 99 cents add up. Unfortunately, that model isn’t as successful for the independent artist. Granted, I’m one of the few who still puts out solid, cohesive albums and my fanbase knows that, but I don’t sell nearly as many downloads as I do CDs. This is not because people aren’t downloading my music. It’s because the people who do see no reason to pay for something when they can get the same exact thing for free. Quite frankly, the only reason most people buy music off iTunes or other sites is because they’re either too lazy or don’t know how to download it for free. This category of people not “in the know” usually does not include those hip to underground or independent music. And like I said earlier, every sale counts for us because we operate on a much smaller scale. Luckily, there are those who realize owning the CD is more gratifying than some mp3s (we get those types more in our crowd), but in today’s fast food “me me me, now now now” society, too many people are willing to sacrifice that quality for convenience. As a result, even CD sales are lower than they should be for us, the independent artists who pour our hearts and souls into making classic front-to-back albums. So, we’re definitely hurt by the piracy.

    There is so much more to be said here but it feels like I’ve already written too much. It’s just such a broad subject and there are so many possible contributing factors. However, I think we can agree that the state of the economy is a big one for any business. Things will be better than they are now if we can bounce back from this impending recession. That brings me back to my original point about electing the right candidate in November.

  5. David says:

    I learned a lot from your blog on the RIAA. I still try to get CDs over mp3s. But sometimes mp3 cover songs and great myspace pics actually keep a band in my head months or years after I’ve first heard them. Still CD cover art and extras and even listening to an artist live first have fruited some awesome CDs. Have you read the law? It and Joe Biden seem like they make a lot of sense…

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