A report on the Global Entertainment And Media Summit

by Polar Levine March 4, 2002 for popCULTmedia

The legendary Les Pauls keynote address closing Day 1 of the Global Entertainment and Media Conference was the perfect bookend to that mornings activities.

The day opened with singer singer/songwriter Susan Cotch performing her song Star, a strong statement on the excesses of popstardom. It's not for the love of music, or the love of the silver screen / Too many need to be beauty queens / Everybody wants to be a star / How about being who you are (Reg.2001 S.Cotch Used by permission. All Rights Reserved).

If Star weighed in on the artist side of the current Music Wars equation -- Day 2s opening keynoter, concert promoter/label head John Scher fired some eloquent shots at the business side. His opening line How did the music industry get so screwed up? introduced a lengthy, but never uninteresting, history of the Biz since the late 60s when he became a major player. As that mild-mannered metropolitan reporter from the industrys front lines reached his concluding statements his face reddened and rage started bubbling up through his low-keyed delivery. The difference between then and now is the current lack of passion for music in the music industry. Scher expressed revulsion at the state of the industry which has been taken over by marketing and accounting types rather than music fans with a knack for business.

But back to Day 1: The Summits mastermind Steve Zuckerman fired up the packed auditorium with his own passionate call-out for reform of a music industry that, more and more, has become an oxymoron. With that he handed the mic to MediaChannels own Danny Schechter. Schechter focussed on how our creative culture is affected by media consolidation. Mainstream tastes geared to corporate profits monopolize the cultural pipeline. Yours truly was offered some space to get in a few words as well on that issue.

The weekend summit then kicked into full gear with a broad menu of issues concerning music and film in the digital age.

Paul Sacksman, editor of The Musicians Atlas, moderated a panel including rappers Chuck D and Speech. Sacksman brought home a subtle but crucial point that the industry is currently focussed on control more, even, than profits. Public Enemys Chuck D stated, cryptically, Technology giveth and technology taketh away. I took that to mean that the internet, which allows us to freely create and promote an independent stream of creative works, can also become co-opted and controlled by media conglomerates in the same way they control the broadcast pipeline. Nona Hendricks said that shes just starting to receive some royalty payments from hits that were recorded many years ago with LaBelle.

Entertainment lawyer Fred Davis, in his keynote, promoted the idea of free agency in the music biz. He pointed blame at his own profession for neglecting recording artists needs in contract negotiations and wisely suggested that attorneys representing artists aim for no more than two- or three-album deals. Pretty much, the days of artist development are over. When I asked him how artists should handle the murky reality that their lawyers are working for firms retained by the very labels the artists are negotiating with -- Davis flow slowed down a bit. Yes, he acknowledged the inherent conflict of interest that permeates the whole artist/lawyer/label triangle. But, uh, well, uh -- the artist has to weigh the lawyers access to the industry with the fact that hes probably not to be trusted to negotiate in the artists interest. Uh huh.

Moses Avalon prowled the stage like Mick Jagger in his seminar on decoding recording contracts. Pugnacious and prepped to the teeth with well-researched data, Avalon is sure to become, along with Courtney Love, Shawn Fanning, Lawrence Lessig and Steve Zuckerman, one of the stars of the ensuing battles over the future of music distribution.

One of the highlights of the event was director John Waters keynote. Actually, it was more of a stand-up act that had the crowd falling in the aisles.

There were panels conducted by the Sundance Channel on marketing independent film and discussions of independent filmmakers in the digital age. Digital film technology and the web will have the same cataclysmic effect on the film art and industry that MIDI, digital audio and mp3 has had on music. Much attention was given to how to create a distribution system that wont ultimately be taken over by the congloms.

Much of my time was spent informing scores of people that Im not Derek Sivers of CD Baby. Apparently my bald dome and long dredlock is similar to Dereks coif. Only later did I realize that my social life would have improved a hundred-fold if I'd said I was, in fact, him. Both Sivers and Miles Copeland, whom I was hoping to meet, were caught up in airline problems on the west coast and missed the show. The terrorists have won.

For me, the highlight of the event was Les Pauls keynote. At 86 years old, this man is the most alive, brilliant and funny human Ive ever encountered. His account of his career as guitar player and inventor of modern music (solid-body electric guitar and multi-track recording) concluded with a statement that was echoed throughout the summit -- passion for the creative act as prime motivating factor. When Pauls life was saved by an experimental bypass procedure he wrote a list of what he most wanted to do with the rest of his life. Heres a man who was a major recording star, worked with Crosby, Sinatra and Garland, turned Django Reinhardt on to electric guitar; revered by two generations or rock & rollers. His chosen goal was to play guitar every week in a saloon where he could play what he wanted to an intimate audience of people he could see and communicate with. He followed up on this goal religiously for the past twenty years in New York Citys West Village. He voiced no regrets that it never occurred to him to get patents on his revolutionary inventions. I was just solving some problems so I could make the music better.

Steve Zuckerman brought hundreds of filmmakers, musicians, actors and industry people together for a much-needed reality check. Artists create because they must. Contrary to the whine-fest the industry is indulging in -- if the entire industry collapsed tomorrow and the whole money and glamour machine vaporized, composers would still create music and musicians would still play it; writers would still write scripts and directors and actors would bring them to life. Somehow audiences would show up and choose their favorites. This is what humans do. This is good evidence as to why, after all the mayhem, life is good.


Polar Levine
Editor, popCULTmedia