by Polar Levine 9/20/01 for popCULTmedia

I recently heard from a music biz insider who is highly respected within the artist community. I'd invited his input for popCULT. He declined my offer, commenting that my take on some issues were a bit radical for his taste. He felt somewhat protective of his industry friends.

As I was drafting my response, I realized that there were serious issues I was ignoring. One in particular is the post-Napster view that music (and I suppose film, books and sports events) is "for the people" or, more to the point -- should be free of charge to the people.

In the late sixties the New Left had a brief, naive fling with Marxism and thought Che Guevara was too sexy for his shirt. Woodstock and many other concert venues saw a wave of gate crashing for the people. In New York's lower east side an organization calling themselves The Motherfuckers descended on the Fillmore East demanding that concerts be free of charge. Now with the Napsterization of music distribution we've become used to the idea of not having to pay for music and we'd like to keep it that way.

Food, too, is for the people and should be free of charge. But my sympathies are also with farmers, truckers and retailers who have rent, phone bills and kids' gear to buy -- not to mention, music. Musicians, composers, engineers, producers, disc manufacturers, audio software/hardware manufacturers and retailers have bills to pay. They, too, are the people.

Except for the tiny minority of musicians and composers who live solely off their earnings in music, musicians -- artists of all kinds -- do their creative work when they return from their regular wage-earning jobs. These jobs are mostly non-creative, tedious and energy draining. Even musicians you may be listening to at this moment probably receive very little, if any, money for their work. If you cruise through the pages of Polarity/1, particularly, the
OP ED section, you will see that we come down strongly against a music industry whose MO, throughout its history, is the exploitation of artists as a strategy for profit-making. Currently, we support free downloads as a temporary guerrilla action levelled against corporate abuse. Once the dust settles on the issues of copyrights and piracy, expect popCULT to start railing against the parasites on the other side of the barricades. If fair subscription-based downloading becomes the norm we will come down hard on sustained free downloading of copyrighted material without the artists' authorization.

We've all recently been bombed into the real world. It's time we stopped entertaining ourselves to death. This is not a movie. If the arts are to begin untangling themselves from corporate tentacles -- it means creating a do-it-yourself infrastructure that serves as a viable alternative. Musicians have to purchase expensive gear. There are lots of good guys in the music industry who probably don't like the way their employers do business. Many of us listening to our pirated mp3 files (including yours truly) might consider looking into creating a new type of distribution network that gets more music to the public at prices that are affordable and that pays musicians and composers what they deserve. We musicians might get a bit less greedy ourselves and stop speed-dialing our lawyers every time we hear a sample off one of our recordings. (For a look at our take on sampling click
HERE). And a good rule of thumb for future entrepreneurs is this: Nobody ever deserves to hold a copyright on work they did not create. All sides of the music creation and distribution organism deserve to make a decent living. I'm not sure that the desire to be a multi-millionaire deity or a megacorporation is a useful goal in the arts. But those folks are out there. Some of them wear suits and some of them have purple hair.

We are not against copying our favorite music and trading with friends. There is no better means of promoting an artist's work and experiencing the joys of giving. With lower prices we'll be less inclined to ask our friends for copies and more inclined to risk a few bucks on an unknown. When artists own their work they will have control over how it is used for better or worse. We trust they'll have better judgment than the current owners of master recordings. When artists can release their own catalogs upon reaching oldie status they will have decent income in retirement. Reform can be a win/win for artists and consumers or it can slide back to what we have now.

I'm hoping to persuade my industry friend to get involved with popCULT. He could add another perspective on the issues we raise here. I invite everybody, from all sides of the Media Wars to offer insight into the culture we create and consume every day.

Polar Levine
Editor, popCULTmedia