The Ethics of This Stuff
Besides doing this blog, I also run a couple small record labels. Over the years, sales have gone from pretty damn good to not very damn good, almost pretty damn bad. Meanwhile, the music I put out has gotten more and more popular. Many people listen to it, but they don't pay for it. One of the Nothing People found a torrent site that tracked the number of times a file had been downloaded. He looked up their (then) most recent album Soft Crash and found that it had been downloaded 40,000 times. How many of those people listened to it is unknown, perhaps half of the downloaders are hoarders. But let's say half of the people who downloaded it listened to it, that an audience of 20,000 got the album for free. Now consider how many copies of Soft Crash my label sold. I pressed 1000 copies on vinyl. The band was compensated with 200 copies. About 50 copies were sent out as promos to radio stations, magazines, and blogs. Of the 750 remaining copy, I have sold 650. I will assume that the Nothing People held on to 50 copies and sold the rest. So that is a grand total of 800 copies of Soft Crash sold vs at least 20,000 downloaded off one torrent site and listened to. The 800 copies that the Nothing People and I sold were paid for. The 20,000 "copies" off of that torrent site were not. I've know about this for a few years and it still bugs the shit out of me. However, I have still done this blog.
There is "dogs can read your mind" to check out as an example of another approach. Everything posted there is submitted by artists. I am sure that many musicians would love to be included on crud crud and would gladly give you permission.
Anyway...I'll continue to watch when you come back.
- I do think that part of the problem is that people feel that they are entitled to free music - or at least have no concept of what is involved in making/recording/releasing music. Really, it isn't a whole hell of a lot different than the old takes of city kids thinking milk came from a factory and not a cow. Lowery's piece is a good step toward educating people how things work.
- As someone who has run independent record labels for over 15 years, I can state without a fraction of a doubt that filesharing has NOT increased sales of the records I put out. In fact, even though the bands I release get more popular and my labels gain greater profiles and lots of critical praise, my sales have plummeted. The very dry joke going around indie labels (made up by the buyer at the main indie record distro) is that 300 is the new 1000. That is, where a label could expect to sell 1000 of a release it now, banks on selling 300 and hopes to sell 500. Sure, there might be a bump for people who worked hard to sell 100 of anything, but overall sales are in decline. You can site these studies that say otherwise, but I am telling you from my own personal experience and from others - big and small - in the indie label world. Yes, there will be exceptions and, yes, the economy in general sucks, but competing against free is a losing battle.
- What this really comes down to for me are two things: Who profits from the use of content and does the artist have control over the use of his/her work. I feel strongly that if someone's work (music, art, photography, writing, whatever) is being used to make someone money, the creator needs to see some of that money. Youtube, rapidfile, blogspot, facebook, whatever site that runs ads and has an artists content posted on it, should be paying royalties. People who have paypal donation buttons on their music blogs should be paying the artists whose work they post. Second, if an artist does not want their work associated with something, they should have the right to block use of it. Now I dont mean stop people from reporting on it or criticizing it or what is referred to as fair use. I mean something like the band Heart keeping Sarah Palin from using their song Barracuda in her run for vice president.
I think both of those requests are very reasonable, very fair, and really just goddamn common sense and decency.
- I am not shutting down this blog. I will continue it, but I will be seeking permission from artists to post their work. There will be some exceptions: I am not going to try to find some unknown Armenian peasant fiddler who appears on an album on a Soviet record label, put out in a country that no longer exists. But if the artist is living, I will try to track them down. A friend of mine complained that this would be difficult. But it isn't. Not nowadays. It just takes not being lazy, like the NPR intern. I do not think getting people to say Yes will be a problem. I've had plenty of artists write me happy to see their work here. I figure that same kind of folks will be even happier that someone not only likes their work but is respectful enough to ask them if they can use it. Not only do I think that this is just good practice, but it will also improve the blog. With permission will come stories, histories, and maybe even more music, stuff previously unreleased.
You buy a lot of stuff from used record stores and that doesn't monetarily benefit the artist either.
Your blog, Crud Crud, Fatty Jumbo's and a handful of others were among the first wave or two of MP3 blogs - and a far majority of these focused on obscure or very hard to find music AND offered some context and good writing. Without trying to sound like some artsy fartsy egghead, while what we were doing came from pretty pure motives and with some forethought (not posting full albums of current or in print material), we wound up providing an artsy cover for profiteers and ignorant lazy bastards.
I don't want to do that any more. Out of self interest (my record labels) and because I feel some kind...uh I dont know, just something that isnt right, I think it is important for me to figure out how to do this another way, a way that is respectful to the artists whose work we celebrate, and hopefully help to strip away the years of lies and justifications that profiteers and lazy people have created. And, having tracked down many a band, some defunct for 40 years, in order to put out a record or get copies of a long out of print record, I know that finding these people is not very much work and that the contact is often personally rewarding for both me and the artist. Seriously, man, is there really any excuse for people like you and I not to do this, other than pure laziness?