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Dear Rock Stars…

January 6th, 2010 | 27 Comments | Categories: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

Pete Waterman holds a press conference, yesterday2010 is – rather tragically – shaping up to be the year when Rock Stars (and old-industry millionaires) complain about the state of music on behalf of ‘the little people’.

Here are three examples:

Peter Waterman, in an interview with The Times, said that Spotify was a terrible thing. It, he says

“devalue[s] our artists, they damage this country economically, culturally and morally”

Why’s that then, Pete?

“The big stars are a tiny percentage; the rest are broke, including a lot of well-known faces. Who is developing new talent? Without money, new acts are strangled before they mature. We all suffer.”

This, from the man who made a multi-million pound career of writing and producing ‘hits’ for soap stars – his company were ‘The Hit Factory’, FFS. It was he who, in the land before autotune, realised that multitracking someone with a then-really-crappy voice like Kylie would make it passable, enough to sell mediocre music off the back of a TV career anyway… (notice how good she got when she stopped working with SAW?). Yup, he’s been a bastion of the process to find new talent. A fine supporter of grass-roots music. No double standard there.

And to answer his question, ‘Who is developing new talent?‘ – the talented people are, you idiot! We don’t need ‘developing’, we can just get on with it, without you, and services like Spotify remove the gatekeepers and friction from people hearing us. It HELPS us. Stop speaking on our behalf.

Case-study #2, is DJ Shadow, who, in a rant on his website, suggests that the lack of perceived money in music has removed the incentive to create art (any of you who play music as amateurs, feel free to be MASSIVELY offended by this patronising bollocks now). As an example, he says

“how many young rap artists are grinding away these days in New York, trying to get a deal? Not too many, certainly compared to the ‘80s and ‘90s. There’s no allure, no pot at the end of the rainbow.”

Perhaps it’s because no-one needs to ‘grind away’ any more? You can make music at home, release it, find interesting places to play without the ‘grind’? What was the ‘grind’ for anyway? A record deal? Screw that. Gigs? Do them yourself. And has he actually looked at the relationship between the history of hip-hop and the political climate? It changes, it shifts. And post-bling, if rappers have become cash-obsessed, they’ve only themselves to blame. Long gone are the days when Hip-hop was ‘CNN for Black People’ as Chuck D called it, and it’s ain’t the fault of Bit Torrent.

Finally, Here’s Bono claiming that the world needs to learn from China about the joys of internet snooping, if Hollywood is to be saved the fate of Big Music. He says this, on the same day that it’s announced that Avatar is the ‘Fastest film to ever gross a billion dollars.’ Yup, Hollywood is REALLY hurting right now. Any INDUSTRY that grosses a billion dollars in 3 weeks is doing fine, let alone a SINGLE FILM.

And what does he say has happened in music?

“A decade’s worth of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are the creators..”

  • Despite sales this year breaking records,
  • Despite Lady Gaga SELLING 20 million downloads,
  • Despite Lily Allen shifting 4 million albums in a career that started long after BitTorrent rounded the curve of its growth spurt,
  • Despite U2s’ own planet-raping biggest-tour-of-all-time selling out around the globe.

So, dear Rock Stars – the problem here is not with the internet. It’s not with how it ‘hurts’ the little people. WE LOVE IT! It’s you. You and your expectations of wealth-beyond-measure are screwed. And I don’t care.

Here’s a headline for you – in the 3 weeks since I made ‘Behind Every Word’ available for free download, I’ve sold more CDs and downloads that in any one month since 6 months after it first came out.

This a four year old album. I’ve done no gigs in that time, I’ve taken out no ads, I’ve not given away a single bit of physical anything that cost me money. I’ve just talked about it, and invited people to listen to it. And guess what? They listened, and those who really liked it THEN PAID. And they paid more for the ‘free’ download they they do on iTunes.

I couldn’t possibly have done it without ‘free music’, without the internet, without sharing, without streaming. Nor could I have done it within the insanely restrictive copyright terms of a standard recording contract.

Headline number 2 – Indie Cellist is so successful, the mainstream industry don’t believe her when she tells them:

On Twitter yesterday I was chatting to Zoe Keating – awesome cellist, composer, looper, and massive indie success. So successful that ‘the industry’ don’t believe her when she says how successful she is! They only believe their own statistics – so only report her sales figures as measured by Soundscan. They don’t like that Zoe has done it all without them, so aren’t interested in developing newer more flexible ways of measuring success. But as I pointed out to Zoe, who has 1.3 MILLION twitter followers, she has a bigger audience than Billboard Magazine. So screw them and their outdated measurements, just do your music cos you love it, and bypass the nonsense of pre-millenial bullshit notions of success. (I also wonder just how influential people like Zoe can be in promoting other indie artists – using their platform as a discovery source… we’ll see, in time, I guess :) )

So, Rock Stars – stop it, let go. Your half a century in the sun is done. Pete, Bono, Joshua, you’ve got more than enough to live on for the rest of your lives. If you’re struggling, downsize. Maybe you’d get something out of reading the greatest blog post of 2009 about the music industry, by Danny Barnes.

Move over, and let those of us who value sustainability, artistic freedom and a conversational relationship with our audience over fame, celebrity and selling-millions-of-records-while-still-losing-money get on with what we do, using the tools that make it possible.

And if any of you three want a copy of Behind Every Word, please, download it for free, here – I promise I won’t spam the email address you have to give me in order to get the free version. Alternatively, pay what you can for it. If you’re strapped for cash, just drop in a tenner like you would for one of your much lamented CDs. ;)

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