Editor's Note: Since the publication of this article on Friday morning, we've received an e-mail from the FMC's Jenny Toomey alerting us to "between 20 and 30 glaring errors" in our article. She chose to identify two of them, which we've corrected. Once we've figured out where the other 18 to 28 of them are, we'll fix those, too.
Theodore did not take photos, so you'll have to imagine yourself in Gaston Hall, the venue for the Summit, listening to lots of thought-provoking interaction, or perhaps checking to see what everyone else was wearing.
Last January, I attended my first Future of Music conference. It began badly
-- I was not offered breakfast -- and then fluctuated between moments of
delight and disgust. Among the pleasures, there were capitalists like Mark
Cuban, who made arrogance look cool as they belittled musicians with
socialist tendencies. There were also undeniably smart individuals like
Peter Jenner, who balanced a healthy indifference toward wealth with a
violent hatred of unfair systems that screwed people. But as my coverage of the event made clear, most artists came off
like George in that one Seinfeld episode when he thought he should be
paid the same as Ted Danson. You had a barrage of young artists who were
still applauding themselves for having taken that gamble and followed their
dream -- and I just couldn't stand them and their pride. Nor could I bear
moderators like Dave Marsh, who coddled them or compared them to indentured
Strains of elitism persisted into this year, but were kept at bay by
moderators who refused audience members their itch to give speeches. And
when it did raise its head, I noticed that I no longer minded much. Sure, I still
want to punch teachers, artists, doctors and priests who think their calling
makes them immediately more special than you or me, but it's hardly a
horrible thing to hear people who don't hate themselves, or hear mothers of
self-destructive musicians tell other struggling musicians that they matter.
Far from irritating, it's humanity at its most genuine, as even strikingly
untalented figures like that suicide from Milli Vanilli add to our lives;
who can honestly say they don't lament the Milli Vanilli comeback that will
Also, for reasons far beyond fund raising or "strength in numbers", I realize
you cannot expect the FMC to tell certain musicians they're too bad to be
helped, so they shouldn't come. In music, after all, it's sometimes the
"horrible" who do make it, and who therefore ultimately need the knowledge that anyone
can acquire from such a conference. Perhaps that's one of the evils of the
music profession -- but every band in the world has the right to have hope. As
the saying goes, you don't need to turn on a fan to be hit with a shitty
tune; just turn on the radio.
Nonetheless, my attendance at the 3rd Annual Summit makes me
conclude these Summits are most beneficial for musicians monetarily
affected by copyright and licensing laws. They're best fit for people who
have enough talent to intrigue one DJ somewhere, and for people who have
Mick Jagger's sort of brain, and can figure their way through the business.
Then again, some of the best panels were focused on subjects that poor
musicians especially had to hear; for example, one focused on simply finding
the best and cheapest health care.
While the FMC only appears to attract senators and congressman who have major
boy crushes on Don Henley, my account of this year's proceedings should (if
I tell it well enough) make clear that the coalition has opened the
government's eyes to a world beyond the Miami Vice soundtrack. They
are not only getting their opinions heard, but apparently respected by
members of Congress and Counsel. If Jenny Toomey sings, few may listen;
when she talks, it's quite another story. Sometimes they ask her to speak louder,
which is a synonym for "encore" in my book!
For this, last year's extremes gave way to panels of smart,
well-informed people who simply disagreed. Even over-the-top figures (Blue
Oyster Cult's Sandy Pearlman and Professor Eben Moglen)
from last year became complex; you could no longer guess what they'd
say. The panels primarily addressed a majority of legal issues now
affecting musicians, from the deregulation of radio and the peculiarities of
copyright law to contracts, health policies, even laws against dancing. Idealists always appeared to be audience favorites, but they were kept to
a satisfying minimum, with most panels balanced between those presenting
well-argued defenses for the artist or for the label, for the law or for its
revision, or for whatever their opinion may be.
But enough of this introduction, and enough of my praise...
The first day of
the conference paled monstrously beside the playoff football that went on
that day. The first session was on "The Business of Music", moderated by an
attorney (Suzette Becker) who had dyed her bobbed hair green. She was joined by
Whitney Broussard and Dina Lapolt, a young woman with bright red hair who
already runs her own law firm. There were also two whom I remembered from
last year's conference: Derek Sivers of CD Baby, who kept his haircut from last conference (bald
except the area above his neck, where braids began) and Brian Austin
Whitney, the founder of Just Plain Folks. He introduced himself throughout the
conference like a smart businessman, constantly plugging JPF, and he
looked like the Roger and Me guy. He wore a red cap too.
As Sunday was a snowy day, I missed Toomey's introduction, and got to Healy Hall just as they
were beginning this first session. My mind started out a bit too focused on
appearances, as some big bulky homeless guy had called me "Mr GQ" when I was
one block away from the conference. Perhaps I dressed too well: red pants,
striped sweater, oversized overcoat, and an umbrella that smartly matched my
pants. I also wore a scarf, which I really loved, but should I have worn it? So many uncertainties. Anyway, I found myself among the most overdressed,
and quickly noticed last year's conference did not start a trend, as I
didn't see any women here in full leather suits -- damn this American
economy! -- and I questioned having combed my hair.
That's the way I guess it goes at a music conference: you settle down in
your seat, and you initially obsess about yourself. And then you see Jonatha
Brooke, just two rows in front of you, and you obsess about her. She had a
fabulous winter coat (one of two gems she wore for this conference) that
looked very warm. I wanted to touch its lining. And then, before I could
drift into a mohair daydream, I remembered my reason for missing the
Cleveland/Pittsburgh game. It took me a while to focus, but I was impressed
by the first panel, which was very instructive toward new artists. LaPolt
said you need to affiliate with a performing rights society immediately
(with rock artists, BMI, as they're friendly to college radio; rap artists
should consider the mainstream-friendly ASCAP) because it gives you legitimacy. Becker stressed
the need to register your copyright and your Internet domain, and added,
besides http://BandName.Com, also register http://BandNameSucks.Com.
Broussard added, "Or you could put the extra effort in, and not suck."
The single most important thing they stressed was the need for artists to
know their business "up and down". According to the attorneys, it was much
better for them to work for artists who knew about the business, because it
provides checks and balances. If an attorney happened to forget to register
your song, LaPolt says they'd rather you be smart enough to remind him.
Otherwise, there's too much stress on the attorney, with too much of a
musician's livelihood placed on his shoulders. I thought this was a very
fresh perspective, as it showed the lawyer as a person who doesn't want to screw you,
but who may anyway because of understandable human error.
Lawyers, like artists, sometimes take on too much, and it's important for
both to have other minds to lean on.
Sivers and Whitney were asked how musicians should market themselves as they
go on tour. Whitney, Just Plain Whitney, stressed the importance of finding
your niche, then do it your best. If you want to be the lucky
breakthrough, you can't just sit outside with a guitar and a few
strings of hope. The lucky ones network. They talk to the staff at venues;
they book shows immediately after good shows or put a positive spin on bad
shows ("What do I do next time to make the sound right", etc). Whitney said
it's important to be as accessible and as convenient to venues as you can; give them
the demo format they want, and as many ways to contact you as possible. If
you hate the phone, as I do, then get over it; an artist has to ask if he
wants to be successful musician, or a writer dubbed "MR. GQ" by some
downtrodden fashion critic. Whitney jumped hard on this question with a lot
of sound advice, much of it reciprocated in musician manuals from manuals
from Backbeat that I've
read this year. Mr. Sivers, eager to add a comment, said "Ditto."
Sivers, who's had enough success to remain a full-time musician since 1992,
then talked about how you can crack the college market. He explained that
it's the Student Activities Office at universities that has the money, and
that needs to be wooed. They tend to book the shows, not the college DJ with
the tattooed lip. To attract them, Sivers said "you have to show an element
of safety". Give them quotes from people at venues who've seen you perform;
if you can only find imaginary people who can applaud you, then settle for
that. You can't woo them without a few kind words from somebody. Sivers also
recommended taping your shows. To join NACA, the route to collecting many lucrative gigs at
a thousand dollars a pop, you will need such a tape. Also, Sivers recommended
placing a price range on your fliers; say you will perform for something
like "$400 to 1200, depending on travel; name your price." Then, only accept
the minimum price if you're in that town that day.
The first panel ended, after a small question-and-answer session, with this
nice little nugget from Whitney: "Make more new mistakes, and
repeat fewer old mistakes, than your competition. Do this, and you'll be
Afterward, a majority left the hall to stare, pee and mingle. The fifty who
stayed in their seats were immediately entertained by Banjer Dan. Unlike the
last conference, where wonderful performances were met with indifference,
Banjer Dan received nice applause after each tune.
Once Banjer Dan left the building, the panel about "Making Your Laws"
began. Johnny Temple, musician and publisher of Akashic Books, was the
very sober moderator. He's a good, smart guy whom I remembered fondly from
last year's conference, but is far from a showman. Nor is Jay Rosenthal, an
attorney for the frequently maligned Recording
Artists Coalition. Though the fame of its members (like boy toy Don
Henley) appears to make Toomey and others unwilling to declare solidarity, the RAC's
foremost accomplishment is the same as the Future of Music Coaliton. Their
coalition proved that artists must collectively put themselves
in a position "where your absence is feared", and where your participation
is "wanted whenever there is a law to be made", or lawsuit to be won.
Artists have a need to be in DC, via musicians' groups, and it seemed a good
plug for every music coalition known to man.
This panel, a bit too formal for my liking, then jumped to Tim Raduca-Grace,
who worked in the office of Senator Feingold. He drew from the wisdom of his
years (I think he was 13) and said, "Something can really get done" if you
let senators know your worries and grievances. His sentiments were repeated so often that I guess it truly was profound. I conceded this, and
the fact that his speech could have been made into a great song, rich in content,
if he had also talked about heartbreak, the Holocaust, and drug-induced
After Mr Grace, there was David Meinert, who said people who didn't vote
were meaningless in the discussion of this panel. He spoke out on every question-related
detour the panel took, which made his expertise in any one area
suspect; I imagined he just liked his opinions. He recommended donations to
the campaigns of political figures, and thought, if artists voted as a
block, they could make the country give free health care and no-tax laws for
artists. His was the kind of perspective that annoyed me tremendously last
Jim Burger of Dow
Lohnes and Albertson followed. He did not reiterate Meinert's vision, in which artists are propped above others just for gluing their
votes and ba-ba choruses together. Instead, he talked about the Federal Communications
Commission, and how they can help recording artists. As for what he
specifically said, I must say I could barely even comprehend his allusions
to "popular culture". Put him in a room with kids, and he'll talk about
Falstaff; alone with a baby on a bridge, Burger might recite Hart
Crane. Nonetheless, he made clear his fears of the film industry, and of a
digital media market that may not grow to its potential.
Michael Bracy, Director of Government Relations at the FMC was next. He's a great speaker, whether he has anything to say or not. For
this panel, he mentioned that he wanted people to form small groups back
home and work with their local politicians at a local level. Content-wise,
this is on par with Grace and Meinert, and I started to wonder: is Don
Henley less a boy toy, and more the musician all fellow musicians want their
peers to be? Do they want their peers to be mopey cranks, always mentioning
to senators in bed what they could be making if the world was perfect? If
musicians can make money in the future only by spending good chunks of their
time gallivanting with old mayors and tiresome representatives, then the
Romantic World of the Rock Star is officially dead.
Patricia Polach was the last speaker on this panel, and she said,
"Legislation does matter." She also said that it really is easy to get your voice
heard. She reminded people of a thing called email, and reminded us that you can't
simply assume that individual voices are unimportant. Sometimes they really
can get heard. As for Polach's voice, I had a hard time paying full
attention to it, as she reminded me of an aunt that I guess I am used to
ignoring. She made a good point, though -- that the
RIAA is no longer
assumed by Congress as the sole voice of recording artists.
Before passing questions to the audience, Temple asked the panel some
pre-formulated questions. Rosenthal, on the subject of payola, said the
practice made it difficult for popular artists to recoup a profit, and keeps radio
from playing songs based on their merit. When Temple interrupted
Rosenthal, wryly commenting that this indie-dominated audience was not
affected by recoupment, he hinted at an obvious obstacle to the vision of
artists, united as one. Most independent and struggling musicians don't
like being associated with popular performers, and I can't foresee the day
when Henry Rollins will use his muscles to dig up the vote that Mariah Carey
had cast for president.
David Meinert was given the last word before the audience asked questions,
as his work with the Pacific Northwest Branch of the Recording Academy is
strong enough to enact change. As he explained how their power helped
legalize dancing for Seattle youth under the age of 18, he dropped in a
well-received jab at the Catholic church ("They were protecting kids from
musicians, and not priests") that made me dislike him. Anyway, he believed
it was feasible that groups could unite and alter the records a station
might play. Questions from the audience showed at least one flaw in his
character. He seemed happy to know people in radio who were getting their
houses mortgaged by record companies, just because they gave him an
anecdote, and looked at Burger like he was a square when he suggested the
need to bring criminal charges when such things took place.
A short intermission followed, with the Method and Result performing for those who
remained. Like Banjer Dan, the duo weren't bad performers, and offered free
CDs of their material to anyone who was interested. A few people,
Brooke, took them up on their offer, and it was nice to watch the two
young artists talk to established performers. But enough staring; it was now
time to hear Jenny Toomey introduce the final panel for Sunday -- Bob Mould,
Patti Smith, Vernon Reid and Ian Mackaye, who described his music very
well. Whereas Fugazi do not necessarily have an identifiable punk sound, they
have a "punk approach, or a sense of liberation, that is always going to
The artists here were mostly personal in their introductions, and time sped by
as they talked. Vernon Reid (of Living Colour) rambled about Rwanda, which
made him seem all the more honest about being troubled by that country's
plight. With his dreadlocks and stern look, he appears a person who
disappeared from the limelight because he followed his own interests, not because he failed. Then, Patti Smith introduced herself with thanks to ASCAP, who paid her to attend. She initially talked about her lack of talent but love for
rock 'n' roll, and how that alone made her matter. Then, her activist soul
took heart, with a long speech against Bush and the United States' oncoming
war with Iraq. In her speech, this well-off performer denounced the artists
who took a giant ad against Napster, but did not spend an extra million
taking a multi-page stand against the war with Iraq. People cheered her; I
was happy she eventually stopped talking. Then Bob Mould introduced himself.
As with the time I talked to Grant Hart, he validated my childhood obsession
Dü through his vivid love of music. He charmingly said how, at age six, he was
wondering why the B-sides of his
singles were always better than the A-sides, and he talked about starting a band at ten. He then talked about
the formation of Hüsker Dü, and he told interesting stories that
connected all the other members on the panel. He was a fantastic
speaker about his own life, and seemed to worry most about the same issue
that I believe humongous record collections help to cause: the "devaluation" of
music, whereby nothing is digested for long enough to be fully appreciated.
After the introductions, the floor was immediately opened to questions. One
guy asked if there was a way for artists to speak out against artists who
are on the radio due to payola. Mackaye responded, simply saying
it was problematic, and then talked about how his band never made an
official Fugazi t-shirt (if you own one, it's a bootleg). He also
took a shot at ASCAP, with apologies to members on the panel, and
proved once again his popularity with crowds and his position as an
anomaly. Mackaye is an ingratiating guy, and an entertaining public speaker,
but Lord knows how he can truly help the FMC's mission. His band and
label are to be admired, not imitated; his business practices have only
worked because Fugazi and Dischord have been marketed by the media (which fell in love
with them) as well as Prada or Gucci.
Dorothy Geller (of the group From Quagmire) caught on to a paradox in the panel, notably
from Mackaye and Smith, and asked why they all expressed their love for
music, but then acted as if royalties were irrelevant in the grand scheme of
things (floods, famines, etc). Patti Smith responded by saying, "If there's
no stage, you build one. If there's no microphone, sing louder." She said,
"To be an artist, starving is part of it," and said that place -- where you
are burning with ideas, enraged, or full of joy -- is the most beautiful
place to be. I found it hard to criticize this (it's the reason people
first sing, write, dance, or whatever) but I was more impressed by Geller,
who then asked if there was a way people like Smith could respond without
giving a pep talk.
Then Patti Smith erupted with some shit about being the cheerleader for
2003, and that we need pep talks now. Okeydoke, but this is the reason why I
cannot give the conference's organizer, Kristin Thomson, an A+. First, she
has booked two artists (Mackaye, Patti Smith) whose success has come from
the cult of their personality, which is a quality that cannot be taught, and
one of them -- Patti Smith -- seems truly oblivious to her good fortune.
Sure, she feigned humility at the start, but Smith is a bona fide arrogant
jerk who refused to let the Summit's mission shape any of her agenda.
She's been with major labels over two
decades and has to know a lot about the business, but she offered jack shit, and
I don't understand the FMC's need to book artists who either have no
interest (i.e. Mackaye) or refuse to acknowledge an interest (i.e. Smith)
in the business. In the future, when the FMC asks artists to be on a panel,
they should first ask them if they give a damn about money, artistic
unity or careerism. If not, they simply water down this conference/course
that law students can take for credit, and they waste the money of their
less successful peers.
Mackaye had the decency to at least address Geller's complaint, and said
there's no way to pinpoint exactly why any of them succeeded. Also, he said,
it's impossible for them to provide a good, sober analysis when speaking to
a crowd. When you speak to a crowd, you come with generalities, and you're
partly there to entertain. I was not exactly touched by his defense of
Smith, because it suggested a degree of camaraderie that the artists don't
share; Mackaye and his Dischord industry are at least worthy of a conference
-- Business Models That Would Never Work Twice -- but Smith has brought only
overrated poetry and music into the world.
I should add that other questions
created equally heated or passionate responses. Bob Mould (who never
mentioned his brief career with the wrestling world, which could have been
helpful to songwriters seeking another outlet) said that it is ultimately up
to the listener to decide whether or not music matters that much to them. If
music is a big part of your life, and you love it, he hopes you do as he did
when being turned onto a CDR of the
Avalanches. Because he loved the band, he bought their CD, then passed the
CDR to a friend, saying, "If you love it, then buy it too, and
pass the CDR to another friend."
Vernon Reid said he took a similar approach. Then Patti Smith said there
are too many problems in the world to care. The audience loved her,
because I guess her delivery was good, or because she was famous. If Smith
was simply acting like the typical music icon, then young artists should
expect no help from them. Perhaps Tim the congressional aide was right.
Everyone can find a better ear for their grievances in members of Congress
than in Patti Smith; their autographs are cheaper, too.
Vernon Reid probably proved the most helpful to the audience, as he said the
boring, honest stuff: that if Daniel Snyder and the Redskins are playing
Fugazi on every third down, as Mackaye had mentioned, then Mackaye should get
a lawyer and fight, not just sit around and tell amusing (often very
amusing) stories. Mould was sincere and smart too, but I think he would
have been better if he'd brought up the other ways he has made ends meet.
I woke up with a backache and a hope that the still-falling snow would cancel Monday's events. It didn't
happen. I woke up to Mary and Rhoda attending a group for divorced singles,
then journeyed to Day 2 of the conference in lots of corduroy. No one
criticized my appearance -- out of pity, perhaps.
By the time I sat down, the State of the Union was about to begin. Vernon Reid, who was on this panel as well, said that it was
important for artists to speak to the consumers, and let them gain an
almost personal relationship with the content provider, so that (like a
Rwandan victim with a name, story, and face) we don't act without feeling we
might be positively or adversely affecting the artist. It's not super
profound, but I thought that it was good advice.
Eric Bazilian, a co-founder of the Hooters, mentioned that one of today's major
problems is also one of a musician's most formidable assets. They can produce, in their own home, what sounds like a professional
record, but so can anyone -- those with creative talent and those without.
Because such a reality creates a mass of mostly mediocre music to choose from,
it's more important then ever to make the specialness of your song shine
through. Given this, the avant garde direction probably holds appeal to many
artists, but keep in mind that a song that slowly grows on you is always
less monetarily successful than an instant bubblegum delight.
an NYU professor, made an important point about how copyright has changed in
the last decade, and showed that its laws, still decided by the voice of a
few, were now affecting more artists than ever. Part of the reason for this is the
increasing number of self-released artists, who may not presently have a
mass of fans but at least have copyright to their songs. When you sign to a
major label, as Jenny Toomey pointed out, you typically give up all
L. Londell McMillan spoke about matters dear to his clients, mentioning that
artists now making less money than ever before included Prince and Stevie
Wonder. They've been told that online and offline Internet theft is a
primary reason for their loss of profits, and MacMillan at least had the
good sense not to parade that statement around as definitive fact. Another
part of his agenda appeared to be ensuring that his clients make enough money from
their efforts to retire at 40 or 50, or whenever, and have
enough money to maintain a sort of livelihood without dying penniless. As
Benkler said that musicians provide triple the revenue of Hollywood movies,
it does appear possible that musicians could create something similar to the
Screen Actors' Guild, whereby all artists could possibly be able to afford
health care or receive some sort of pension. Of course, to make this work,
it means the bigger stars, who make the most money, would have to put more
cash in the "pot". Ask Patti Smith, and I bet you'd hear her change the
subject to famine, the frailty of actual cows in India, or the dental work
that stray cats in our own neighborhoods need but do not get.
After Randye Jones provided Intermission entertainment with
operatic versions of well-received Negro spirituals, Panel 2 started, with
its focus being "The Tangled Web of Webcasting". Cassandra Cummings,
representing Microsoft, marked one of the great things about the FMC. The
conference's audience often creates the impression that they're just liberal
socialists who think Pink should support them, but panel members like
Cummings don't deny that profit is a necessary motive to business. The rest
of the panel focused on all-important monetary issues too, with most of the speakers
concluding that performance licenses are too costly for webcasters to viably
succeed. Non-commercial and college radio has a six-month window right now to
try and make a better deal for themselves so that they can still exist.
Should their deal circumvent the record companies
entirely, it will be the first of its kind.
Marshall Eubanks, CEO of Multicast Technologies, mentioned that he always had
envisioned the Internet as a place where more artists could independently
produce and distribute their material without the need for labels. He
believed this hasn't yet happened because streaming media technology is just
not there yet. Perhaps, when that time is reached, more radical ideas could
also germinate and spread through the licenses made between webcasters,
radio stations, and the music they play.
The Lawyer Known as David from the US Copyright Office was a dead ringer for
the dentist in the Bob Newhart Show, and he talked next. He was very
candid about what would happen with the monies earned by artists prior to
any law on Internet radio: basically, not much, as nothing concrete has ever been given to the Copyright Office. Webcasters did not
keep records of what was played, nor were the voices addressing the
Copyright Office ever in unison. He concluded that no one was going to be
happy for a while, and this includes independent labels, who are appealing
decisions from the Copyright Office that they openly refrained from helping
to create. He thought exclusive licenses worked better than compulsory
licenses, and hoped that approach was soon tried.
Before lunch came a roundtable discussion on the public performance royalty
that was moderated by Peter Jenner, chairman of AURA and IMF (and
manager to artists like Billy Bragg and Eddi Reader). People may remember
both the moderator and this panel's subject from my last conference
write-up, as I interviewed Jenner about this last year.
Given a more proper, though still overly brief forum, Jenner kept his panel
international in scope. It included speakers like Eamon Shackleton, head of
legal affairs for the Irish
Music Rights Organization. This group proved in the courts that
the US was in breach of international copyright obligations for payments
of songs that were played in bars and other public places. For their win,
they hoped for a billion, but ended up being awarded $1.1 million, or about the
price awarded to clumsy people who spill McDonald's coffee on their pants.
The US has not yet written the check to the Irish musicians.
The Irish Music Rights Organization will probably never get the payback they
desire, as public performance rights, in regard to music, get short thrift
from Uncle Sam. The music business in the United States has been less
insistent to impose demands on analog media (the sort
disseminated from jukeboxes) because this music is typically not pirated.
While payments for any public performance would be good for the performers of
the material, the US is queasy about charging restaurants or bars for having
background music as people eat or get drunk. Note that films and baseball
games that are played in such venues are treated much differently... This is
either great proof that musicians are getting screwed, or proof that
athletes and movie stars have it too good.
US artists not only miss out on performance rights at home, they are hurt by
overseas airplay, the area where performance rights are actually enforced.
If a hundred dollars of income was collected for an American song played
overseas, then the record label would receive all of it. In contrast, a
British performer would be able to share the payment with his label at a
Lunch break followed news of the 50/50 split, and I expected to wander
around Georgetown and maybe get a slice of pizza. Instead, a member of the
FMC gave me a free ticket to the lunch. I loved the food. I also met a woman
from the Ford Corporation, the Washington Post music critic and his pretty
lawyer wife, and a fellow press guy who wanted to make his own Internet
radio station. I asked if he had heard of Benno; he hadn't, and my lunch
conversation basically ended there. I ate cheesecake and imagined myself on
the phone, telling my girlfriend about the cheesecake.
As I enjoyed dessert, Representative Mark Foley gave a very entertaining
speech about roadieing for the Allman Brothers, and telling people how to
best get their voices heard. In response to a question from Jeff Buckley's
mother, which was posed only to assist others at the conference, he said
that online petitions get you nowhere with Congress. Instead, get to
know someone from your local district. If you don't talk to
someone in person, then phone them. At the very least, develop an email
correspondence. He considered this much better than sending your senator a
handwritten letter; in the post-anthrax days, they are seldom read.
Following lunch, everyone returned to Healy Hall and the next panel, titled
"Illegal Imagination", which was largely about sampling. It was to feature
Doug E. Fresh among the panel members, and I spent far too long sitting in
my seat, anxiously waiting to hear the bald, sunglass-wearing black guy on the
panel say something. Eventually, I heard some interesting advice from
lawyer Whitney Broussard, who ventured that it was always wrong to license
samples ("Don't sample; just don't do it"), and also how some records, like
Paul's Boutique, would simply be too expensive to make today.
He estimated that licensing all
those Beatles samples will cost almost a million dollars. The person whom I assumed was Doug E. Fresh then
spoke, but he turned out to be Alfonzo Blackwell, a black saxophonist who
does not sample. He proved the axiom whereby, if a person is presumed to be
Doug E. Fresh, it's hard to pay attention to him when he isn't.
questions were invited, a band member from Method and Result received cheers
for saying that her method -- using found samples, like the noise of
scissors or waterfalls -- was better than stealing riffs from another band.
She was then derided by an NYU professor, Siva Vaidhyanathan, who asked her
if she really wanted laws to limit what an artist could or could not do, or
that would place a judgment as to what approach is acceptable, and which one
isn't. Speaking to everyone, he said that you "don't want to structure laws that
support a critical stance", even if that means inviting more music into the
world that you, yourself, may not like.
John Flansburgh, one of the guys from They Might Be Giants, took "serious
issue that artists were in a pre-screwed environment", saying that you could get
recouped as an artist. (He was later supported by a comment that the Apples
in Stereo have carpeted their new house in the riches gleaned from licensing
fees.) Attorney Dina LaPolt, among the many doing double duty on panels,
said that she recommended to all her artists to replay the song parts they
want to sample, which would thereby minimize the licensing fees. It would
also prove the artist actually had some talent. As for what the fees might
be if you simply had to have a sample, the owner of spinArt let people know that a Green
Acres sample used in the recent Frank Black album cost them $3,000.
Nitrate Hymnal were supposed to perform during the Intermission, but
instead the next panel, "Retail in the 21st
Century", launched. Moderated by Kristin Thomson, it featured Mike Dreese, the CEO
and cofounder of Newbury Comics. He mentioned the terrible situation in which
artists now found themselves, with major stores like Target not
even stocking big titles like the Buffy soundtrack. If you're a small
act in a small town, hoping to get into your neighborhood stores, where do
you see your chances? As for those big evil corporations like Sam Goody and
Tower Records, they're among the hardest hit in the present economy, and
doing terrible business. He expected that they would soon exist only in big cities
that can guarantee a profit. Dreese also stated an important, very depressing fact --
if music becomes unprofitable, businesses will simply move on to other
stuff. In the case of his company, their profits are in Pokémon cards, or Eminem
action figures, not CDs that offer maybe a five percent
profit. While fans of this chain should know that Dreese doesn't think his company
will stop selling CDs, he made clear they don't give his company profit in
the way a GI Eminem does. That said, he thinks the future is good for
musicians -- just not for retailers who focus solely on music.
Michael Hausman, president of (former Newbury Comics employee) Aimee Mann's
label SuperEgo, mentioned that she was doing well in comparison to her
major label days, but conceded that all the closing record stores will
greatly hurt their abilities to succeed. He has not had problem getting
Mann's records into Tower, but doesn't bother with Walmart,
where you have to "pay" to eventually get paid. As for the Liquid Audio
versions offered at Mann's website, Hausman praises their quality, and loves that
the artist owns the copyright, but admits that not many people were willing to
pay the download fee.
Flansburgh, who had moved from audience seat to panel seat, said that retail
stores were still reluctant to take much of a chance on his band, as they
were simply a cult act... who've persisted over twenty years. When promoting
their children's record, They Might Be Giants were able to develop a good
relationship with Borders, but have consistently done better selling
at their concerts than in record stores, which typically just offer one or
two copies of their material product.
Tim Quirk, former member of Too Much Joy and music programmer for
Listen.Com, was here mostly to sell his company, Rhapsody, which sells
downloads, and he sold them well. He noted that his company will probably soon
lower prices for their downloads, because there's proof people will
pay for five times as many downloads if the cost for each one is cut in
half. He took objection with Flansburgh and
Dreese's opinion that "burns" will be bad for the musician. Not only does his service
pay the owner of the copyrighted material; they work to help consumers who
haven't the time to find the best from each disc. This may do a disservice
to young artists, as Dreese predicted, but maybe not.
Pam Horovitz, the President of NARM (National Association of Recording
Merchandisers), was far better received this year than last. With John
Flansburgh and Dreese objecting to the notion that CDs are overpriced, she
was able to make clear her belief that the technology is still far ahead of
those who want to price the new mediums, like music DVDs and so forth.
After the panel ended, a lot of people crowded the stage to talk to the
popular panel, and the group From Quagmire performed. I don't know if I'm
keen on their name, but they're the best outfit I've heard at this
conference, and are like Elysian Fields or an avant garde Ida. They consisted of
violin, upright bass, drums, guitar and an amp that looked like a mic'd
fan. Admittedly, I might always like them more for their lead singer's blunt
rejections of Patti Smith's silly rants, but theirs is a sort of
experimental music that made sense to me. It was great that Kristin Thomson,
organizer of the FMC, offered them a forum, as they changed the whole vibe
of the room.
As I awaited the last panel of the night, I was amazed by people's interest
in talking to one another. Contrary to the belief of many music fans, musicians
seem a far more social bunch than Ian Curtis and Roger Waters have ever let
Panel 5 started 55 minutes late, but dealt with major labels and their
ability to innovate. It more or less asked how major labels could better
deal with the artists, radio, and technology. The panel consisted of Sandy
Pearlman, former lyricist of Blue Oyster Cult, as well as the aforementioned
Peter Jenner, who has also managed acts like T Rex and Disposable Heroes of
Hiphoprisy. He believed the employer/employee relationship between label and
artist will be a thing of the past, with more contracts being written in the
same manner as Robbie Williams' new contract, which is more a
Jim Cooperman, a biggie at BMG, responded to artists' criticism (such as Tom Waits'
quip, "that the big print giveth and the small print taketh away") by
simplifying the contract and making revenue opportunities more obvious to artists.
Pearlman, whom I remembered from last year (once he rolled down his litany of
credits), began with such a disparaging view of the music business that he
stood in great contrast with most of the other panelists. Both he and his label made money during his time with Blue Oyster
Cult, but he believed there's now no room for anything but the artist.
Peter Jenner, asked about health insurance, said he thought there was a way
for major labels to offer health insurance to performers if they bundled the
package, thus decreasing their percentage of high-risk performers. He also
thought they could demand more mature behavior from their artists, rather
than pamper to them and treat them like idiots. Asked if managers were part
of the problem, he said that might be the case too, as the situation is that
managers, and everyone in the music business, have a compulsion to frontload
deals, as their working relationship with the artist could always end the
next day. This, he said, serves neither the artist nor the manager who wants to
do his job well.
Some of the best conversations focused on world-wide deals, which Pearl and
Jenner thought continually led to bad deals. In one of his few points
that I liked, Pearlman said, "No record company is as good everywhere as it
is somewhere." He mentioned Warner Brothers, which did well in America, but
"sucked hamster dick elsewhere". Jim Cooperman of BMG said that major labels who make the commitment to an artist in America need the
money from overseas countries to break even or show a profit. What Jenner
found awful about world-wide deals, in particular, was the fact that an artist
sometimes had to sign away his international rights, then find out his
record's not being sold anywhere overseas. He said it was important for
artists never to get into deals where this could possibly happen.
Pearlman and Jenner spoke positively about unions, while the
Recording Artist Coalition impressed no one. The RIAA, who apparently had a
plan to sue fans, was laughed at by Jenner, but was said to be worthwhile by the
guy sitting in for BMG. They haven't made more mistakes than any other big
company, according to David Benjamin, an attorney who earlier had been
elected by UMG to be their senior vice president of anti-piracy. I think
he's advanced beyond that now, as the guy's just smart, and engendered
trust by giving no answer on issues he's not involved in. This approach
strengthened everything he had to say in defense of labels, including a
much-rebuked argument that it's the musicians who are paying too much for
their videos. If they want to make an elaborate production for MTV, they
have to realize that they're going to pay for it. And they don't need to; remember the Replacements' videos?
Due to a bout of temporary blindness, I missed a conference on the Internet and the downloading situation; it
strove to find out how everyone involved can make a fee-download service
work on a monetary level for both the web businesses, the artists, and the
labels themselves. It did not go over that well with people like John Booth,
a former artist who now runs a business called FanSurge. He told me he
found it an irrelevant issue to any artist who has not already made
it. When you are starting out, he said, you're just happy that someone,
somewhere, has heard of you, so it's hard to be able to bitch when a
stranger out there wants to put you on his comp CD. I asked him what he
thought about Patti Smith, and I couldn't get another person to call her an
idiot on record. He seemed less impressed by her and Pearlman, though.
It was perhaps quite fitting that "Musicians and
Health Insurance" was the first of today's panels that I was able to fully attend.
It was moderated by Tim Quirk, a guy I was starting to truly enjoy, who
opened with the fact that 44 percent of musicians were uninsured, while only
14 percent of the rest of the country was insured. Alex Maiolo, co-owner of
Lee-Moore Insurance, said that the basic problem is simple; most musicians do not
make enough money through music to afford it. Jim Brown, director of Artists' Health
Insurance Resource Center, compared the plight of musicians to that of
any self-employed worker. Health policies are designed so that you'll get
your insurance through your company. If you're not part of a company, just
continue to cough. Jokingly, he said that his service was thinking about starting a dating
service for musicians who have insurance and musicians who don't.
David Sterling, president of MusicPro Insurance, said that his company has made
available a steadily growing health insurance delivery system that now
serves more than 500 people. Though it does not pay for regular doctor visits,
their insurance policy covers catastrophic illness for about a hundred
dollars a month. If they get a disease like cancer, musicians would at least
be able to deal with their problem face to face with doctors.
Jim Brown respectfully took some issue with MusicPro. While he does not
disrespect what they are trying to do, he wants people to keep in mind that
"discount plans are not really insurance" when they are unwilling to treat
illnesses such as mental health problems, or when their maximums are as small
as, say, $25000. He pointed out that a bed in Mt. Sinai Hospital alone costs
$3300 (and you can't take that bed home with you).
Ann Chaitovitz, director of sound recordings for AFTRA, said that it was important
for musicians to make certain that they're connected with AFTRA, as they'll then
provide one year of free insurance for any artist signed with a label. They
are trying now to grant free insurance to any musician signed to a label who
is not making at least $7500 per year in royalties. Chaitovitz gave the impression
that major labels know health care is a crisis, and that their own
reputation would improve if they were able to provide artists with this
service. As for indie labels, Chaitovitz said that some have signed onto AFTRA, but not many.
Linda Phillips, who created NUCI
Space after her musician son killed himself, spoke to one of the issues
that Jim Brown worried about. She has created a service that provides
low-cost mental health services for musicians who suffer from depression
and other illnesses requiring counseling and so forth. They have physicians
who donate their time, and a dentist who's offering his services for
free. They try to remove any of the obstacles faced by people in trouble.
Though they've served in part just to help Phillips
with her grieving process, she's found it extremely fulfilling, as their
clients are grateful to the point of being baffled by a stranger's
Peyton Wimmer, who directs the Doug Sahm Musicians' Health Clinic, said that he
tries to accomplish the same things as NUCI Space, whereby the environment
of the clinic will welcome the musicians, and help them through any
difficulties they are going through. Having offered mental health services
for the Austin community for the last seven years, he believes that anybody can do
this in their own home town if they have passion and a mission. He currently
runs a free clinic for musicians in Sahm's name, and serves between six and
ten thousand patients per year.
Dr. Susan Raeburn, a licensed clinical psychologist, responded to a "Why
Care" question by pointing out the role model aspects of a musician. Perhaps
musicians have a right to play up the angle that they're special. David
Sterling said it was important for musicians to think about going together
as a group, as group rates can be both cheaper and better, but this
perspective was given less thrift than a statement from an audience member,
who received cheers for saying that the government should pay. I'm not against
this notion, but should mention that I've noticed there hasn't been one complaint
about the American government that has not received cheers from the crowd.
After lunch, Panel 8 focused on the
consolidation and regulation of radio. It was moderated by John Nichols, a
writer for the Nation.
Panelist Peter DiCola, asked about the Telecommunications Act, said it destroyed
radio when it raised the limit of radio stations a company could own to a
limitless number (in 1996). Whereas no company owned more than 14 radio
stations in the early eighties, Clear Channel now owns 1,240.
George Williams, senior economist for the FCC, said they are reviewing all of
their rules -- mostly written in a pre-cable, pre-satellite society -- that
affect media. He felt that the FMC made a good point -- that there's a large amount
of overlap and homogenization between the formats, whereby country and pop
and rock stations might all play the same song. Though deregulation was
theoretically supposed to increase variety (because it's not good business
for a company to compete against itself), this hasn't been the case.
Adam Thierer, a director of telecommunication studies at the Cato Institute, said that it's
important to define the diversity you're talking about, and pointed out that the
Telecommunications Act of 1996 had good arguments supporting the idea
that one owner is often the best way to bring about variety, a comment which
drew no dissent from Pat Aufderheide. However, this American
University professor noted that those playing music on the margins completely
disappeared. Part of the problem, she explained, came from America defining
radio in the thirties as a mass media, where "public interest" had to play
part of the equation. She said that the actual public is not offered a
voice in this position, and that we need to broaden the spectrum, so that
radio can broadcast anything we want.
Lee Abrams, chief programming officer of XM Radio, had a surprisingly positive viewpoint toward
formats, saying that FM drove him crazy as a kid, when the stations were so
narrow-minded that they'd play 70-minute sitar solos. He talked about neighboring stations in Miami, one of which would play a studio version of a song by the Nice, while the other would play the live
version. Abrams gave an entertaining history of radio in a swift five minutes,
and saw a cyclical process whereby FM is repeating all the mistakes that AM
made when it was in its prime. As AM did not go stereo in the late
sixties, the now-dominant FM has failed to go digital. Both AM and FM, which
were once all about emerging artists, sunk into repetition and lethargy
once they reached the top, and it's now up to XM or low-power
radio to create the new frontiers that our car stereos can traverse.
Aufderheide added that it was important to keep the Internet as deregulated as
possible. Although some regulation is always going to happen -- the
government will always put its hands on such issues -- it's important to
give independent voices a place to exist. She thought the government could
help in one way, though -- in the collection of data and
information from independent radio stations (Who listens to them?). If they disappeared, would it matter?
The main problem with this request, according to George Williams, is that
people get queasy whenever the government asks to collect data. An
inquisitive government agency is an agency that people hate.
Following this panel, I met someone who knew fellow Splendid writer Brett
McCallon. We both thought Brett was a good guy.
Then there was a discussion about Congress, with many compliments given to the Future of Music Coalition (and the Recording Artists
Coalition, who have Senator Murray's ear, if no one else's). In short,
coalitions like the FMC have made it clear to Congress that the RIAA does
not speak for every musician. No future act or policy that affects musicians
will be made solely on the basis of the RIAA's input.
The Fairness of Music and Licensing Act, which made it legal
for bars and malls and supermarkets to play music for free, was also brought
up, if only to point out why it came about. Tavern owners got what they
wanted because musicians didn't form an opposition. Senator Murray thought
that would never happen anymore, because they would seek out artists; he
made it very clear that Sean Penn, Alex Baldwin, Boy Toy Henley and
performers who annoy me (like Patti Smith) are smart to raise their voices
about the issues they care about, because Congress adores them.
However, he stressed that it's quite possible that even the biggest artists
won't succeed right away, all the time -- for example, Pearl Jam (who were,
coincidentally, among the biggest sponsors of this conference).
Andy Schwartzman, President and CEO of the Media Access Project,
took the time to pass out the URL of the Music CD Settlement website, where anybody who has bought more
than two CDs from two different retailers since 1995 can be reimbursed a few
bucks for having been shafted by record companies. He said, if you don't
qualify for money under this provision, then "you don't belong here".
Beyond this, there was a good defense of BMG's new practice of making their
contracts more easy-to-understand. If laws are written to punish labels who
don't live up to their end of contracts, then the transparency of the
contracts will assist the agency that exacts the punishment. Senator
Murray also mentioned the negative effects that Robbie Williams' new contract
might cause; he foresees a time when labels might demand a
piece of performance profits.
Before the last panel came the event's last live performance. John, a member of the Bicycle
Thieves, performed a very nice solo acoustic set. He used the word
"shit" quite a few times in his first song, and had a pretty number called "The Sky is Falling". As he played this song, a pretty rock girl from
Austin took his picture.
The final panel, "The Search for a Legitimate Digital Workplace", was a
rather quirky way to end the conference, as it was moderated via questions
that came from the year 2008. Satellite was deemed a more worthwhile service
than Verizon, doomed to death in 2005, and Jon Bon Jovi was elected governor
of New Jersey. More radical was the notion that audio would be
consistently bundled with video, because it's what consumers wanted. I
sincerely doubt this as long as CD burning remains a popular activity, as CDs with
"extras" disrupt the copying process.
Among the music pioneers envisioned by the last panel was Nelly, the
first music artist to license all of his material into one audiovisual
copyright for his DVD performance, Nellytown; this maneuver made him
especially rich. Vincent Peppe, Legal Counsel for the Licensing section of
SESAC, provided arguably the funniest comment. He followed
a long setup by moderator Walter McDonough with the statement, "Your
memory's faulty." I swear it was a funny line. You had to be there.
The more serious content occurred when the subject turned to compulsory
licenses. If granted outside the digital media, these licenses would allow
labels like Heartland and Sony Special Products to produce comp
after "greatest hit" comp for a very minimal fee, and it would hurt the
And then, in the same manner as most Larry McMurtry novels, the Summit just
ended. I think the FMC, like the author of Lonesome Dove,
knew that they put on an event that was good enough (and long enough) to
obviate the need for fireworks at the end. And with that, I put on my
coat and started the walk home. As I turned down an anonymous street, I
saw homeless fashion critics glitter only a block way.
Article by Theodore Defosse.