THE INTERNET DEBACLE – AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW
When I research an article, I normally send 30 or so emails to friends and acquaintances asking for opinions and anecdotes. I usually receive between 10 and 20 in reply. This time, I sent 36 emails requesting opinions and facts on free music downloading from the Net. I stated that I planned to adopt the viewpoint of devil’s advocate: free Internet downloads are good for the music industry and its artists, I’ve received, to date, over 300 replies, every single one from someone “ in the music business”.
What’s more interesting than the emails are the phone calls. I don’t know anyone at NARAS (home of the Grammy Awards), and I know Hilary Rosen (head of the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA) only vaguely. Yet within 24 hours of sending my original email, I’d received two messages from Rosen and four from NARAS requesting that I call to “discuss the article”.
The NARAS people told me downloads were “destroying sales”, “ruining the music industry” and “costing you money”. Costing me money? I don’t think so. Ms Rosen stressed she was only interested in presenting the RIAA’s side of the issue, and was kind enough to send me a fair amount of statics and documentation, including a focus-group studies the RIAA had run on the matter. However, the problem with focus groups is the same problem anthropologists have when studying peoples in the field – the moment the anthropologist’s presence is known, everything changes. Hundreds of scientific studies have shown that any experimental group wants to please the examiner. For focus groups, this is particularly true.
The premise of all this nonsense is that the industry (and its artists) are being harmed by free downloading. I don’t agree. My site (www.janisian.com) gets an average of 75,000 hits a year. Not bad for someone whose last hit record was in 1975. I’ve found that every time we make a few songs available on my website, sales of all the CDs go up. Realistically, why do most people download music? To hear new music or records that have been deleted and are no longer available for purchase. Not to avoid paying $5 at the local used CD store or taping it of the radio, but to hear music they can’t find anywhere else.
In hysteria of the moment, everyone is forgetting the main way an artist become successful – exposure.
Without exposure, no one comes to shows, no one buys CDs, no one enables you to earn a living doing what you love. Again, from personal experience: in 37 years as a recording artist, I’ve created 25+ albums for major labels, and I’ve never once received a royalty check that didn’t show I owed them money. So I make most of my living from live touring, playing for 80 – 1,500 people a night, doing my own show. I spend hours each week doing press, writing articles, making sure my website tour information is up to date. So when someone writes and tells me they came to my show because they’d downloaded a song and gotten curious, I am thrilled!
If you think about it, the musical industry should be rejoicing at this new technological advance! Here’s a fool-proof way to deliver music to millions who might otherwise never purchase a CD in a store. The cross-marketing opportunities are unbelievable. It’s instantaneous, costs are minimal, shipping non-existent….. an obvious vehicle for higher earnings and lower costs. Instead, they’re running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Bleeding on everyone and making no sense.
There is zero evidence that material available for free online downloading is financially harming anyone. In fact, most of the hard evidence is to the contrary. Please note that I am not arguing for indiscriminate downloading without the artist’s permission. I am not saying copyrights are meaningless. I am objecting to the RIAA spin that they are doing this to protect “ the artists” and make us more money. I am annoyed that so many records I once owned are out of print, and the only place I could find them was Napster. Most of all, I’d like to see an end to the hysteria that causes a group like the RIAA to spend over 45 million dollars in 2001 lobbying in “our behalf”, when every record company out there is complaining that they have no money.
As artists, we have to ear the masses. We have the trust of the masses. By speaking out in our concerts and in the press, we can do a great deal to calm this hysteria, and put the blame for the sad state of our industry right back where it belongs – in the laps of record companies, radio programmers and our own apparent inability to organize ourselves in order to better our own lives – and those of our fans. If we don’t take charge, no one will.