You are the lead singer/songwriter in a four-member rock band, and you want to quit your day job at XandO. Somehow, you manage to get a contract with a major record label. The label says, "Hey, we're going to give you 20 percent of all sales, and a whopping million dollar advance!" Welcome to rock stardom, yo. This is the big-time. But it isn't as simple as that. Out of your advance, you have to pay about $500,000 to record your album, $100,000 for your manager's 20 percent commission, $25,000 to your lawyer and $25,000 to your business manager. After $350,000 in taxes, that leaves the band with $45,000 per member. That's for a year. And eventually, the original million dollars will be completely recoupable. That's without considering the post-production costs of marketing and distribution, most of which are entirely recoupable by your company. If you're real lucky, you might break even. And to top it off, you don't own the rights to your songs, and you're obligated to keep making records for your label for up to 14 years, or until they drop you. I'm horrified, and so is Courtney Love. Love is seeking to break her contract with Vivendi Universal, and, in the process, break down the entire major label system. She claims that the Big Five record labels have formed a trust, providing musicians the only means to wide-distribution and promotion, thereby coercing them into signing "sharecropper" contracts, restricting their artistic freedom, and denying them wages. Now, I've been reading up on this issue (hence the professional-looking statistics), and I'm real tempted to relate all the disgusting details of music-industry fraud, along with each and every intriguing claim in Love's case. After all, this is a newspaper, and you deserve some facts. But we've got a week until spring break, we're all cramming for midterms and we don't need any more blasted facts. I'll do us all a favor and wax editorially. We've been hearing a lot about intellectual property and artists' rights lately -- … la the Napster fiasco -- and the whole mess has illustrated a painful reality of modern life: art is soda is running shoes is long distance service. Jennifer Lopez has insured her ass with Lloyds of London. N'Sync is a brand of lip-gloss. Music will always be a business as long as artists must get paid, but the music has become significantly less important than the business. On the surface, something like Napster is a celebration of music and a condemnation of the music business, but it is undeniably at the expense of the artists. To celebrate music is to respect the artist is to buy their album. As Glenn MacDonald writes on his weekly music review web site The War Against Silence, "The major labels are really now just paying the logical price for having promoted musicians as interchangeable cartoon figures, and thus bred shallow, fickle listeners with no sense of ethical responsibility." The entertainment industry promotes rock stars as virtual fictions, and we buy into it. It is this dehumanization of the musician that has enabled us to qualmlessly steal their music. Such dehumanization is ironically well-illustrated in the character of Courtney Love. We see her as an attitude, as a lifestyle, as a cartoon character with bad makeup and a ripped-up designer dress. Why should we pay money to a cartoon? And if we shouldn't, then why should the record company? The more musicians are touted as rich, pampered fictions, the fewer rights they have. And while that may not be significant for Courtney Love, or Metallica, or Dr. Dre, it's vital to the struggling folk rockers and hip-hop outfits who are trying to make a living wage. Where did it start? Who's to blame for this system of dehumanization? Whoever is at fault, the musicians aren't the only victims. Artists are the soul-doctors of the world -- to cripple them financially is to deny them a creative outlet is to deny us the necessary catharsis brought by music-listening. If the real artists are disenfranchised, then the only ones we'll hear will be the easily-marketable cartoons, except for the precious few independent Ani Difrancos who make it without industry assistance (actually, who else is there, other than Ani Difranco?). This issue demands scrutiny beyond the ramblings of Courtney Love. In a society in need of cultural healing (and what society isn't?) the rights of the artists are just as important as health care or education reform.Comments powered by Disqus
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