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<nettime> [Salon] Courtney Love does the math
nettime's_roving_reporter on Wed, 14 Jun 2000 20:27:28 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> [Salon] Courtney Love does the math


<http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/06/14/love/print.html>

   Courtney Love does the math
   
   The controversial singer takes on record label profits, Napster and
   "sucka VCs."
   
   - - - - - - - - - - - -
   By Courtney Love
   
   June 14, 2000 | Today I want to talk about piracy and music. What is
   piracy? Piracy is the act of stealing an artist's work without any
   intention of paying for it. I'm not talking about Napster-type
   software.
   
   I'm talking about major label recording contracts.
   
   I want to start with a story about rock bands and record companies,
   and do some recording-contract math:
   
   This story is about a bidding-war band that gets a huge deal with a 20
   percent royalty rate and a million-dollar advance. (No bidding-war
   band ever got a 20 percent royalty, but whatever.) This is my "funny"
   math based on some reality and I just want to qualify it by saying I'm
   positive it's better math than what Edgar Bronfman Jr. [the president
   and CEO of Seagram, which owns Polygram] would provide.
   
   What happens to that million dollars?
   
   They spend half a million to record their album. That leaves the band
   with $500,000. They pay $100,000 to their manager for 20 percent
   commission. They pay $25,000 each to their lawyer and business
   manager.
   
   That leaves $350,000 for the four band members to split. After
   $170,000 in taxes, there's $180,000 left. That comes out to $45,000
   per person.
   
   That's $45,000 to live on for a year until the record gets released.
   
   The record is a big hit and sells a million copies. (How a bidding-war
   band sells a million copies of its debut record is another rant
   entirely, but it's based on any basic civics-class knowledge that any
   of us have about cartels. Put simply, the antitrust laws in this
   country are basically a joke, protecting us just enough to not have to
   re-name our park service the Phillip Morris National Park Service.)
   
   So, this band releases two singles and makes two videos. The two
   videos cost a million dollars to make and 50 percent of the video
   production costs are recouped out of the band's royalties.
   
   The band gets $200,000 in tour support, which is 100 percent
   recoupable.
   
   The record company spends $300,000 on independent radio promotion. You
   have to pay independent promotion to get your song on the radio;
   independent promotion is a system where the record companies use
   middlemen so they can pretend not to know that radio stations -- the
   unified broadcast system -- are getting paid to play their records.
   
   All of those independent promotion costs are charged to the band.
   
   Since the original million-dollar advance is also recoupable, the band
   owes $2 million to the record company.
   
   If all of the million records are sold at full price with no discounts
   or record clubs, the band earns $2 million in royalties, since their
   20 percent royalty works out to $2 a record.
   
   Two million dollars in royalties minus $2 million in recoupable
   expenses equals ... zero!
   
   How much does the record company make?
   
   They grossed $11 million.
   
   It costs $500,000 to manufacture the CDs and they advanced the band $1
   million. Plus there were $1 million in video costs, $300,000 in radio
   promotion and $200,000 in tour support.
   
   The company also paid $750,000 in music publishing royalties.
   
   They spent $2.2 million on marketing. That's mostly retail
   advertising, but marketing also pays for those huge posters of Marilyn
   Manson in Times Square and the street scouts who drive around in vans
   handing out black Korn T-shirts and backwards baseball caps. Not to
   mention trips to Scores and cash for tips for all and sundry.
   
   Add it up and the record company has spent about $4.4 million.
   
   So their profit is $6.6 million; the band may as well be working at a
   7-Eleven.
   
   Of course, they had fun. Hearing yourself on the radio, selling
   records, getting new fans and being on TV is great, but now the band
   doesn't have enough money to pay the rent and nobody has any credit.
   
   Worst of all, after all this, the band owns none of its work ... they
   can pay the mortgage forever but they'll never own the house. Like I
   said: Sharecropping. Our media says, "Boo hoo, poor pop stars, they
   had a nice ride. Fuck them for speaking up"; but I say this dialogue
   is imperative. And cynical media people, who are more fascinated with
   celebrity than most celebrities, need to reacquaint themselves with
   their value systems.
   
   When you look at the legal line on a CD, it says copyright 1976
   Atlantic Records or copyright 1996 RCA Records. When you look at a
   book, though, it'll say something like copyright 1999 Susan Faludi, or
   David Foster Wallace. Authors own their books and license them to
   publishers. When the contract runs out, writers gets their books back.
   But record companies own our copyrights forever.
   
   The system's set up so almost nobody gets paid.
   
   Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
   
   Last November, a Congressional aide named Mitch Glazier, with the
   support of the RIAA, added a "technical amendment" to a bill that
   defined recorded music as "works for hire" under the 1978 Copyright
   Act.
   
   He did this after all the hearings on the bill were over. By the time
   artists found out about the change, it was too late. The bill was on
   its way to the White House for the president's signature.
   
   That subtle change in copyright law will add billions of dollars to
   record company bank accounts over the next few years -- billions of
   dollars that rightfully should have been paid to artists. A "work for
   hire" is now owned in perpetuity by the record company.
   
   Under the 1978 Copyright Act, artists could reclaim the copyrights on
   their work after 35 years. If you wrote and recorded "Everybody
   Hurts," you at least got it back to as a family legacy after 35 years.
   But now, because of this corrupt little pisher, "Everybody Hurts"
   never gets returned to your family, and can now be sold to the highest
   bidder.
   
   Over the years record companies have tried to put "work for hire"
   provisions in their contracts, and Mr. Glazier claims that the "work
   for hire" only "codified" a standard industry practice. But copyright
   laws didn't identify sound recordings as being eligible to be called
   "works for hire," so those contracts didn't mean anything. Until now.
   
   Writing and recording "Hey Jude" is now the same thing as writing an
   English textbook, writing standardized tests, translating a novel from
   one language to another or making a map. These are the types of things
   addressed in the "work for hire" act. And writing a standardized test
   is a work for hire. Not making a record.
   
   So an assistant substantially altered a major law when he only had the
   authority to make spelling corrections. That's not what I learned
   about how government works in my high school civics class.
   
   Three months later, the RIAA hired Mr. Glazier to become its top
   lobbyist at a salary that was obviously much greater than the one he
   had as the spelling corrector guy.
   
   The RIAA tries to argue that this change was necessary because of a
   provision in the bill that musicians supported. That provision
   prevents anyone from registering a famous person's name as a Web
   address without that person's permission. That's great. I own my name,
   and should be able to do what I want with my name.
   
   But the bill also created an exception that allows a company to take a
   person's name for a Web address if they create a work for hire. Which
   means a record company would be allowed to own your Web site when you
   record your "work for hire" album. Like I said: Sharecropping.
   
   Although I've never met any one at a record company who "believed in
   the Internet," they've all been trying to cover their asses by
   securing everyone's digital rights. Not that they know what to do with
   them. Go to a major label-owned band site. Give me a dollar for every
   time you see an annoying "under construction" sign. I used to pester
   Geffen (when it was a label) to do a better job. I was totally ignored
   for two years, until I got my band name back. The Goo Goo Dolls are
   struggling to gain control of their domain name from Warner Bros., who
   claim they own the name because they set up a shitty promotional Web
   site for the band.
   
   Orrin Hatch, songwriter and Republican senator from Utah, seems to be
   the only person in Washington with a progressive view of copyright
   law. One lobbyist says that there's no one in the House with a similar
   view and that "this would have never happened if Sonny Bono was still
   alive."
   
   By the way, which bill do you think the recording industry used for
   this amendment?
   
   The Record Company Redefinition Act? No. The Music Copyright Act? No.
   The Work for Hire Authorship Act? No.
   
   How about the Satellite Home Viewing Act of 1999?
   
   Stealing our copyright reversions in the dead of night while no one
   was looking, and with no hearings held, is piracy.
   
   It's piracy when the RIAA lobbies to change the bankruptcy law to make
   it more difficult for musicians to declare bankruptcy. Some musicians
   have declared bankruptcy to free themselves from truly evil contracts.
   TLC declared bankruptcy after they received less than 2 percent of the
   $175 million earned by their CD sales. That was about 40 times less
   than the profit that was divided among their management, production
   and record companies.
   
   Toni Braxton also declared bankruptcy in 1998. She sold $188 million
   worth of CDs, but she was broke because of a terrible recording
   contract that paid her less than 35 cents per album. Bankruptcy can be
   an artist's only defense against a truly horrible deal and the RIAA
   wants to take it away.
   
   Artists want to believe that we can make lots of money if we're
   successful. But there are hundreds of stories about artists in their
   60s and 70s who are broke because they never made a dime from their
   hit records. And real success is still a long shot for a new artist
   today. Of the 32,000 new releases each year, only 250 sell more than
   10,000 copies. And less than 30 go platinum.
   
   The four major record corporations fund the RIAA. These companies are
   rich and obviously well-represented. Recording artists and musicians
   don't really have the money to compete. The 273,000 working musicians
   in America make about $30,000 a year. Only 15 percent of American
   Federation of Musicians members work steadily in music.
   
   But the music industry is a $40 billion-a-year business. One-third of
   that revenue comes from the United States. The annual sales of
   cassettes, CDs and video are larger than the gross national product of
   80 countries. Americans have more CD players, radios and VCRs than we
   have bathtubs.
   
   Story after story gets told about artists -- some of them in their 60s
   and 70s, some of them authors of huge successful songs that we all
   enjoy, use and sing -- living in total poverty, never having been paid
   anything. Not even having access to a union or to basic health care.
   Artists who have generated billions of dollars for an industry die
   broke and un-cared for.
   
   And they're not actors or participators. They're the rightful owners,
   originators and performers of original compositions.
   
   This is piracy.
   
   Technology is not piracy
   
   This opinion is one I really haven't formed yet, so as I speak about
   Napster now, please understand that I'm not totally informed. I will
   be the first in line to file a class action suit to protect my
   copyrights if Napster or even the far more advanced Gnutella doesn't
   work with us to protect us. I'm on [Metallica drummer] Lars Ulrich's
   side, in other words, and I feel really badly for him that he doesn't
   know how to condense his case down to a sound-bite that sounds more
   reasonable than the one I saw today.
   
   I also think Metallica is being given too much grief. It's
   anti-artist, for one thing. An artist speaks up and the artist gets
   squashed: Sharecropping. Don't get above your station, kid. It's not
   piracy when kids swap music over the Internet using Napster or
   Gnutella or Freenet or iMesh or beaming their CDs into a My.MP3.com or
   MyPlay.com music locker. It's piracy when those guys that run those
   companies make side deals with the cartel lawyers and label heads so
   that they can be "the labels' friend," and not the artists'.
   
   Recording artists have essentially been giving their music away for
   free under the old system, so new technology that exposes our music to
   a larger audience can only be a good thing. Why aren't these companies
   working with us to create some peace?
   
   There were a billion music downloads last year, but music sales are
   up. Where's the evidence that downloads hurt business? Downloads are
   creating more demand.
   
   Why aren't record companies embracing this great opportunity? Why
   aren't they trying to talk to the kids passing compilations around to
   learn what they like? Why is the RIAA suing the companies that are
   stimulating this new demand? What's the point of going after people
   swapping cruddy-sounding MP3s? Cash! Cash they have no intention of
   passing onto us, the writers of their profits.
   
   At this point the "record collector" geniuses who use Napster don't
   have the coolest most arcane selection anyway, unless you're into
   techno. Hardly any pre-1982 REM fans, no '60s punk, even the Alan
   Parsons Project was underrepresented when I tried to find some Napster
   buddies. For the most part, it was college boy rawk without a lot of
   imagination. Maybe that's the demographic that cares -- and in that
   case, My Bloody Valentine and Bert Jansch aren't going to get screwed
   just yet. There's still time to negotiate.
   
   Destroying traditional access
   
   Somewhere along the way, record companies figured out that it's a lot
   more profitable to control the distribution system than it is to
   nurture artists. And since the companies didn't have any real
   competition, artists had no other place to go. Record companies
   controlled the promotion and marketing; only they had the ability to
   get lots of radio play, and get records into all the big chain store.
   That power put them above both the artists and the audience. They own
   the plantation.
   
   Being the gatekeeper was the most profitable place to be, but now
   we're in a world half without gates. The Internet allows artists to
   communicate directly with their audiences; we don't have to depend
   solely on an inefficient system where the record company promotes our
   records to radio, press or retail and then sits back and hopes fans
   find out about our music.
   
   Record companies don't understand the intimacy between artists and
   their fans. They put records on the radio and buy some advertising and
   hope for the best. Digital distribution gives everyone worldwide,
   instant access to music.
   
   And filters are replacing gatekeepers. In a world where we can get
   anything we want, whenever we want it, how does a company create
   value? By filtering. In a world without friction, the only friction
   people value is editing. A filter is valuable when it understands the
   needs of both artists and the public. New companies should be conduits
   between musicians and their fans.
   
   Right now the only way you can get music is by shelling out $17. In a
   world where music costs a nickel, an artist can "sell" 100 million
   copies instead of just a million.
   
   The present system keeps artists from finding an audience because it
   has too many artificial scarcities: limited radio promotion, limited
   bin space in stores and a limited number of spots on the record
   company roster.
   
   The digital world has no scarcities. There are countless ways to reach
   an audience. Radio is no longer the only place to hear a new song. And
   tiny mall record stores aren't the only place to buy a new CD.
   
   I'm leaving
   
   Now artists have options. We don't have to work with major labels
   anymore, because the digital economy is creating new ways to
   distribute and market music. And the free ones amongst us aren't going
   to. That means the slave class, which I represent, has to find ways to
   get out of our deals. This didn't really matter before, and that's why
   we all stayed.
   
   I want my seven-year contract law California labor code case to mean
   something to other artists. (Universal Records sues me because I leave
   because my employment is up, but they say a recording contract is not
   a personal contract; because the recording industry -- who, we have
   established, are excellent lobbyists, getting, as they did, a clerk to
   disallow Don Henley or Tom Petty the right to give their copyrights to
   their families -- in California, in 1987, lobbied to pass an amendment
   that nullified recording contracts as personal contracts, sort of.
   Maybe. Kind of. A little bit. And again, in the dead of night,
   succeeded.)
   
   That's why I'm willing to do it with a sword in my teeth. I expect
   I'll be ignored or ostracized following this lawsuit. I expect that
   the treatment you're seeing Lars Ulrich get now will quadruple for me.
   Cool. At least I'll serve a purpose. I'm an artist and a good artist,
   I think, but I'm not that artist that has to play all the time, and
   thus has to get fucked. Maybe my laziness and self-destructive streak
   will finally pay off and serve a community desperately in need of it.
   They can't torture me like they could Lucinda Williams.
   
   You funny dot-communists. Get your shit together, you annoying sucka
   VCs
   
   I want to work with people who believe in music and art and passion.
   And I'm just the tip of the iceberg. I'm leaving the major label
   system and there are hundreds of artists who are going to follow me.
   There's an unbelievable opportunity for new companies that dare to get
   it right.
   
   How can anyone defend the current system when it fails to deliver
   music to so many potential fans? That only expects of itself a "5
   percent success rate" a year? The status quo gives us a boring
   culture. In a society of over 300 million people, only 30 new artists
   a year sell a million records. By any measure, that's a huge failure.
   
   Maybe each fan will spend less money, but maybe each artist will have
   a better chance of making a living. Maybe our culture will get more
   interesting than the one currently owned by Time Warner. I'm not
   crazy. Ask yourself, are any of you somehow connected to Time Warner
   media? I think there are a lot of yeses to that and I'd have to say
   that in that case president McKinley truly failed to bust any trusts.
   Maybe we can remedy that now.
   
   Artists will make that compromise if it means we can connect with
   hundreds of millions of fans instead of the hundreds of thousands that
   we have now. Especially if we lose all the crap that goes with success
   under the current system. I'm willing, right now, to leave half of
   these trappings -- fuck it, all these trappings -- at the door to have
   a pure artist experience. They cosset us with trappings to shut us up.
   That way when we say "sharecropper!" you can point to my free suit and
   say "Shut up pop star."
   
   Here, take my Prada pants. Fuck it. Let us do our real jobs. And those
   of us addicted to celebrity because we have nothing else to give will
   fade away. And those of us addicted to celebrity because it was there
   will find a better, purer way to live.
   
   Since I've basically been giving my music away for free under the old
   system, I'm not afraid of wireless, MP3 files or any of the other
   threats to my copyrights. Anything that makes my music more available
   to more people is great. MP3 files sound cruddy, but a well-made album
   sounds great. And I don't care what anyone says about digital
   recordings. At this point they are good for dance music, but try
   listening to a warm guitar tone on them. They suck for what I do.
   
   Record companies are terrified of anything that challenges their
   control of distribution. This is the business that insisted that CDs
   be sold in incredibly wasteful 6-by-12 inch long boxes just because no
   one thought you could change the bins in a record store.
   
   Let's not call the major labels "labels." Let's call them by their
   real names: They are the distributors. They're the only distributors
   and they exist because of scarcity. Artists pay 95 percent of whatever
   we make to gatekeepers because we used to need gatekeepers to get our
   music heard. Because they have a system, and when they decide to spend
   enough money -- all of it recoupable, all of it owed by me -- they can
   occasionally shove things through this system, depending on a lot of
   arbitrary factors.
   
   The corporate filtering system, which is the system that brought you
   (in my humble opinion) a piece of crap like "Mambo No. 5" and didn't
   let you hear the brilliant Cat Power record or the amazing new Sleater
   Kinney record, obviously doesn't have good taste anyway. But we've
   never paid major label/distributors for their good taste. They've
   never been like Yahoo and provided a filter service.
   
   There were a lot of factors that made a distributor decide to push a
   recording through the system:
   
   How powerful is management?
   Who owes whom a favor?
   What independent promoter's cousin is the drummer?
   What part of the fiscal year is the company putting out the record?
   Is the royalty rate for the artist so obscenely bad that it's almost
   100 percent profit instead of just 95 percent so that if the record
   sells, it's literally a steal?
   How much bin space is left over this year?
   Was the record already a hit in Europe so that there's corporate
   pressure to make it work?
   Will the band screw up its live career to play free shows for radio
   stations?
   Does the artist's song sound enough like someone else that radio
   stations will play it because it fits the sound of the month?
   Did the artist get the song on a film soundtrack so that the movie
   studio will pay for the video?
   
   These factors affect the decisions that go into the system. Not public
   taste. All these things are becoming eradicated now. They are gone or
   on their way out. We don't need the gatekeepers any more. We just
   don't need them.
   
   And if they aren't going to do for me what I can do for myself with my
   19-year-old Webmistress on my own Web site, then they need to get the
   hell out of my way. [I will] allow millions of people to get my music
   for nothing if they want and hopefully they'll be kind enough to leave
   a tip if they like it.
   
   I still need the old stuff. I still need a producer in the creation of
   a recording, I still need to get on the radio (which costs a lot of
   money), I still need bin space for hardware CDs, I still need to
   provide an opportunity for people without computers to buy the
   hardware that I make. I still need a lot of this stuff, but I can get
   these things from a joint venture with a company that serves as a
   conduit and knows its place. Serving the artist and serving the
   public: That's its place.
   
   Equity for artists
   
   A new company that gives artists true equity in their work can take
   over the world, kick ass and make a lot of money. We're inspired by
   how people get paid in the new economy. Many visual artists and
   software and hardware designers have real ownership of their work.
   
   I have a 14-year-old niece. She used to want to be a rock star. Before
   that she wanted to be an actress. As of six months ago, what do you
   think she wants to be when she grows up? What's the glamorous,
   emancipating career of choice? Of course, she wants to be a Web
   designer. It's such a glamorous business!
   
   When you people do business with artists, you have to take a different
   view of things. We want to be treated with the respect that now goes
   to Web designers. We're not Dockers-wearing Intel workers from
   Portland who know how to "manage our stress." We don't understand or
   want to understand corporate culture.
   
   I feel this obscene gold rush greedgreedgreed vibe that bothers me a
   lot when I talk to dot-com people about all this. You guys can't
   hustle artists that well. At least slick A&R guys know the buzzwords.
   Don't try to compete with them. I just laugh at you when you do! Maybe
   you could a year ago when anything dot-com sounded smarter than the
   rest of us, but the scam has been uncovered.
   
   The celebrity-for-sale business is about to crash, I hope, and the
   idea of a sucker VC gifting some company with four floors just because
   they can "do" "chats" with "Christina" once or twice is ridiculous. I
   did a chat today, twice. Big damn deal. 200 bucks for the software and
   some elbow grease and a good back-end coder. Wow. That's not worth 150
   million bucks.
   
   ... I mean, yeah, sure it is if you'd like to give it to me.
   
   Tipping/music as service
   
   I know my place. I'm a waiter. I'm in the service industry.
   
   I live on tips. Occasionally, I'm going to get stiffed, but that's OK.
   If I work hard and I'm doing good work, I believe that the people who
   enjoy it are going to want to come directly to me and get my music
   because it sounds better, since it's mastered and packaged by me
   personally. I'm providing an honest, real experience. Period.
   
   When people buy the bootleg T-shirt in the concert parking lot and not
   the more expensive T-shirt inside the venue, it isn't to save money.
   The T-shirt in the parking lot is cheap and badly made, but it's
   easier to buy. The bootleggers have a better distribution system.
   There's no waiting in line and it only takes two minutes to buy one.
   
   I know that if I can provide my own T-shirt that I designed, that I
   made, and provide it as quickly or quicker than the bootleggers,
   people who've enjoyed the experience I've provided will be happy to
   shell out a little more money to cover my costs. Especially if they
   understand this context, and aren't being shoveled a load of shit
   about "uppity" artists.
   
   It's exactly the same with recorded music. The real thing to fear from
   Napster is its simple and excellent distribution system. No one really
   prefers a cruddy-sounding Napster MP3 file to the real thing. But it's
   really easy to get an MP3 file; and in the middle of Kansas you may
   never see my record because major distribution is really bad if your
   record's not in the charts this week, and even then it takes a couple
   of weeks to restock the one copy they usually keep on hand.
   
   I also know how many times I have heard a song on the radio that I
   loved only to buy the record and have the album be a piece of crap. If
   you're afraid of your own filler then I bet you're afraid of Napster.
   I'm afraid of Napster because I think the major label cartel will get
   to them before I do.
   
   I've made three records. I like them all. I haven't made filler and
   they're all committed pieces of work. I'm not scared of you previewing
   my record. If you like it enough to have it be a part of your life, I
   know you'll come to me to get it, as long as I show you how to get to
   me, and as long as you know that it's out.
   
   Most people don't go into restaurants and stiff waiters, but record
   labels represent the restaurant that forces the waiters to live on,
   and sometimes pool, their tips. And they even fight for a bit of their
   tips.
   
   Music is a service to its consumers, not a product. I live on tips.
   Giving music away for free is what artists have been doing naturally
   all their lives.
   
   New models
   
   Record companies stand between artists and their fans. We signed
   terrible deals with them because they controlled our access to the
   public.
   
   But in a world of total connectivity, record companies lose that
   control. With unlimited bin space and intelligent search engines, fans
   will have no trouble finding the music they know they want. They have
   to know they want it, and that needs to be a marketing business that
   takes a fee.
   
   If a record company has a reason to exist, it has to bring an artist's
   music to more fans and it has to deliver more and better music to the
   audience. You bring me a bigger audience or a better relationship with
   my audience or get the fuck out of my way. Next time I release a
   record, I'll be able to go directly to my fans and let them hear it
   before anyone else.
   
   We'll still have to use radio and traditional CD distribution. Record
   stores aren't going away any time soon and radio is still the most
   important part of record promotion.
   
   Major labels are freaking out because they have no control in this new
   world. Artists can sell CDs directly to fans. We can make direct deals
   with thousands of other Web sites and promote our music to millions of
   people that old record companies never touch.
   
   We're about to have lots of new ways to sell our music: downloads,
   hardware bundles, memory sticks, live Webcasts, and lots of other
   things that aren't even invented yet.
   
   Content providers
   
   But there's something you guys have to figure out.
   
   Here's my open letter to Steve Case:
   
   Avatars don't talk back!!! But what are you going to do with real live
   artists?
   
   Artists aren't like you. We go through a creative process that's
   demented and crazy. There's a lot of soul-searching and turning
   ourselves inside-out and all kinds of gross stuff that ends up on
   "Behind the Music."
   
   A lot of people who haven't been around artists very much get really
   weird when they sit down to lunch with us. So I want to give you some
   advice: Learn to speak our language. Talk about songs and melody and
   hooks and art and beauty and soul. Not sleazy record-guy crap, where
   you're in a cashmere sweater murmuring that the perfect deal really is
   perfect, Courtney. Yuck. Honestly hire honestly committed people.
   We're in a "new economy," right? You can afford to do that.
   
   But don't talk to me about "content."
   
   I get really freaked out when I meet someone and they start telling me
   that I should record 34 songs in the next six months so that we have
   enough content for my site. Defining artistic expression as content is
   anathema to me.
   
   What the hell is content? Nobody buys content. Real people pay money
   for music because it means something to them. A great song is not just
   something to take up space on a Web site next to stock market quotes
   and baseball scores.
   
   DEN tried to build a site with artist-free content and I'm not sorry
   to see it fail. The DEN shows look like art if you're not paying
   attention, but they forgot to hire anyone to be creative. So they
   ended up with a lot of content nobody wants to see because they
   thought they could avoid dealing with defiant and moody personalities.
   Because they were arrogant. And because they were conformists. Artists
   have to deal with business people and business people have to deal
   with artists. We hate each other. Let's create companies of mediators.
   
   Every single artist who makes records believes and hopes that they
   give you something that will transform your life. If you're really
   just interested in data mining or selling banner ads, stick with those
   "artists" willing to call themselves content providers.
   
   I don't know if an artist can last by meeting the current public
   taste, the taste from the last quarterly report. I don't think you can
   last by following demographics and carefully meeting expectations. I
   don't know many lasting works of art that are condescending or
   deliberately stupid or were created as content.
   
   Don't tell me I'm a brand. I'm famous and people recognize me, but I
   can't look in the mirror and see my brand identity.
   
   Keep talking about brands and you know what you'll get? Bad clothes.
   Bad hair. Bad books. Bad movies. And bad records. And bankrupt
   businesses. Rides that were fun for a year with no employee loyalty
   but everyone got rich fucking you. Who wants that? The answer is
   purity. We can afford it. Let's go find it again while we can.
   
   I also feel filthy trying to call my music a product. It's not a thing
   that I test market like toothpaste or a new car. Music is personal and
   mysterious.
   
   Being a "content provider" is prostitution work that devalues our art
   and doesn't satisfy our spirits. Artistic expression has to be
   provocative. The problem with artists and the Internet: Once their art
   is reduced to content, they may never have the opportunity to retrieve
   their souls.
   
   When you form your business for creative people, with creative people,
   come at us with some thought. Everybody's process is different. And
   remember that it's art. We're not craftspeople.
   
   Sponsorships
   
   I don't know what a good sponsorship would be for me or for other
   artists I respect. People bring up sponsorships a lot as a way for
   artists to get our music paid for upfront and for us to earn a fee.
   I've dealt with large corporations for long enough to know that any
   alliance where I'm an owned service is going to be doomed.
   
   When I agreed to allow a large cola company to promote a live show, I
   couldn't have been more miserable. They screwed up every single thing
   imaginable. The venue was empty but sold out. There were thousands of
   people outside who wanted to be there, trying to get tickets. And
   there were the empty seats the company had purchased for a lump sum
   and failed to market because they were clueless about music.
   
   It was really dumb. You had to buy the cola. You had to dial a number.
   You had to press a bunch of buttons. You had to do all this crap that
   nobody wanted to do. Why not just bring a can to the door?
   
   On top of all this, I felt embarrassed to be an advertising agent for
   a product that I'd never let my daughter use. Plus they were a
   condescending bunch of little guys. They treated me like I was an
   ungrateful little bitch who should be groveling for the experience to
   play for their damn soda.
   
   I ended up playing without my shirt on and ordering a six-pack of the
   rival cola onstage. Also lots of unwholesome cursing and nudity
   occurred. This way I knew that no matter how tempting the cash was,
   they'd never do business with me again.
   
   If you want some little obedient slave content provider, then fine.
   But I think most musicians don't want to be responsible for your
   clean-cut, wholesome, all-American, sugar corrosive cancer-causing,
   all white people, no women allowed sodapop images.
   
   Nor, on the converse, do we want to be responsible for your
   vice-inducing, liver-rotting, child-labor-law-violating, all white
   people, no-women-allowed booze images.
   
   So as a defiant moody artist worth my salt, I've got to think of
   something else. Tampax, maybe.
   
   Money 
   
   As a user, I love Napster. It carries some risk. I hear idealistic
   business people talk about how people that are musicians would be
   musicians no matter what and that we're already doing it for free, so
   what about copyright?
   
   Please. It's incredibly easy not to be a musician. It's always a
   struggle and a dangerous career choice. We are motivated by passion
   and by money.
   
   That's not a dirty little secret. It's a fact. Take away the incentive
   for major or minor financial reward and you dilute the pool of
   musicians. I am not saying that only pure artists will survive. Like a
   few of the more utopian people who discuss this, I don't want just
   pure artists to survive.
   
   Where would we all be without the trash? We need the trash to cover up
   our national depression. The utopians also say that because in their
   minds "pure" artists are all Ani DiFranco and don't demand a lot of
   money. Why are the utopians all entertainment lawyers and major label
   workers anyway? I demand a lot of money if I do a big huge worthwhile
   job and millions of people like it, don't kid yourself. In economic
   terms, you've got an industry that's loathsome and outmoded, but when
   it works it creates some incentive and some efficiency even though
   absolutely no one gets paid.
   
   We suffer as a society and a culture when we don't pay the true value
   of goods and services delivered. We create a lack of production. Less
   good music is recorded if we remove the incentive to create it.
   
   Music is intellectual property with full cash and opportunity costs
   required to create, polish and record a finished product. If I invest
   money and time into my business, I should be reasonably protected from
   the theft of my goods and services. When the judgment came against
   MP3.com, the RIAA sought damages of $150,000 for each
   major-label-"owned" musical track in MP3's database. Multiply by
   80,000 CDs, and MP3.com could owe the gatekeepers $120 billion.
   
   But what about the Plimsouls? Why can't MP3.com pay each artist a
   fixed amount based on the number of their downloads? Why on earth
   should MP3.com pay $120 billion to four distribution companies, who in
   most cases won't have to pay a nickel to the artists whose copyrights
   they've stolen through their system of organized theft?
   
   It's a ridiculous judgment. I believe if evidence had been entered
   that ultimately it's just shuffling big cash around two or three
   corporations, I can only pray that the judge in the MP3.com case would
   have seen the RIAA's case for the joke that it was.
   
   I'd rather work out a deal with MP3.com myself, and force them to be
   artist-friendly, instead of being laughed at and having my money
   hidden by a major label as they sell my records out the back door,
   behind everyone's back.
   
   How dare they behave in such a horrified manner in regards to
   copyright law when their entire industry is based on piracy? When
   Mister Label Head Guy, whom my lawyer yelled at me not to name, got
   caught last year selling millions of "cleans" out the back door.
   "Cleans" being the records that aren't for marketing but are to be
   sold. Who the fuck is this guy? He wants to save a little cash so he
   fucks the artist and goes home? Do they fire him? Does Chuck Phillips
   of the LA Times say anything? No way! This guy's a source! He throws
   awesome dinner parties! Why fuck with the status quo? Let's pick on
   Lars Ulrich instead because he brought up an interesting point!
   
   Conclusion
   
   I'm looking for people to help connect me to more fans, because I
   believe fans will leave a tip based on the enjoyment and service I
   provide. I'm not scared of them getting a preview. It really is going
   to be a global village where a billion people have access to one
   artist and a billion people can leave a tip if they want to.
   
   It's a radical democratization. Every artist has access to every fan
   and every fan has access to every artist, and the people who direct
   fans to those artists. People that give advice and technical value are
   the people we need. People crowding the distribution pipe and trying
   to ignore fans and artists have no value. This is a perfect system.
   
   If you're going to start a company that deals with musicians, please
   do it because you like music. Offer some control and equity to the
   artists and try to give us some creative guidance. If music and art
   and passion are important to you, there are hundreds of artists who
   are ready to rewrite the rules.
   
   In the last few years, business pulled our culture away from the idea
   that music is important and emotional and sacred. But new technology
   has brought a real opportunity for change; we can break down the old
   system and give musicians real freedom and choice.
   
   A great writer named Neal Stephenson said that America does four
   things better than any other country in the world: rock music, movies,
   software and high-speed pizza delivery. All of these are sacred
   American art forms. Let's return to our purity and our idealism while
   we have this shot.
   
   Warren Beatty once said: "The greatest gift God gives us is to enjoy
   the sound of our own voice. And the second greatest gift is to get
   somebody to listen to it."
   
   And for that, I humbly thank you.
   
   - - - - - - - - - - - -
   
   About the writer
   Courtney Love is the lead singer of the rock group Hole, and has
   starred in films like "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and "Man in the
   Moon."
   
                         Copyright  2000 Salon.com

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