Skull and Trombones: Music Piracy's Effects on the Independent Musician, Part 3 Created by EscapeTheClouds on 2/21/2012 8:14:45 PM
Contributor Mark Rossmore of Escape the Coulds gives us a look at Piracy & it's effect on the Independant Artist in the exciting conclusion of his 3-Part series.
By Mark Rossmore
Photos used with permission (Credit: Mark Rossmore & Bob Eisenstein)
Dinosaurs in a Modern Setting
Artists seem to be capable of handling everything themselves. Self-production. Self-promotion. Self-funding. Is there room for record labels in all of this Do-it-Yourself? Perhaps. One thing several artists agreed upon is that they could use some outside help handling the logistics of their careers.
“These days,” said Victor Sierra’s Bob Eisenstein, “a [record] label should be more a promotion agency than a production staff.” Hellblinki’s Andrew Benjamin said he would “consider an offer from a label that has access to booking, publicity, etc. I'd love to spend more time creating and less time minding the store.” So did Unwoman, who felt she “would probably benefit from a distribution and promotion arrangement with a major indie label.”
The prospect of label contracts doesn’t sit well with everyone. “If I was signed,” said Vernian Process’ Joshua Pfeiffer, “that would be the end of my creative process. I would have to start making promises, compromises, deals, deadlines, and many other headache inducing activities that take away from my art. I also feel that once you start focusing on the profits of your art, you start losing focus and sight of why you got into the field in the first place. Unless of course you intended to create a product, not a piece of art to begin with.”
“I believe,” Deadly Nightshade's Hazelton said, “that bigger acts will ride out their contracts and turn independent. Listening to the despondency of some major artists in interviews concerning this subject, I can’t see many of them sticking to the old method. Those acts that can’t embrace the modern approach to distribution and reimbursement will become disheartened. Frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more acts take to places like CD Baby and use their large pre-built fan base to turn larger profits with smaller numbers. Once their terms run out, why would they stick to a dying industry when they could side step into the thriving community?”
That very thing worked for Trent Reznor of industrial band Nine Inch Nails. He had a long, tumultuous relationship with Interscope Records, peppered with strife and lawsuits. The moment he fulfilled his contractual obligations, he struck out on his own, forming his own label and releasing music on his own terms.
What has helped narrow the divide between major labels and indie artists?
“Accessible production, promotion and crowdfunding tools are what is leveling the playing field,” Unwoman said. Not so long ago, an artist needed million dollar advances from a major label to record a professional quality album. Now bands are producing amazing work in home studios, and they’re no longer limited to Walmart, Best Buy, and other big box stores to sell it.
What’s been the game changer? “It's the availability of online distribution,” said Hellblinki’s Benjamin, talking about sites like CD Baby and Bandcamp. “Before the Internet was as robust as it is today it was very difficult to find distribution of any sort. Hellblinki began selling CDs online at the turn of the century, right as online distribution became feasible. The advantage that the majors will always have is access to large advertising dollars and a network of resources unavailable to the little guy.”
Those major label resources include powerful legal departments and deep pockets, mighty enough to bend governments to their will. When faced with piracy, they’ve applied those tools in efforts to stamp out illegal downloads. Dan Orlowitz found that, “Knee-jerk reactions by major labels to counter piracy make it even harder for indie artists to get their name out.”
That’s how legislation like SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA are brought into play.
It may be surprising, but some of the strongest opponents of the SOPA, PIPA, and the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) anti-piracy laws were artists themselves—those who the laws were ostensibly written to protect. Every one of the musicians interviewed stood against them. Why? Simply because they threatened the greater good, were written by people who didn't understand the technology they were legislating, and—in the end—did nothing to protect against pirating.
“I'm opposed to SOPA/PIPA and ACTA because of their heavy handed approach and loose wording,” Clockwork Dolls' Allison Curval said. “I understand the all around rationale behind it. Piracy affects artists such as myself because it insures that folks like me will not be financially compensated for my hard work. However, I believe that SOPA/PIPA will affect content creators more than the pirates themselves.”
Why did Hellblinki’s Benjamin protest it? “SOPA allowed entire domains to be blocked if they were found to contain infringing material. It could have been used to not only thwart competition to large well established media conglomerates, but also to stifle political speech.”
As was seen in the Syrian and Egyptian uprisings over the past year, and in China’s long-running crackdown on bloggers, whoever controls information controls the power. Like record labels, governments aren’t fans of independent people who make a lot of noise via the Internet. The laws would have allowed the government to shut down an entire site for a single copyright violation.
Let's say the United States invades Iran. YouTube lights up with video after video of people protesting, commenting, and otherwise voicing their opinion. Amidst all that, somebody, somewhere has uploaded a completely unrelated comedy mashup video of James Cameron movies: Avatar, Terminator, etc. Well, that's copyrighted material of course. Under existing law, the uploader himself is accountable for the content he posts. Underneath SOPA/PIPA, the government has the right to a) seize and shut down the YouTube domain name and b) hold Google—YouTube's owner—accountable because they ostensibly provided a means for copyrighted content to be uploaded. Of course, when that happens, all of those protestors suddenly lose their major communications platform.
“It represented a terrible trend in politics,” Vernian Process’ Pfeiffer said, “and if it had passed, who knows where it would end? I understand the point of the bill, but it was drafted by people who fail to understand the very basic functions of the Internet. It would have crippled thousands of businesses, and caused an even worse turn for our economy. Not to mention the fact that any website could be blocked for any arbitrary reason. It just represented some terrifying dystopian big brother shenanigans.”
The FREE Argument
In the midst of all of the piracy and counter-piracy drama, there is still room for free music in the equation—legal free music. The majority of the artists interviewed do offer some free tracks, offering listeners a better taste of their work than the 30 second previews found in most online stores.
“Giving away material works great as an advertising avenue,” DNBS’ Hazelton said. “Tossing a single out there these days is very much like the old days of putting it on the radio.”
Some artists even give away more than just a single track. “I gave away our EP ‘Secret Page’ for a week between Xmas and New Year's Eve,” said Victor Sierra’s Bob Eisenstein. “It really worked!” Sunday Driver’s Joel Clayton concurred. “We give one track away for free always, and every now and then I give everything away for a short period of time. Why? Because everyone deserves a sample.”
There’s a mixture of generosity and good business sense at work here. Listeners want to hear new material. Artists want to get their music out there, and they hope that the listener comes back for more. Most bands ask for at least the fan’s e-mail address in exchange for the free tracks. The artist can then reach out to them at a later date to promote a newer release and—hopefully—entice a listener to become a purchaser.
“You could argue an email is worth $0.99,” Clayton continued, “and if I'm giving you my music you can be damn sure I expect your email. If this outrages you then we can't be friends anymore!”
“There are good arguments for making it free,” Unwoman said, “so people will discover me, then stick around and come to shows, preorder other albums, etc.”
Hellblinki’s Andrew Benjamin cautioned against giving away too much. “Giving away music devalues the creative act. As the culture moves toward feeling that music is free, then I feel it is important that artists take the stance that there is value in their music. Not only does giving away their work de-value their own music, but it serves to de-value music in general. Giving away a promo track in turn for signing an email list or something can be valuable, but if feel completely unnecessary in building a fan base. You build a fan base by getting yourself out there as much as possible, making connections with people, and playing shows (but please, don't play them for free!!) As I indicated above, as a trade or incentive, it's important to attach value, as a measure of respect for art and other artists.”
That’s the key ingredient: respect. The bands here believe in their fans. They’re just asking that the public recognize the value of their hard work.
“I think,” Nautilus ‘54’s John Wass said, “that appreciation for fellow artisans and craftsmanship does a lot to stem the tide of piracy.”
Allison Curval of The Clockwork Dolls conveyed it best: “I believe if you truly believe in the quality of one’s work you should financially compensate said individual for their hard work and integrity.”
About the Author:
Mark Rossmore crafts stories through both words and music. As Escape the Clouds, he creates exotic, vivid steampunk music via a flash fiction approach to songwriting. His music has been featured on sites such as Dieselpunks.org, Sepiachord.com, and Musikgraph.de and multiple steampunk compilations. An avid writer as well, since 2008, nearly two dozen of Mark's fiction and aviation non-fiction pieces have been published nationwide in print and online. Check out all of his work–including his newest album Until the End–at http://www.EscapetheClouds.com .
Musicians participating in this article (in alphabetical order):