As I'm writing this, our DSL line is down (gotta love the techonology), and Prince is playing in the background. My roommate has become quite the Napster fan. He's downloading songs left and right, quickly filling up his hard disk....
I can't blame him. I'm in a tough place with Napster. I am a closet musician, and I have friends who are "real" musicians. Some of these folks are trying to make a living from music (ah..... such a nice dream!). But it's a damned hard life. Not a lucrative one, unless you are one of the lucky ones. And it's harder to be lucky in music than it is to be lucky in pro basketball. For every musician who makes a nice living, there are a hundred or more who live in nasty little ratholes, hoping to get a couple hundred bucks for a gig, that they have to split 4 ways, after giving the sound guy a little bit. And this for showing up at 8:30PM, setting up, playing until 2 in the morning, and then tearing it all down and taking it home. 5-6 hours, and that doesn't count time practising, in rehearsal...
Between the club owners and record companies, it's hard to see how we get any music at all anymore. How many of you out there own a Creedence Clearwater Revival album? Yeah, there you are, way in the back. You know that the guy who wrote the songs on that album, and the guys who play on it, got almost nothign from that? John Fogerty had to sue the record label for YEARS to get any money at all. He doesn't have any rights with regard to the music that he created, because he had to give them all to the record company in order for them to loan him the money to make the album. Yep, he not only had to sign away the rights to the music, he had to pay the record company back for the recording - they got him coming and going.
And did you know that it is WAY cheaper to manufacture a CD than it is manufacture a vinyl album? They can press the CD, the jewel cases are smaller and hold less artwork.... yet CD's are still priced at $17 and up. Right now, if I have a recording of my music, I can get 1000 CD's made up, with the little jewel cases, and some decent inserts, and nice printing on the CD, for about 3 bucks apiece. Imagine what a major record label can get one made for. It would stun me if the maufacturing cost of a CD for Virgin records is more than $1. I remember when I bought my first CD player in early 1985, and my first CD (Peter Gabriel's Security). They were expensive then, but we heard from all the record companies that as soon as their facilities were all on line, the price would drop because they were cheaper to make. Didn't happen.
This is why I can't really side with the record companies on the Napster issue - these guys had their chance to figure out how to treat artists and the public, and they fucked it up. They may yet figure out something, but I'm not holding my breath.
On the other side, we have the Napster users. They cry out that they aren't doing anything wrong - they aren't selling the stuff they buy, just sharing it with their friends. Sorry guys and gals, friends are people you know, not some other schmuck out in Pennsylvania whose name is not known to you, nor is the fact that he is downloading that song from your disk. You have no idea who or when stuff is being sucked off your machine. That isn't sharing with friends.
But they say, how is this any different from making a tape for a friend? It's the same thing, why isn't the RIAA going after the companies that make blank cassettes? Well this is different for two reasons. The first one being outlined in the previous paragraph - you aren't making a tape for your friend, that takes maybe 1/2 hour, if you have a high-speed dubbing deck. The whole Napster idea is that you can spend 5 minutes ripping a song off a CD, and then 1000's of people you don't know can get a copy from you. In addition, the RIAA DID go after the folks that make cassette tapes - part of the price that you pay for a blank cassette goes into a fund that gets paid to the record companies. No, not to the artists.
And how about those Napster folks who say that Napster has prompted them to go out and buy a CD that they otherwise wouldn't have spent money on. Can you say "crock of shit"? The average Napster user has probably downloaded a hundred songs. How many of those translated into album sales? 1 or 2 per user, at most, I would wager. And do you think that they have deleted all the songs from their disks that didn't prompt them to buy a CD? Yeah, right. It's a nice story, but sounds more like a fairy tale to me.
I think a far more common scenario is the person who really doesn't want to buy the entire Go-Go's catalog to get the 3 songs that they like. So instead, they download the songs, and don't buy any of the albums. Sure, some folks are using this to decide what they spend their money on, but overall, that's just a crock put out by the Napster folk to keep from getting shutdown.
And in the middle are the artists. Here is a brave new world of music distribution, tailor-made for them. Currently, the average record label doesn't even want to talk to an artist that can't get them 500,000 "units" sold. If you're a niche artist, forget it. Now, a lot of these gold albums are made by the marketing campaigns of the major labels. You think Brittany Spears could get ANYwhere on her own? Sure she's cute, and has a passable enough voice, but COME ON! But, a musician's chances of getting enough of a record company's interest for that is not as good as a high school kid's chances of having an NBA team sign him from the bench at his JV game.
So here's this grand medium. For virtually nothing, a musician can get his/her/their music out in a place where thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people might hear and like their music. And perhaps buy it. If they sell a song for a buck, say, they are in pretty much the same position as if they got a Warner Brothers record deal and sold an entire album. If somehow they can get someone to like the song enough to buy an entire CD from them, they are WAY ahead.
In addition, people who like music can find things that will NEVER come out on a major label, things that might sell 10,000 copies world-wide, so the record labels won't even talk to the guy. With the 'net, this music can be spread out all over the world for pretty much nothing.
I believe that the RIAA and the courts are probably going to kill Napster eventually. But I hope that the record companies are paying attention - this isn't a one-shot deal. The dam has broken, and the music is comin' out. If not Napster, it'll be Gnutella, or something we haven't even heard of that will let people get the music that they want, free, unless the record companies figure out some way for them to do it cheap. And the artists had better be paying attention, too - this is your time. Find some geek friends, and see what you can come up with for a distribution system that will reward you more than the current one does.
Cause the music's going to get out there. Best to grab ahold, and get carried along, or you're going to get squashed.