Thursday, January 24, 2008

An Open Letter to the American Record Industry

Dear Recording Industry Association of America,
I am an avid music buyer. After necessities, almost every penny I make is spent on music. The music I download "illegally" is either long out-of-print material or something I've heard buzz about and want to hear before I buy. In my world, if you don't buy the music and support the artists and labels putting it out, you're useless and you're missing the point.

And yet, for all the money I spend on music, and all the time and effort I put into finding bands or tracking down certain releases, you aren't counting me. You complain about my demographic, white males ages 18 to 35, and pass me off as a leech to your industry. You put out press releases accusing us of downloading Top 40 hits off the Internet and blame that for the downfall of the record industry. You want to know where all this money I spend is going, and you want us all to be held accountable. The reason my numbers don't add up to yours is because I'm not buying albums you'll see on the charts. I'm not buying anything you'll let radio stations play.

I listen to Top 40 radio at work, and it makes me sick. The record industry isn't promoting music anymore, it's selling a product. I have no interest in torturing myself by listening to the new Alicia Keys album, which is still number one the charts despite dismal weekly sales. I'd rather buy an independent or (***GASP***) self-released record instead. On vinyl, with a hand silk-screened cover that's limited to 300 copies. There's an honesty there, somewhere between the grooves, just below where the needle scratches on the plastic, that builds upon the myth of what used to be. Before sales were a bottom line. When A&R work was still done in the backs of seedy clubs, peering at the band through smoke clouds and deciphering their work for yourself on a personal level. Now it's a mere fact check, "how many friends do they have on MySpace?", "how well do they test with girls ages 13-27?", "can we run it by Hit Song Science?". Record producers aren't aficionados, they're celebrities geared towards name-brand recognition to sell more CDs. The record industry has been ignoring us, the real music buying public, for far too long, and now you're feeling the consequences.

In the 1950s the Soviet government was able to stop most distribution of Western Jazz and Rock n Roll music coming in from the West into the USSR. The few records that were brought into the USSR were brought in from Eastern Europe and only in very small quantities. Younger people, hoping to spread the music, pulled themselves away from propaganda long enough to modify home turntables and build their own record lathes, which enabled them to cut copies of records they were able to import from Europe. They realized that they could buy used X ray film from hospitals (under-funded and in need of money from any source) and cut sound into one side. These record were sold on the black market as "Bones" or "Ribs".

These records introduced the West to Soviet families by way of Theolonious Monk, John Coltrane, the Comets, Carl Perkins, and other household names of American music. The disease of rock n roll infected the Soviets and spread quickly, millions of these records were sold on the black market before the government became aware enough to outlaw them. After making these records illegal, the government followed through by also making it illegal to sing in English, play rock music, and they finally outlawed electric guitars altogether. Many of the people who were involved in cutting and distributing X-ray records were arrested for treason.

When the government realized they were never going to be able to stop the flow of X-Ray records on the black market, they began pressing their own and distributing them, selling them to people as authentic as an attempt to flood the market. The records would begin with a Western song and after a few seconds it would cut out, going into a recording swearing at the listener for being anti-Soviet, and then delving into communist propaganda. The government knew what a threat the ideology contained on these records was to their power, especially when it was available at a price that made it affordable to any Soviet family.

But once again, teenage rebellion found away. Teenagers began taking apart public pay phones and using the components to build pick-ups to add to their acoustic guitars. Rock n roll stayed in the underground for years. Later on tape trading became the chief way to distribute the music, when reel-to-reels became more easily available to the public.

In 2001, Napster, a popular peer-to-peer filesharing network for music, is legally forced to shut down in the United States for allowing the free distribution of music. The record industry had attempted to "flood the market" with false music files, that started with the song, then cut out, and then cursed the listener for downloading music instead of buying it direct. In 2007, Oink, another popular music sharing program, is shut down by Interpol on copyright violations, even though the people involved in the program were not distributing music, but allowing others to share it with each other. The program is slammed in the popular media, who say that the website made millions off the people downloading (the program was free to use and accepted no money, not even donations), and that the site thrived on new, or even pre-released material, even though it operated as an archive for music of all ages and genres.

You may have guessed, this letter isn't really to the record industry. This letter to everyone like me, fed up with the way they're treating us, it's insulting. If you feel the same way I do about this, start a band to create your own music outside the popular market, start a zine to promote under-represented music, and start a label to put out records yourself. Flood the market with noise, then they'll really be paying attention.

The above scan is from an insert included with the most recent Antillectual 7", care of Square of Opposition


The Needle Drop said...

Thank you for this. Preaching to the choir, but inspiring and well-written nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

so true...
verry interesting the story about urss.
thank you for this.