Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Fair Is Fair

In the early-seventies, my musical taste really started to broaden. I added a host of non-Detroit acts to my record-player repertoire. Songs loaded with sexual innuendo or sexual ambiguity were high on my list: The Kinks' "Lola," Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side," David Bowie's "Sweet Thing," T.Rex's "Girl."

Then Bruce Springsteen's "Incident On 57th Street" and its references to "barefoot street boys" and "gold-heeled fairies in a real bitch fight pulling .38s," and Traffic's "The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys" where a businessman is killed, but "it wasn't the bullet that laid him to rest was the low spark of high-heeled boys," added that edge of violence to cross-gender, mixed-up sexuality that appealed to me.

It was my memory of Traffic's "The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys" that has prompted me to write about music publishing and fairness.

I have never been a fan of bootleg music, it's just always seemed wrong to me, and my friends will tell you how strongly I feel about it. Simply put: I am not a fan of stealing, so I don't steal. If I want something, I buy it; if I cannot afford it, I save for it or forget about it.

When file-swapping came to the internet, I never participated. Napster and Kazaa didn't appeal to me because it was stealing. Almost everyone I know participated, and I have no problem with that. If you want to steal, it is none of my business and it is unlikely that I will think any more or less of you because you steal Eminem songs (well, I might think less of you for liking Eminem, but that's a different blog). So, I was not moved when Napster was shut-down. File-swapping is not fair.

I don't think the RIAA's campaign against file-swapping is a noble one! I think the RIAA is scum. Let's be really clear about the truth of artist royalties and file-swapping and the RIAA: artists lost very little when Napster was going strong, because artists get very little from the sale and airplay of their records. The RIAA is protecting the corporations that publish the songs you love and they do very little to guarantee that artists get money for their labor. Anything you read from the RIAA should be summarily dismissed, because although it might be legally accurate, it is spun to make you believe they are helping the little guy and the RIAA has never met a little guy to whom they would not condescend and then squash!

See my Christmas Day 2003 article for further discussion and more links about the scum at the RIAA.

When I was a member of an online rock-star fansite, the star himself was always happy to receive bootleg copies of his concerts. This star, who is a BIG rock star, was not threatened by bootlegging or file-swapping or the trading of his concerts by fans. While a member of this fansite, I received a number of bootleg CDs from other members, and I am comfortable owning them because I know the star himself also owns (or can own) them, does not object to his fans trading them, and it is not preventing him from making money on the live concert recordings he is selling.

But . . . back to my fascination with songs about transvestites, violence, and male sexuality . . . or not . . .

I don't own an iPod, because I stopped needing to cut myself off from the world a few years ago. I used to say that I used a 'walkman' to listen to music I loved, and avoid the conversations of those around me. The spiritual bankruptcy of my position helped me realize that the noise around me is the world in which I live, and even if I don't like what I hear, it is wise to know the world in which I live. So, I stopped using a 'walkman/discman' over ten years ago. The invention of the iPod is not important to me.

iTunes, on the other hand, is a brilliant invention that I adore. I used RealONE as a PC-jukebox, but iTunes raised the stakes by offering online shopping for individual songs and albums! Through iTunes, I can download a song for ninety-nine cents! Though I have only purchased forty-six songs, I know I will purchase more. This is fair!

iTunes, Real, and the new Napster have succeeded at undermining the file-swapping industry by offering individual songs at a low price. I don't necessarily want to purchase an entire album from my youth on CD. I want one song, not 12, and I love the notion of paying ninety-nine cents for the song I want.

Last week I searched for "The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys" and when I tried to "Add Song" the button only said "View Album." When I clicked to proceed, the song was listed as "Album Only"! I cannot purchase the song I want for .99, I must buy all seven songs for $9.99, which means that each song now costs $1.43. Now, that is not a lot of money, but it is not the deal iTunes put forth. This is not fair.

Why do I have to pay more for "The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys" than I have to pay for "Sweet Thing" or "Lola" or "Incident on 57th Street"? This is a big mistake. Whoever made this decision should be terminated from their job. Leave it to the corporate world to put forth a great product, then undermine it with avaricious details.

I do not have "The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys" on my PC today; but I will have it on my PC soon. I can search through my box of tapes and find an old copy of it, then rip it to MP3 and I will have the song I want. I can ask a friend to rip an MP3 for me and then put it on my PC. Sure, it might not be perfect digital sound, but I hate perfect digital sound. I like the sound of vinyl music. My point being that I am happy to purchase the song using the iTunes paradigm, but you are changing the rules in the middle of the game by trying to force me to purchase the entire thirty-year-old album, and this is not fair!

More importantly though, the artist doesn't get to sell me his song. I will not buy the entire "The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys" album just to get a digital version of "The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys" song. I want to give Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi the money they deserve in this new music paradigm, but now they can't have it.

To hell corporate music anyhow! I'm going back to my Jimmy Haig Experience CD, NN Maddox "Long Island Baby", and to working on my own release. Who needs the RIAA and iTunes? Make your own CDs and enjoy yourself!