WARNING: This article may contain language that is inappropriate for children.
music revolution is over. Or, the Internet music revolution is just
beginning. Which of these statements ring true to you? Both? Neither?
It's hard to tell just which way to turn when you are standing at
the crossroads, isn't it? This is where we find ourselves today, ladies
and gentlemen, at the crossroads of the Internet music revolution.
Which way will it go?
story of Robert Johnson is a telling one, and one which corresponds
eerily to the recent travails of Internet music. If you recall the
tale, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads
for fame, fortune and an otherworldly ability to play his guitar.
It worked great at first, as any deal with the Prince of Darkness
always does. He did achieve a degree of fame, as far as the bars,
brothels and juke joints of the rural south were concerned. But as
we now know, a wider knowledge and acceptance of his music eluded
him during his lifetime. Maybe it was one of those highly ironic bad
jokes that Lucifer enjoys at our expense. He did become a world renowned
Bluesman, only it was long after his death that he attained his fame.
He definitely was given the "otherworldly" ability to play
his guitar, as any cursory listen to his surviving recordings will
attest. To this day, guitar geniuses are still madly trying to figure
out what he did, and how he did it. His technique was extraordinary,
even by today's standards. I guess it was just another bad joke that
his incomparable guitar skills never got him the fortune he sought
during his lifetime, either. He was nothing but a scuffling, raggedy,
itinerant troubadour at the time of his mysterious demise, with no
money and nothing to show for all the years of hard gigs in lowdown
dives. But if he had lived long enough, he would have seen his dedication
to his axe and his music pay off big. The re-release of his recordings
on CD, all digitally remastered and beautifully packaged, would have
put a hefty sum in his worn out pants pocket indeed. I bet 'ol Scratch
is down there telling our hero about how he kept all his promises.
"Look up there Robert, I gave you everything I ever promised
you, didn't I? You got it all, baby! Fame, fortune, and you're still
playing like a motherfucker every time they play your records! It
aint my fault you never lived to see it, I didn't tell you to go fuck
that bitch and get killed for it by some jealous husband now, did
I?" I imagine our Mr. Johnson sitting down there by the fire,
still playing the "hell" out of his axe, crying a river
of tears over his own sorrowful fate; the fate that he caused himself
by selling his soul to the devil.
is the risk we all take whenever we find ourselves at the crossroads.
One way can lead you down a dead end; another to the Promised Land.
And if all you do is stand there waiting, you might just be lured
into a deal with some scary guy wearing a flashy suit, gold teeth
glinting in the moonlight, and promising you everything under heaven
and earth! "If you'll only just sign on the dotted line,no,no,no
don't read all that fine print, it's all pretty boilerplate, just
our standard agreement you understand, I'll make sure that everything
is taken care of, trust me baby, just trust me!" Hey, don't record
industry executives wear flashy suits? Don't they ask you to sign
away the rights to your music? Don't they tell you the sky's the limit
until you hit rock bottom?
use this Robert Johnson analogy lightly, friends. Look what happened
to the Internet music companies that took a bunch of VC money and
spent millions on flashy web sites, aligned themselves with some of
the big record labels, bought historic night club venues (Remember
Riffage and their highly publicized purchase of San Francisco's historic
music venue, The Great American Music Hall?) and promised to break
"The Next Big Thing" via the Internet? So, where did all
the websites go, long time passing?
Riffage is long gone; blown up in the smoke of their own largesse.
MP3.Com is now a record label shill. They have continued to do absolutely
nothing for the aspiring musician, and their entire existence is dependent
on a specific technology that will not be around much longer, in my
opinion, anyway. And Napster was a total joke from the get go, with
absolutely no prospects of making money, ever. Their entire existence
is based solely on free access; free software and free music. Where
is the profit model there, sports fans? How does any enterprise keep
its doors open when all it does is bleed money? (Hello, Amazon.Com!)
The other aspect of Napster that I find particularly galling is their
repeated claim that their file-sharing technology was great at getting
publicity for up and coming, unsigned artists. If any of you believe
that one, I would like to offer you a great opportunity on some prime
beachfront property I have for sale in Florida. (And the voting machines
never made anyone popular; the only reason for anyone to go up on
their website was to steal music, period. It's still amazing to me
that so many people, who would never feel comfortable going down to
the local record store and walking out with a CD under their shirt,
had absolutely no qualms about going on to Napster's site and downloading
hundreds of songs illegally! Now, their only future, if they have
one at all, is as an outlet for the big, bad record conglomerates.
does that leave all of us? It leaves us right where we left off, still
in the process of attempting to construct an alternative model for
making music that bears no resemblance to the way it's been done for
the last eighty years. The focus should be on the artist, not the
record industry. The artist should get the bulk of the money he generates
from his work, not the record company. The artist should own all his
copyrights, and derive all the money he makes from music publishing
and licensing agreements. The person who sweats over his work should
be the one who profits from it, he shouldn't have to do it at his
own expense. The RIAA should go take a fucking flying leap!
we are at the crossroads of the Internet music revolution, let's not
make the same mistakes that our Mr. Johnson did. Let's not wait 'til
the devil drives up and offers to take our souls away, and let's not
be in a hurry to be "Rock Stars"! We should instead concentrate
on making great music, and let the audience decide what they like.
Let's try instead to opt out of the hellish nightmare that constitutes
the Music Business and just be musicians instead. At OnlineRock we
have formulated some new ideas that we feel are designed to create
an entirely new system of music production and distribution and focus
it all squarely where it should have been focused all along, on the
ARTIST! In the next few months we will be rolling these ideas out
to you, and we want, no, need, your input. Tell us what you want,
what you really, really want. We're listening!