OnlineRock: Empowering Musicians  

Our Music, Ourselves

I’ve been reading alot lately about musicians and their rights. It’s been interesting, (and humorous) to be sure. There are people on the Internet writing about musicians and the music industry (I will not name names, but I’m sure you can figure out who "they" are after a little surfing of music related web sites.) who are not only not professional musicians or recording artists, but are not musicians of any kind. Oh, maybe they strum a little guitar in their living rooms on occasion as a hobby, but they are not, nor have they ever been, musicians. They’re writers ! Even giving them the tag "journalist" is being extremely generous. Some of these people seem to have fantastic credentials; they have published books on music and are or were involved with various periodicals dedicated to rock music. No matter, an idiot is an idiot is an idiot, regardless of his or her background. And it’s amazing how many opportunities idiots have in America these days to acquire a public forum (in the form of radio and TV shows, magazine and newspaper columns). They don’t call them the "chattering classes" for nothing, folks!

A perfect example is how all the "pundits" and "wags" have weighed in on the Elian Gonzales crisis. I truly believe that the media has only made this poor child’s situation much, much worse than it could have or should have been, and that they continue to worsen it on a daily basis. I also believe that if musicians continue to read drivel published by people who think they understand what it is like to be a musician when in reality they know nothing of the experience, that it is the musicians that will suffer. One also must question the motivation of the people doing the writing. Because in the end they are doing it for personal gain and nothing more.

This column is called the "Virtual Musician" because it is an accurate reflection of the person doing the writing, I am a musician, and because of it’s location; the Internet. The gain for me in doing this is minimal, and I have never been paid one dime for any of these articles. Although I do have a "promise to pay" arrangement with the founder of OnlineRock (When and if he can afford to pay me! And by the way, he is also a musician and former band mate of mine.) I do this for fun, not profit. Just exactly the same way I approached all of my musical endeavors. (Which is probably why I’m not a rich and famous rock star!! I’m an altruist, which makes me a different kind of idiot!) What I’m trying to do is impart to the aspiring musician any degree of wisdom I may have obtained from my years as a professional musician. A lot of my articles have been in the form of nuts and bolts type stuff such as the articles on the "promo package", guitars and amps, how to work in the recording studio, etc. I have written opinion pieces as well. But I will be shifting my focus for my next few articles as I think musicians are currently being fed alot of bullshit about certain issues.

Because I feel very strongly about being a musician who doesn’t sell out, give up my rights or dilute and compromise my artistic vision, and that I feel that you can be true to yourself and hold fast to your artistic vision while being a professional/commercial musician, I would like to initiate an open and honest discussion about musicians rights, the business involved in the production and distribution of live and recorded music, copyright laws, the role of the RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America) and the consequences of the actions of the artists who write, perform and record music.

I think that the Internet and more specifically, OnlineRock, present an opportunity for artists that is extremely significant in that previously the established recording industry was the only game in town. That is no longer the case ! The Internet offers all musicians a true alternative to business as usual and definitely gives musicians a chance to be paid fairly for their work, and by fairly I mean that the musician gets the bulk of the money that he generates from his art instead of the record company. Yes, many musicians have gotten filthy rich with the way it’s been for decades, but the record companies have gotten richer, and they frequently refuse to take risks on artists and their art unless they can see the dollar signs. As a result, they have stifled creativity and created an environment that now gives us the likes of Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, Nsync, and so on, and given a true giant and gifted musician, Carlos Santana the biggest hit of his career by agreeing with Clive Davis to be a guest on his own record. Even this sorry state of affairs does not preclude having a relationship with a major label, it’s just that it should be the artist that is dictating the terms of that relationship, not the record company. And I think that although the major labels will never die, as a result of the Internet they undoubtedly will have to change the way that they conduct their business.

The real revolution that the Internet represents is that now artists can deal directly with their audience, as some currently do. But I’m not talking about un-signed or amateur artists, I’m talking about the heavyweights in the business. They don’t necessarily need to rip up their contracts and go exclusively online (of course they can if they have the "cajones" !) but they can use the Internet as leverage to change the rules of the game in favor of the artists. And I am throwing down the gauntlet and challenging them to do just that! I’m not advocating that the inmates should run the asylum, because that is already what we have going on. Putting business before art has always been putting the cart before the horse, especially when that art is downgraded to a commodity purely because it’s not the artists who run the business. But it’s the artists who have let this happen. I stuck to my guns artistically, but who cares !!! However, what if Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan, Sting, REM, U2, The Artist ( you know the one I mean) Peter Gabriel, Pete Townshend, Pearl Jam, Lou Reed, Snoop Doggy Dog, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, etc., etc. , decided to run their own business, using the OnlineRock Internet model ? You better believe that things would change, and in a New York minute !

Let’s not point fingers and vilify the people who take advantage of musicians, after all we seem to be more than willing to let them. Let’s instead put the blame for the current state of affairs squarely on the shoulders of the people who deserve it, ourselves ! Because, if we don’t recognize the people who run this business for what they are, then there is something wrong with us ! If we fail to determine that giving up our rights is not only a problem for us as individuals, but has far reaching consequences for everyone else who makes music, then we are stupid and selfish. And if we are waiting around for someone else to come along and fix it for us, then we are doomed to the status quo forever!

My next article, part II in the new series " Our Music, Ourselves", will be a frank an honest discussion of musicians rights. I hope you find it informative and enlightening.

Stay Tuned,

The Virtual Musician

AboutOnlineRock RecordsPress RoomContactAdvertisePrivacyShop