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Exposing the Major Record Label Brigands: Janis Ian

Anyone who has any doubts about what the major record labels do to artists and why one should support independent artists whenever possible, should have a look at Janis Ian’s long piece on music downloads. As a recording artist for the last twenty years, Ms. Ian has seen all the systems come and go. She’s had her own grief and pain with them and seen others win and lost more. In short, she has the long perspective on how we got to where we are now.

Among the astonishing revelations is how her label insisted on negotiating a reduced royalty rate with her for CD’s as they were a new medium. And subsequently sold the CD’s at a price higher than the original vinyl.

Beside brigands like this, filesharers are naught but modern-day Robin Hoods sharing the music widely. As Ms. Ian points out every new listener is a potential concert goer or someone who may purchase her albums as a gift for others. Frankly I also often see people who discover music via downloads (legal or illegal) subsequently go on to purchase the CD’s afterwards.

BMG has a strict policy for artists buying their own CDs to sell at concerts – $11 per CD. They know very well that most of us lose money if we have to pay that much; the point is to keep the big record stores happy by ensuring sales go to them. What actually happens is no sales to us or the stores.)

NARAS and RIAA are moaning about the little mom & pop stores being shoved out of business; no one worked harder to shove them out than our own industry, which greeted every new Tower or mega-music store with glee, and offered steep discounts to Target and WalMart et al for stocking CDs. The Internet has zero to do with store closings and lowered sales.

And for those of us with major label contracts who want some of our music available for free downloading… well, the record companies own our masters, our outtakes, even our demos, and they won’t allow it. Furthermore, they own our voices for the duration of the contract, so we can’t even post a live track for downloading!

If you think about it, the music industry should be rejoicing at this new technological advance! Here’s a fool-proof way to deliver music to millions who might otherwise never purchase a CD in a store. The cross-marketing opportunities are unbelievable. It’s instantaneous, costs are minimal, shipping non-existant…a staggering vehicle for higher earnings and lower costs. Instead, they’re running around like chickens with their heads cut off, bleeding on everyone and making no sense. As an alternative to encrypting everything, and tying up money for years (potentially decades) fighting consumer suits demanding their first amendment rights be protected (which have always gone to the consumer, as witness the availability of blank and unencrypted VHS tapes and casettes), why not take a tip from book publishers and writers?

As Courtney Love suggested in one famous discourse, one would better reward one’s favorite artist by downloading their music and sending a cheque for $20 to their own address – than by purchasing it in a store. They would make more money than if you went in to buy five of their albums in a store.

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