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Musicians: Don't Blame Apple or the Internet For Your Problems

Bruised and battered, these guys take on an easy target -- Internet radio. Because it's much simpler to craft the narrative that Pandora and Spotify don't pay artists enough than it is to take on Apple. Or even broadcast radio. Music industry executives might be dumb, but they're not stupid.

In some corners, these guys have succeeded by creating and perpetuating the patently false notion that Internet radio came along and started screwing musicians. As if there was a royalty system in place prior to the emergence of Pandora and Spotify that paid artists commensurate with their blood, sweat, tears and the value of their art.

That's bull. And the folks who allow that meme to float know it. They're something worse than liars.

Terrestrial radio has never paid royalties, outside of the publishing licenses it abides by. And there has never been a royalty system in place that made anybody rich other than mega acts. It's not like working musicians were making something just north or south of a good living off of royalties and then Internet radio came along and took that away.

Terms such as working musician and starving artist existed long before and independent of Pandora, Spotify and the others. In fact, if I was in the business of assigning blame as a major record label executive I would look in the mirror for answers to why it's so tough to make a living as a rank-and-file or even decently successful musician:

Back then (in the late 70s, early 80s) ... it was every band's dream to get signed to a major label ... And then ... well let's cut to the chase, it's the last form of white slavery. It's not a fair situation. I think we're like still in debt to them (Epic Records, a division of Sony (SNE) Music) for recording "White Light, White Heat, (White Trash)" ... We just thought they weren't really doing anything for us that we couldn't do for ourselves.

That's Mike Ness of Social Distortion, transcribed from a 2011 Guitar Center Sessions interview discussing the toxic relationship bands often have with big record labels and his decision to move to an independent label.

I could have picked any number of interviews from any number of musicians to illustrate this, but, while I might distance myself from putting the word "white" in front of "slavery," Ness has a straightforward way with words that I like.

In addition to describing how the label sends the band the bill for basically doing what needs to be done to make the record (costs incurred get subtracted from the advance), Ness noted that he was able to quit his day job painting houses after the success of "The Story of My Life" and "Ball and Chain," both released in 1990.

I provide what we'll call a representative anecdote to illustrate the very real notion that when you hear music industrial complex hacks -- from guys at the labels to the RIAA to mouthpieces such as Byrne and Yorke -- speak about what's fair, remember the culture many of these guys have either created or are strongly associated with.

As Ness put it, "It's not a fair situation."

So, simply put, we're not talking about a business that was humming along peacefully and doing right by working musicians until Internet radio came along. Before Pandora was even a twinkle in Tim Westergren's eye, a veteran like Ness was able to quit his day job and focus on music only because he took the successful musician's rite of passage -- getting screwed by a major label and, having had enough of it to the point where he couldn't wait to go indie.

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