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TheStreet Open House

Music Industry's Culture of Learned Helplessness

Stocks in this article: PSIRI

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Go to musicFIRST's Website, then try to find something other than information related to royalties. Find something other than propaganda trashing Pandora (P) and Sirius XM (SIRI).

You can't. Because that's all musicFIRST, the artist advocacy organization that "works to ensure music creators get fair pay for their work," does. They fight the royalty fight.

In this article, I argue that by making royalties its sole and hyper focus musicFIRST does a disservice to the musicians it purports to support and advocate for. In fact, they're culpable for every moment wasted and dollar lost when an artist is unaware of the massive opportunity today's tech- and data-driven music industry provides, particularly as streaming continues to not merely cannibalize but crush digital download sales

I write this article, in part, to respond to some feedback I received on my 2013 year-end manifesto against the music industrial complex: Musicians: Don't Blame Apple or the Internet For Your Problems (from December 23, 2013).

To be clear, in that article -- or in any of the dozens that came before it -- I did not suggest that creators should not get paid for their work. However, I did mean to state, in no uncertain terms, that musicians should stop complaining about how much money they make via a royalty system that was broken long before Internet radio came along and provided unprecedented exposure for artists at all levels.

What musicFIRST does is reckless. And, to be fair, they're not alone; they're just the ideal illustration of what's wrong with the broad music industrial complex.

musicFIRST's singular focus on royalties is akin to me putting all of my efforts toward lifting a ban on minors cutting grass as an odd job in my neighborhood when opportunities exist for them to clean pools, walk dogs and organize lemonade stands. How can I not tell my son and his friends that they could put their talents to work and make some money in other areas because I have become obsessed with the perceived grass cutting injustice?

musicFIRST looses any good intentions it might have by getting sucked into the music royalty vacuum. While I'm not suggesting it should abandon that fight (royalties absolutely should be part of the group's agenda), if musicFIRST wants artists to succeed it needs to move with the times and educate its creators on what's what.

How do you empower a large group of people when you're setting a myopic agenda during a time of unparalleled opportunity? In effect, musicFIRST and its official and unofficial partners enable many creators to mire themselves in what amounts to a culture of learned helplessness.

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