Pandora Isn't the Enemy, the Music Industry Is, Part 2

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In Part 1 of this series, I expose the absurdity of indie artist Blake Morgan's criticisms of Pandora (P).

But it's not merely an absurd rant Morgan continued on Bloomberg Radio, it illustrates how emotionally charged music industry propaganda dupes guys like Morgan into wasting time lamenting issues that have little, if any, impact on their day-to-day existence or careers as singers/songwriters.

Who in their right mind blasts Pandora over minuscule amounts of royalty money while effectively ignoring the injustice struggling musicians have to deal with, on the ground, on a daily basis? Pandora pays what it is supposed to pay, as per mandate and negotiated deals, to parties who then distribute those payments.

On Tuesday, in Pandora Must Promote Indie Artists, Expose Music Industry Injustice, I told the story of a local Los Angeles band's experience playing the Hollywood bar and club scene. Read that article if you haven't already because it's important. It exposes an issue the music industry never talks about. It's a status quo everybody in the business not only accepts, but shamefully ignores.

I got something wrong about that band I wrote about earlier in the week. They did not draw 34 people to their gig. My count must have been off. Or maybe the people at the door got it wrong. Officially, they brought 28 people out to their show. That means they had $80 to split between five people, not $140.

After the show, however, the world famous Troubadour offered the band the "opportunity" to play the legendary venue.

Dig some of the history at the Troubadour. Dylan played there. Names such as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffalo Springfield and Billy Joel made either worldwide, U.S. or Los Angeles debuts there. Don Henley and Glenn Frey met at the bar. In 1974, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band played an epic 90-minute set that started at two in the morning. Pearl Jam, formerly Mookie Blaylock, plays for the first time as Pearl Jam in 1991. Joe Strummer performed his final LA shows at the Troubadour in October 2001. The list goes on.

There's a catch, however, if you're one of the many relative "no-names" who gets asked to play the Troubadour. You need to -- and this has become the deflated catch phrase of countless local bands in these parts -- "bring people out." The band I wrote about claims they needed to "bring out" 60 to 80 people. If they fail to do this, they're on the hook for every cover charge below that number. So, because of the lopsided risk/reward, they're not playing the Troubadour. At least not now.

I recently saw the lead singer of another local band at the grocery store. I asked him why they haven't been playing their standing monthly gig at a Santa Monica bar lately. He told me it's too much of a hassle, having "to bring people out" and everything.

I have heard countless stories of similar injustice. One band was almost kicked off stage five minutes prior to their performance because they didn't "bring out" enough people. They're not alone. Neither are the bands who have to buy tickets and then resell them to play some of the bigger Hollywood clubs. Some just have to pay a fee outright to play some of these places.

Want to set up a video camera and tape your show? Quite often, that'll be an additional charge.

It's ludicrous and pathetic. And, to a person, nobody ever talks about it. The entire music industry and "advocacy" machine acts like it's not happening. Local artists have resigned themselves to what have become sad facts of their reality.

And, yes, I classify all of this as injustice, particularly when considered in conjunction with the aforementioned, impractical and pointless whining over royalties.

The music industry apparatus and Los Angeles bars and clubs have lots in common. The industry wants to live high on the hog for as long as it possibly can. They would rather not adequately address the future and the on-the-ground issues I discuss.

The bars and clubs like things the way they are as well. They put most of the onus on desperate independent artists, taking on little, if any, risk in the process. They put up a sign, get you on the LA Weekly's concert calendar and, for all intents and purposes, that's it. Why are bars or clubs not doing much of anything to establish themselves or or maintain their stature as one of the places to go to see live music in Hollywood?

Take some pressure off the artist. Do your job. Spot compelling talent. Book it. And then use part of that margin you make on $7 beers and $10 shots and $14 mixed drinks to properly promote the band as well as your venue.

And Blake Morgan suggests that artists could and maybe should boycott Pandora? Is he certifiably insane? Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Pandora and the larger Internet radio space provides people like Morgan -- and unsigned, independent and local artists from around the world -- exposure they have never, do not and will never receive elsewhere. It's mind blowing.

And, at Pandora, expect the exposure to get even more widespread and prolific in the near future. Pandora continues to put the mechanisms in place to help bands -- big and small -- "bring people out." Pandora can -- it has and it will -- expand this capability. The music dashboard that provides spin data to artists is merely the beginning.

It would not surprise me in the least to see Pandora ultimately unveil a new product that serves as a promotional vehicle for touring musicians. Don't be surprised if it includes big names -- I'm talking major stars -- to kick it off, sustain it and provide what ultimately should be an unneeded stamp of legitimacy.

Consider these recent articles -- Does Pandora Do Enough to Promote Local Music? and I Can't Find Pandora's Name Anywhere in Hollywood -- foreshadowing of what's to come in this regard.

Tim Westergren, who co-founded Pandora, understands what it means to struggle as an independent artist. He had the same dream as all the others -- to get signed (and then, most likely, unceremoniously dropped) by a major label. He established Pandora, in large part, to provide a vehicle for unsigned, local musicians to promote and generate exposure for their work.

The music labels know this. At the same time as they bite back against reality vis-a-vis royalties, they insist they have no problem with Pandora. And they continue to work with the company. Most recently, Pandora signed a deal to stream entire album releases one week prior to their official release.

The initial artists featured: One you have likely heard of (John Fogerty on Vanguard Records) and one you likely have not heard of (Laura Marling on indie label, Ribbon Music).

Pandora has the leverage in a situation we should not be pitting as an us versus them proposition, no matter who you place in the "us" and "them" camps. That's not how Pandora views it. And, as this royalty situation plays itself out, that should become clear. With or without the labels and the organizations the labels have in their back pockets, Pandora will continue to drive personalization, discovery, sales and promotion of all music. It will continue to provide one of the few venues -- at scale and growing -- for local artists. And it will help improve their status in local music scenes, particularly ultra-competitive and unjust ones.

What upsets me most is seeing the "signatures" of big-name artists on the propaganda the industry puts out against Pandora. Names such as Springsteen and Joel to Rihanna and Maroon 5 appear to be taking the side of the music labels, musicFirst and Sound Exchange in this royalty issue. Do you really think Rihanna reads this crap and then signs her name to it? Or do you think her label and managers and other tools of the recording establishment might have something to do with it?

The story I tell here -- the one that never gets told -- would resonate more with the Springsteens of the world than the one the industry sells. But names of that stature aren't accessible. They're far removed from what's happening to small names on the ground. Hopefully they'll catch wind and take a stand. It would take just one Springsteen or Neil Young or Eddie Vedder to completely shift the dynamics of this entire conversation.

And, of course, to get Blake Morgan to pull himself onto the right side of the road.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.

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