Free Albums – Screw The RIAA

Having just read the story of Joel Tenenbaum, who has just been fined over $600,000 dollars for downloading 30 songs, I’m incensed by the insanity of the RIAA – the Record Industry Association of America.

While it claims to be “the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry. Its mission is to foster a business and legal climate that supports and promotes our members’ creative and financial vitality” the reality is – as is clear from its list of directors – that it represents the interests of a handful of millionaire corporate executives who are, frankly, shitting themselves at the collapse of the industry they’ve built around the distribution of physical music product.

So the RIAA – rather than looking at new models for distribution, or acknowledging the benefits of downloading for artists getting the word out – now prosecutes college kids to the tune of $22 THOUSAND… per track!

Since when was a single MP3 worth £22K? What percentage of single songs online have made $22K total, let alone can be proven to have LOST that much through downloading? Had Joel made anything from this? nope. Has anyone been damaged? Nope.

It’s pure greedy, nasty, anti-music legislative BS.

So, I’m making 3 of my albums available for free on last.fm. I was going to make them all available over the weekend, but CDBaby administers a few of my albums on there, thanks to last.fm being one of their ‘digital partners’ – maybe I’ll find some other way of giving away more music.

Whatever, the RIAA are scum. Filth. Pondlife. If I was signed to record label that were represented by them, I’d be turning up at their offices with a NOT IN MY NAME banner.

The major labels are dying. They age of charging $15 for a CD, paying 50c of it to the musicians, and keeping them in debt are over. It’s the age of the indie. So fuck the RIAA. Give some music away this weekend.

Here’ s the links to the 3 albums:

Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt 1
Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt 2
Lessons Learned From The Fairly Aged Felines.

Q: How nuts is that? $600,000 for downloading? Is there a single comparable area of legislation where the punishment is so insanely out of proportion to any impact the action may have had?

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12 Comments

  1. Steve, I’m noticing your response because you’re an indie musician, and most of the “information wants to be free” people are not. For instance, I thought it was contradictory to hear someone rail against Facebook for trying to own the content that he had posted there (he wants to own it, reasonably enough) but also rail against record companies for wanting to protect artist copyright. OK, the record labels don’t give fair deals. Agreed. But what about indie label owners like you and me? (I’m on CDBaby too.) Honestly and in a friendly way: what’s your model for how we artists can get paid, if people don’t want to pay 99 cents for our tracks and with performance options diminishing? PS I have to check out your feline albums — I have one called “What’s New, Pussycat?” !

    1. Hi Lisa, the model is that people are happy to pay for what they value. And if they are in touch with the artist, they’ll pay out of gratitude. Making music is cheaper now, marketing music is – potentially – free, almost all of what the labels spent OUR money on in the past can now be done – for free – by us.

      See, getting people to listen to our music was never ‘free’ – radio airplay cost money in pluggers, radio ads, magazine ads, TV slots… press and promo campaigns cost a fortune to run. If someone takes my music and plays it to their friends, with a recommendation, that’s free publicity not theft! If they copy it for their friends, that’s OK with me – most people who listen to and enjoy my music on the radio aren’t paying for it. They aren’t stealing physical product, them having and listening to my music isn’t costing me anything, and if they like it, the chance of them coming to a show, buying future albums, buying merch, helping book shows, and generally being involved with my music getting out there and me making something off it.

      9 out of 10 artists on big labels don’t make back the money spent on them. The label makes it back on the ones who go huge, but they don’t pay off the debts of the smaller ones with it, they just squeeze them, tell them what music to make, and continue to earn for themselves while the artists make nothing.

      Downloading has done pretty much nothing to damage the careers of artists like me, and LOADS to benefit it. I have a massive digital footprint thanks to people listening to my music online. I haven’t been paid for the near-100,000 plays I’ve had on myspace, but that people are listening is reward enough. They can choose what they do beyond that, and if I make myself available to talk to them, they are far more likely to get involved, feel some kind of connection with what I do, and therefor help out with paying for it.

      The ‘value’ imposed on physical music product by ‘the industry’ was only sustainable thanks to the scarcity factor – I have a Cd, you want a Cd, you pay me and I give you a CD. With downloads, that’s not the case – we can price differently, we can do all kinds of fun things that are experimental and adventurous and maybe you or I will discover the next big thing that helps us make some money out of this.

      Meanwhile I continue to break even on records, continue to grow my audience, to encourage people to listen to my music wherever and whenever they can, continue to play great shows, meet great people, and love the music I make. What could be better than that?

      The RIAA are protecting the interests of a bunch of millionaire freeloading bastards, not the artists. Heck, even Richard Marx said he was ashamed to be associated with that last trial where the girl was fine $1.4million dollars, cos one of his tunes was downloaded! Yup, that bastion of scary communist thinking, Richard Marx. 🙂

      I’ve written LOADS about ways of getting our music out there over on my main blog at http://www.stevelawson.net – the only reason I posted this here was that I’d already blogged over there today, and don’t like to post twice on the same day 🙂

      1. Thanks for the nice reply! I understand completely what you’re breaking down about the label profit model. And I have personal experience with what it takes to get some good noncommercial radio play — I’ve hired some ethical promoters, and their relationships and efficiency, plus the quality of my music, of course–made that happen. Same deal with publicists. Their labor and contacts achieved more press than I could have, plus I have a part-time day job. I guess I’m an exception as an indie artist — I’ve hired publicists and promoters, and seen the difference they’ve made. Maybe I’m just not working the ‘net as wisely as I could by relying completely on free internet marketing. Anyway — I hear what you’re saying, but I’m nervous. The very young people I know are not used to paying for music, whether out of gratitude or requirement. I want them to be culturally conditioned to do it, but contrary to your own testimonial (which is inspiring and good to know), I’m not sure they are. I too have had hundreds of thousands of downloads of my tunes, many through mp3-raider type programs. I’m personally not seeing a return, not yet anyway — and my site and online presence are pretty welcoming, though not as widespread as it has become recently. Happy to hear any tips. I will check out your main blog too. — Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) http://www.lisabmusic.com

  2. It’s imposition, intimidation, and exploitation, pure and simple. While I’m no fan of illegal downloadiing, I agree that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, and the RIAA has a way of blowing the impact of people’s actions way out of proportion, especially when considering that studies (such as this one: http://bit.ly/8PZ0Y) have shown that downloads do not have a significant impact on sales, and may in fact increase them.

    What’s just as frustrating to me is the people telling Tenenbaum “you’re in the wrong, pay up” in response to the fact that he’s fighting the suit. Instead of stopping to consider that the RIAA’s penalties are excessive, or that downloads really don’t affect the artist that much, or whatever. Instead, the prevailing attitude seems to be that Tenenbaum’s in the wrong for not having paid the (in my opinion, exploitative) “discount settlement,” and so deserves everything he gets at this point. Such vindictive behavior stifles more valuable debate on the issue, in my opinion.

    I wonder what the artists who wrote the 30 songs that Tenenbaum has been accused of downloading would have to say about a fan of theirs being financially ruined for the foreseeable future simply for enjoying their music.

    1. indeed, Chris – the argument here isn’t really about the ‘rights and wrongs’ of downloading stuff ‘illegally’ – it’s the insane nature of the fines, and the idea that somehow this is in the interests of musicians. It’s extortion, it’s heinous, and I doubt there’s a musician on the planet that would be in favour of it.

  3. Thanks Steve. I really appreciate your passion on this topic. And as Lisa says, it’s particularly relevant coming from an indie musician.

    I’ve been following your blog for a while, but have no idea what your music actually sounds like! So now’s a great chance to have a taste.

    1. thanks Joel, there’s a whole load of nonsense being spoken about this, from the RIAA/Big Music on one side, and a load of pseudo-philosophical guff from the ‘everything online should be free’ crowd on the other side.

      What’s entirely missing is any talk about the relationship between artist, art and audience, the ‘actual’ consequence of any of the paths pursued, the heinous nature of the ‘old model’ of the music industry, which was predicated on a supply chain that no longer exists, and the amazing opportunity all of this presents to indie musicians, willing to have some kind of direct contact with their audience.

      this is the best possible time for indie musicians. It’s brilliant. It’s not ‘damage limitation’ or ‘making the best of a situation where people are stealing our music’ – it’s the best thing for musicians since the invention of radio. I’ll write LOTS more about it soon, I promise.

      Hope you’re enjoying the tracks 🙂

  4. This feels like the last gasp of a dying Empire, one last grab at power before the walls come down – bullying, pure and simple.

    You have to go back to 1874 to find anything as pernicous :o)

    “In 1874, one John Walker was sentenced to seven years “penal servitude” and police supervision. His crime? Stealing onions.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8181192.stm

    1. wow, I stole an onion once. I was about 5, nicked it from the shop round the corner. My mum marched me back round there, and the guy in the shop was apparently trying not to laugh while behaving as though I’d committed some heinous crime. Taught me a lesson 😉

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