Part 5 : I’m leaving

Now artists have options. We don’t have to work with
major labels anymore, because the digital economy is
creating new ways to distribute and market music. And the
free ones amongst us aren’t going to. That means the slave
class, which I represent, has to find ways to get out of our
deals. This didn’t really matter before, and that’s why we
all stayed.

I want my seven-year contract law California labor code
case to mean something to other artists. (Universal Records
sues me because I leave because my employment is up, but
they say a recording contract is not a personal contract;
because the recording industry — who, we have established,
are excellent lobbyists, getting, as they did, a clerk to
disallow Don Henley or Tom Petty the right to give their
copyrights to their families — in California, in 1987,
lobbied to pass an amendment that nullified recording
contracts as personal contracts, sort of. Maybe. Kind of. A
little bit. And again, in the dead of night, succeeded.)

That’s why I’m willing to do it with a sword in my teeth.
I expect I’ll be ignored or ostracized following this
lawsuit. I expect that the treatment you’re seeing Lars
Ulrich get now will quadruple for me. Cool. At least I’ll
serve a purpose. I’m an artist and a good artist, I think,
but I’m not that artist that has to play all the time, and
thus has to get fucked. Maybe my laziness and
self-destructive streak will finally pay off and serve a
community desperately in need of it. They can’t torture me
like they could Lucinda Williams.

You funny dot-communists. Get your shit together, you
annoying sucka VCs I want to work with people who believe in
music and art and passion. And I’m just the tip of the
iceberg. I’m leaving the major label system and there are
hundreds of artists who are going to follow me. There’s an
unbelievable opportunity for new companies that dare to get
it right.

How can anyone defend the current system when it fails to
deliver music to so many potential fans? That only expects
of itself a “5 percent success rate” a year? The status quo
gives us a boring culture. In a society of over 300 million
people, only 30 new artists a year sell a million records.
By any measure, that’s a huge failure.

Maybe each fan will spend less money, but maybe each
artist will have a better chance of making a living. Maybe
our culture will get more interesting than the one currently
owned by Time Warner. I’m not crazy. Ask yourself, are any
of you somehow connected to Time Warner media? I think there
are a lot of yeses to that and I’d have to say that in that
case president McKinley truly failed to bust any trusts.
Maybe we can remedy that now.

Artists will make that compromise if it means we can
connect with hundreds of millions of fans instead of the
hundreds of thousands that we have now. Especially if we
lose all the crap that goes with success under the current
system. I’m willing, right now, to leave half of these
trappings — fuck it, all these trappings — at the door to
have a pure artist experience. They cosset us with trappings
to shut us up. That way when we say “sharecropper!” you can
point to my free suit and say “Shut up pop star.”

Here, take my Prada pants. Fuck it. Let us do our real
jobs. And those of us addicted to celebrity because we have
nothing else to give will fade away. And those of us
addicted to celebrity because it was there will find a
better, purer way to live.

Since I’ve basically been giving my music away for free
under the old system, I’m not afraid of wireless, MP3 files
or any of the other threats to my copyrights. Anything that
makes my music more available to more people is great. MP3
files sound cruddy, but a well-made album sounds great. And
I don’t care what anyone says about digital recordings. At
this point they are good for dance music, but try listening
to a warm guitar tone on them. They suck for what I do.

Record companies are terrified of anything that
challenges their control of distribution. This is the
business that insisted that CDs be sold in incredibly
wasteful 6-by-12 inch long boxes just because no one thought
you could change the bins in a record store.

Let’s not call the major labels “labels.” Let’s call them
by their real names: They are the distributors. They’re the
only distributors and they exist because of scarcity.
Artists pay 95 percent of whatever we make to gatekeepers
because we used to need gatekeepers to get our music heard.
Because they have a system, and when they decide to spend
enough money — all of it recoupable, all of it owed by me
— they can occasionally shove things through this system,
depending on a lot of arbitrary factors.

The corporate filtering system, which is the system that
brought you (in my humble opinion) a piece of crap like
“Mambo No. 5” and didn’t let you hear the brilliant Cat
Power record or the amazing new Sleater Kinney record,
obviously doesn’t have good taste anyway. But we’ve never
paid major label/distributors for their good taste. They’ve
never been like Yahoo and provided a filter service.

There were a lot of factors that made a distributor
decide to push a recording through the system:

How powerful is management?

Who owes whom a favor?

What independent promoter’s cousin is the drummer?

What part of the fiscal year is the company putting out
the record?

Is the royalty rate for the artist so obscenely bad that
it’s almost 100 percent profit instead

If just 95 percent so that if the record sells, it’s
literally a steal?

How much bin space is left over this year?

Was the record already a hit in Europe so that there’s
corporate pressure to make it work?

Will the band screw up its live career to play free shows
for radio stations?

Does the artist’s song sound enough like someone else
that radio stations will play it because it fits the sound
of the month?

Did the artist get the song on a film soundtrack so that
the movie studio will pay for the video?

These factors affect the decisions that go into the
system. Not public taste. All these things are becoming
eradicated now. They are gone or on their way out. We don’t
need the gatekeepers any more. We just don’t need them.

And if they aren’t going to do for me what I can do for
myself with my 19-year-old Webmistress on my own Web site,
then they need to get the hell out of my way. [I
will] allow millions of people to get my music for
nothing if they want and hopefully they’ll be kind enough to
leave a tip if they like it.

I still need the old stuff. I still need a producer in
the creation of a recording, I still need to get on the
radio (which costs a lot of money), I still need bin space
for hardware CDs, I still need to provide an opportunity for
people without computers to buy the hardware that I make. I
still need a lot of this stuff, but I can get these things
from a joint venture with a company that serves as a conduit
and knows its place. Serving the artist and serving the
public: That’s its place.

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