March 26, 2007
Byrne-ing Down the House, or the RIAA Is a Bunch of Dinosaurs

Here’s another encouraging trend that might in some sense be related to the anti-conservatism thing I was just talking about.

Although the Talking Heads were pretty popular, they were also serious enough to have their concert movie Stop Making Sense directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Manchurian Candidate). They had enough of a cult following that bands were named after songs of theirs.

The most famous example is probably Radiohead, who were apparently asked by their recording company to rename themselves. The original name was On a Friday, because that’s when they could practice; but you can see how that name might be suboptimal from the promotion standpoint. (“When are they playing?” “Saturday.”) Inspired by the song of that name in David Byrne’s movie True Stories (John Goodman, Swoozie Kurtz, Spalding Gray, Pops Staples), they chose their current name. I recently watched the movie again after many years, and it’s just as weird as it was originallly. Not very much like any other movie I’ve ever seen. (Plus, I got my copy on eBay for $6.58 delivered. Yahoo! Or should I say, Google!)

David Byrne is certainly one of the weirder characters around. If you’ve seen either of the movies, you’ll know what I mean when I say I’d love to be in the courtroom if the RIAA tries to sue him.

He said he buys most of his music online via eMusic, or obtains it illegally, due to the file constraints on files sold on iTunes. Byrne predicated that once DRM is removed, iTunes will no longer “have a monopoly,” and labels will be better prepared to deal with Web sales.

In his presentation at South by Southwest he predicted that around 2012 downloads will pass CDs as a method of distribution, at which point manufacturing and distribution costs will approach zero. You’d think that would be a win for musicians.

…Byrne seemed to imply that labels are not changing as rapidly as they need to be. He pointed to the royalties artists receive on each CD sale, and put the number at about $1.60. He said the royalty rate is essentially the same with an iTunes sale.

“There’s no manufacturing or distribution costs,” Byrne said, “but somehow the artist ended up with the exact same amount.”

Imagine that.

In the end, the RIAA is an association of lying, cheating bastards. They don’t do squat, and they take most of the profits. The only functions they ever performed were marketing, what Byrne says is the only thing they have left, and controlling the recording equipment and studios, which used to be massively expensive. But if you’re gonna distribute MP3s freely over the net, you can set up a fine studio in your garage for a couple thousand. Then tear it down and put it away when you’re done. The workers own the means of production.

Hopefully more and more people are realizing what scum the record companies are. I’m all for paying the artists, who actually do something. I naturally include in that category everyone who works to produce the music: producers, engineers, programmers, everyone who does something to help create the product. I think most people would pay for music even if they didn’t have to, and be happy doing it, if they thought most of the money was going to these folks. The recording companies in general deserve nothing. (I’m willing to allow some exceptions to that general pontification.)

If you know anyone who is unconvinced about this, I highly recommend a summary of the best arguments I know on this topic. Tasha Costa, writing in the Nevada Appeal, starts with a winner of a story.

I’m not going to claim to be an expert in the area of parenting. I can’t even really claim to know anything about children. But I do know what I’d do if I opened my mail and found out that the Recording Industry Association of America was suing me over my stepdaughter’s downloaded music collection. I’d freak out (as would Mr. Tasha). Luckily for music lovers — and parents — everywhere, Debbie Foster, an Oklahoma mother, didn’t freak out, and she didn’t back down.

On Feb. 6, 2007, a U.S. District Court in Oklahoma ruled that Foster, who was sued for the alleged illegal downloading of her daughter Amanda, was entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees. This was after the RIAA battled her for a year and a half and then backed out of the suit. Incidentally, the RIAA is appealing the decision and generally acting like a spoiled child who got caught beating up kids for their lunch money.

Confronted with an almost comically villianous target, Tasha hits back at the bully.

…according to the MIT campus newspaper “The Tech,” the RIAA has suggested to students that they ought to drop out of college to be able to afford RIAA settlements. They’ve also sued people who don’t own and never have owned a computer.


And now we reach the crux of the matter. Those companies are part of a multi-billion-dollar-a-year business. They argue that people downloading music takes money away from the artists, but in reality, it takes money away from them, if anyone.

I don’t like people that hide behind lies. If the RIAA is going to do this, and they will continue to, I only have one request: Be honest with us. If you want more money, come out and say it. Don’t act like you’re protecting the artists. If you really were, would a huge group of them have formed a coalition (that would be the Recording Artists Coalition) aimed specifically at bringing change to the recording industry’s structure?

And did we tell you the name of the game, boys? We call it ridin’ the gravy train.


Posted by Chuck Dupree at March 26, 2007 12:19 AM
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By the way, which one's Pink?

Posted by: whig on March 26, 2007 4:14 AM

"The workers own the means of production."

A fine way to Kill the Beast.

Posted by: farang on March 26, 2007 5:10 AM
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