Here is some nerdcore rap:
Normally I would nitpick the lyrics, particularly the stuff about “leveling the playing field” and music being a “service”. This sounds like the usual pirate boilerplate justifications, except it’s not, really. MC Lars isn’t smashing the old system by taking, he’s doing so by giving. If the old label-driven model is to be overthrown, this is how it needs to happen. The new paradigm won’t be brought about by fans ignoring copyright and downloading what they want, it will come about when artists abandon copyright for something better.
Nine years ago I read a bit by Courtney Love about how artists make money. She ran the numbers and showed how a successful artist could wind up making very little, or nothing, from their record sales. Other artists have drawn a similar picture of how the industry works. (I’d link to them if I could remember them at the moment.) Unless you’re huge, you make your money touring. Love seems to be suggesting (I think) unionization. Well, that was what she was suggesting in 2000, anyway.
I don’t think unionization (or any sort of collective effort) would be possible, nor do I think it would really adress the root of the problem. The number of people willing to do “anything” to get into show business means that artists aren’t going to have a lot of solidarity. The artists just don’t have any power over the labels. You can hold out and demand a better deal, but there are a thousand starry-eyed kids in line behind you. Love is suggesting they try to leverage labels to get a better deal, but if they had any leverage they wouldn’t be signing these awful contracts in the first place. Lack of leverage, not the contracts, is their real problem. The contracts are just a symptom.
You might nitpick her numbers, but unless she’s off by an incredible margin the picture she paints is clear: Profits from record sales are absorbed by the label. For an artist, the entire process of cutting a record and getting it on the radio is really only a means to an end: To get people to come to your shows, where you’ll make the real money.
Love (and other artists from my generation) are trying to overhaul the system. But MC Lars and the coming iGeneration that grew up on the net is simply circumventing it. If selling albums makes you no money, then why do it? If all you want is promotion, why not just give away what the fans are “stealing” anyway? Note that if this model were embraced, it wouldn’t really hurt anyone except the labels. Artists would make just as much money as before, with the added benefit that they would retain copyright over their own music instead of surrendering it to a label. (Which means they could license it to movies and television commercials as they pleased, and keep the proceeds.) Consumers would get the music for free. And labels would either find a way to make themselves useful, or vanish.
He’s making more money by not signing with a label. His lyric from the song is that, “You don’t need a million dollars to launch a career.” He proved this by launching one from a laptop. This is an important moment. He’s not on a label yet he’s making money and touring. Since this is ostensibly what would-be artists are after, this is going to look very attractive to them.
Despite what the lyric claims, he’s not leveling the playing field. He’s playing a completely different game, the rulebook for which hasn’t quite been written yet.
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