RIAA: Still turning cluelessness into a badge of honor

Nowadays, it seems like everything the RIAA says is designed only to piss me off.

The latest infuriator is a post by Neil Turkewitz over at their Music Notes Blog (discovered through TechDirt, naturally). Don't bother reading it, because each sentence is packed with such unbearable wrongness, I'll be responding to most of them below.

The entry is called "Is Touring Alone Enough?" But despite the title, it's not about touring at all. It's an attack on all "alternative mechanisms" for getting paid through music, a desperate justification for their own existence. "We're still the only game in town," they shout, "and anyone who says otherwise is a freeloader who thinks artists shouldn't be paid."

It starts out with the usual polemics:

Some industry observers like to suggest that efforts to address the theft of music online are somehow tantamount to efforts to maintain an "outdated business model" rather than to address forms of unfair competition based on illegal acts.

This would be a good puzzle to print on one of those paper placemats they have at Denny's. "There are five mistakes in this sentence. See if you can spot them all! Answers below." *

The suggestion is there are ample alternative mechanisms for generating revenues from music -- money from touring, selling merchandise like t-shirts, licensing music for commercials.

These are the only ways that most acts will ever make money, even ones on major labels. Rarely does a band make any money whatsoever from selling albums. The record labels do, though. What a coincidence they should believe these methods unprofitable.

Completely ignored are the pleas for enhanced copyright protection from artists and unions.

Completely ignored are the authors and musicians who are thinking about quitting their unions because of this very issue. Also ignored is the fact that most artists aren't represented by those unions.

While touring and merchandise sales will work for some bands -- most notably big bands that “made it” in the 80’s, 90’s or earlier (and built on the back of touring support from music labels) -- it is exceedingly challenging for other bands to generate sufficient income just from touring, and touring support from the labels is rapidly disappearing.

Here we have the tired, old argument that major labels are necessary to fund smaller bands. Of course, that's a total joke. It's also really hypocritical, because if those smaller bands actually do well, the labels just say "that may be good for small artists, but it won't work for larger ones."

Also note how much they respect the established bands on their roster, who only succeeded "on the back of touring support from music labels." What a bunch of parasites! No wonder that support is disappearing - labels have more important things to fund, like lobbying Congress.

how is generating revenue from licensing of music to sell other products more socially useful than the sale of music itself?

The idea that the sale of music is "socially useful" is laughable. It turns music into a product like any other, so it's no more useful to society than licensing it to "sell other products."

It certainly doesn't promote the production of higher quality music. It only promotes the production of more profitable music. It guarantees that "only music that works well in selling diapers and cars will be commercially produced." If anything, emphasising the "sale of music itself" robs it of whatever social utility it ever had.

Would we have Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, the Sex Pistols under this kind of system for compensating artists? Not remotely. Exactly what kind of product licensing would have sustained the Smiths or Nirvana? Was there anything on Springsteen's first record that would have drawn the attention of advertising companies?

If you can read this without punching Neil Turkewitz in the scrotum, you're a better man than me.

Every single one of these artists did well precisely in the absence of the label system he endorses. It was only after they had become successful that the labels even considered approaching them. How did they do well? By following those business models that Turkewitz says don't work.

Bob Dylan mostly covered folk songs in his early years, something that would be "theft" today. Of course, he's hawking Victoria's Secret now, so there you go.

The Sex Pistols had such a bad relationship with their label that they wrote a song telling them to fuck off. They helped create the English punk movement (along with far more DIY rockers the Clash), which in turn helped create whatever underground scene we have now.

That scene birthed Nirvana, whose singer took a long hard look at the system that "sustained" him, and decided it would be more fun if he shot himself in the face. His widow gives speeches about how labels are bigger "pirates" than filesharers.

And it takes balls the size of Pluto to mention Bruce Springsteen, when just a couple of months ago he demanded his name be removed from a copyright lawsuit.

If any of these people benefitted from being on a label at all, it was only because their music was licensed to endorse a product - that product being a physical release. That's "exactly what kind of product licensing" sustained them.

And in most cases, that's "not remotely" what sustained them. That's what sustained the labels.

The new millennium's Nirvana is still out there somewhere, playing crappy basement shows and sleeping on dirt floors just like Nirvana did, and you can bet that they're going to keep much more of their hard-earned greenbacks once the RIAA's clients go under.

(My vote is for Lightning Bolt being the next Nirvana, but that's just me.)

* For the answer, I'll just translate the sentence into reality for you:

Every independent expert has shown empirically that laws which attack free speech and civil liberties to address noncommercial copyright infringement online, are actually efforts to maintain an "outdated business model" rather than to address shifing market forces based on acts which may or may not be legal.