Courtney Love does the math

World music pioneer David Lindley writes to say online file swapping is a way of getting back at rich people.

Published March 5, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

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I just finished reading Courtney Love's speech on how the music industry works and found it to be the definitive work on the subject, hands down. What she says is how it is and how it's been for far too long. So now we have to deal with Napster and their relatives who are "swapping" music for download to "the fans." The fans say they are supporting their favorite artists by doing this when in actuality they are joining the food chain that feeds off the songs, the songwriters and most of all, the musicians themselves.

Now, I understand that there's resentment against the record companies that overcharge for their CDs. And anyone who thinks that the CD they're buying belongs to the musician in any sense of the word, or that CDs are anything but a "product," is sadly mistaken.

There are some darker aspects of this situation as well, that speak to us and motivate us from the backs of our heads like a nameless, faceless board of directors handing down decisions and not telling us. We hate rich people. Anyone who has ever loaded trucks for a living or needs three jobs just to survive and feed their family has, somewhere back there in the archives, a resentment toward those they see as "having it too easy." When they hear about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, they receive a message from the board that tells them their own life sucks and that they blew it, failed. Resentment and "us and them" raises its scabby head. Understandable. Napster is a way of getting back at the record industry, the "lucky" musicians and life in general.

Am I right? Definitely, because that's the way I have felt on occasion when I have to eat the root, the rubber weenie, the Pink Pickle of Fate. I was one of those road musicians who went out there and tried to improve my playing ability every night, partied, enjoyed life. I was lucky. It all came to me because I could play what people wanted to hear and I got paid for it.

Now we come to my solution to my own problem and the problem was and is The System. I had a plan and stuck to it. I knew that over the years I would accumulate a fan base and that they would be very loyal, as they still are. I had a record contract with a major label to which I still owe money for "studio costs." I made four albums for them and NEVER made a cent from royalties. It was my fault because I didn't sell enough records, or so I was told.

So what did I do? I recorded my own material, made my own CDs which I now sell at gigs and over the Internet mail order. It's growing, too. It works because the people who buy my music are dedicated to seeing that I make a living and that I'm able to keep on playing for them. Without them I have nothing.

This whole thing depends ultimately on the fans. The fans have spoken to the record companies for whatever reason and, in the process, are throwing the baby out with the bath water, shooting the messenger. My fans know that when they download my recent stuff from Napster they are only hurting me, so they don't do it. When they make recordings, when they tape my stuff, they send me a $5 taping fee and they do it all the time. Sounds strange doesn't it? I put a little note in there in one of my CDs that said that if they taped my stuff they should pay me $5, so that I wouldn't appear in their dreams like Freddy Kruger. I also said that if they couldn't afford it then they didn't have to pay me. Sounds logical, doesn't it?

It works -- on a small scale, but it works. M.C. Hammer worked it out that he would have to sell 10 times the number of CDs he sold in the dance clubs on his own to make the same money he would make with a record deal. He got huge because of the record deal, made some bad decisions and lost a lot of bread but he worked it out. Courtney Love says it all in her speech.

Musicians would do well to remember the words Bruce Lee once spoke: "One must take a few punches in order to maneuver into position to deliver the death blow."

-- David Lindley

By Salon Staff

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