Where's the Pitch?

Artists remain silent as the music industry crumbles.

Oh, thank God the season of public-radio fund drives is almost over. Soon we can finally go back to listening to KUOW and KEXP without our favorite programs being interrupted by reporters and DJs barraging us with reminders about why we listen to these stations for our news and music of the day.In the midst of all the pledging of support, the Recording Academy's Pacific Northwest Chapter hosted its annual Musictech Summit at EMP. Friday's final panel discussion, The Future Of Music Distribution: Does The Cloud Have A Silver Lining, featured folks from LimeWire, Verizon, and a President of the USA (founder Dave Dederer, who now works for Hewlett-Packard) talking about how the industry is trying to leverage technology to get listeners to pay for music, specifically through cloud-based subscriptions services like Rhapsody and Mog.

LimeWire's John Beezer framed the existential crisis: "How do you make music feel free while you're actually getting people to pay for it?"Several of the more popular reasons given for the downward spiral in purchased music—which has claimed half the industry—were approached by the panel: Because it's still better/easier than the for-profit model; people only pay for the music they like; that music has always felt free; and that fans believe the money exchanged for a record isn't going to the artist, but to a crooked record company that is taking advantage of their favorite band. I've got another one: Nobody's asking them to stop illegally downloading. Not the right people, anyway. Not often enough. Not in the right way.When was the last time you heard an artist—aside from the usual few suspects—take a strong, consistent stand against peer-to-peer downloading? When was the last time you heard an artist explain what their relationship with a record label has allowed them to accomplish? Has any artist pleaded with their fans to support a record label the way John Richards pleads for listeners to support KEXP? No, if you've heard an artist talk about a record label, it's probably because they believe they've been screwed.And while there have been bad contracts signed, if labels were so malicious, so one-sided in their intent, why would bands continue to go into business with them? Why would a popular indie act like Iron & Wine leave their indie-label home and flee to the majors like they did this week, defecting from Sub Pop to Warner Bros.? Why would the Lonely Forest sign a deal with Atlantic? Artists get that when it comes to isolating fans, nothing is quite as toxic as taking a firm, consistent stand against file sharing, and few have spoken out against it; certainly not as many as have spoken out against the RIAA's litigious response to the situation.But before the millions of non-paying customers start chipping in for their music again, they're going to have to be convinced that their money is going to support the continuation, not the destruction, of the music they love. A fancy app for Windows Phone 7 isn't going to do that.


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