green with grammy disgust

As I sat watching the 44th Annual Grammy Awards I started to get queasy. Not at John Stewart’s feeble attempt at humor or the sight of the Backstreet Boys, but by Michael Green, President and CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, who used his bully pulpit to exploit the rut that the music industry is facing. Here’s what he had to say:

“Good evening, and on behalf of the Academy, we hope you are enjoying the 44th Annual GRAMMY Awards. Perhaps at no other time in our history have people so passionately turned to music for comfort, solace and sweet celebration, and this year’s Life Achievement and Trustees Award honorees are indelible reminders of the power of music.

"You’re tuned in tonight because you are passionate about music, you’re fans of these great artists. That very special connection between the fan and the artist is an historically important partnership, one which enriches and entertains the public, motivating and sustaining the creator. In recent years, industry consolidation combined with the unbridled advance of the Internet has created a disturbing disconnect in our relationship, and trends say it promises to get worse.

"No question the most insidious virus in our midst is the illegal downloading of music on the Net. It goes by many names and its apologists offer a myriad of excuses. This illegal file-sharing and ripping of music files is pervasive, out of control and oh so criminal. Many of the nominees here tonight, especially the new, less-established artists, are in immediate danger of being marginalized out of our business. Ripping is stealing their livelihood one digital file at a time, leaving their musical dreams haplessly snared in this world wide web of theft and indifference.

"You’ve seen glimpses of kids backstage working on computers throughout the evening and are probably wondering what they’re doing. Well, we asked three college-age students to spend two days with us and download as many music files as possible from easily accessible web sites. Please say hello to Numair, Stephanie and Ed. In just a couple of days they have downloaded nearly 6,000 songs. That’s three kids, folks. Now multiply that by millions of students and other computer users and the problem comes into sharp focus. Songwriters, singers, musicians, labels, publishers – the entire music food chain is at serious risk. The RIAA estimates that – now listen to this – an astounding 3.6 billion songs are illegally downloaded every month.

"This problem won’t be solved in short order. It’s going to require education, leadership from Washington and true diligence to help our fans – that would be you – to embrace this life and death issue and support our artistic community by only downloading your music from legal web sites. That will ensure that our artists reach even higher and, deservedly, get paid for their inspired work.”

If you werenít moved to wretch by this unpalatable spewing of self-interested propaganda, perhaps you should stop reading now. Iím about to make some sense and educate people a little, as opposed to trying to scare them with your-favorite-artist-is-going-to-be-living-out-of-a-box-if-you-donít-quit-sharing-music bullshit. Michael Green, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Yes, I tuned into the Grammys because I am a fan of music, though for the record [sic], most of the music that I saw and heard tonight sucks, but I’ll stay on-topic.

Yes, the illegal copying and downloading of music has had an impact on the music industry. The reason that this will get much worse is not because more people will follow suit, but because the music industry, YOUR industry, cannot move at the speed of the technology. While you sit in your board meetings and speak on your panels, kids are ten steps ahead of you and anything you can think of. Furthermore, the five major distributors (Sony, Universal, Warner Brothers, BMG and EMI) are working independent of one another. Companies such as Microsoft and Real are partnering with individual companies on consumer unfriendly solutions instead of working on an industry standard for music subscription services. Itís making a terrible first impression, and you know what they say about the first impressionÖ

CD prices are on on the rise. Not to toot my own horn here, but I’ve run a record company. I know how much it costs to manufacture a CD and so do a lot of other people. During a time of declining sales it’s not wise to raise prices, especially not when unemployment is on the rise, nevermind [sic] the economic state that our country is in.

Many of the new and developing artists are marginalized out of the industry without music piracy. I’d like to see some figures that compare the number of new artists dropped by their label after the first release five years ago with the number of them being dropped today. I could be wrong, but I’m going to guess that the difference is minor.

The ripping and sharing of music is not stealing their livelihood, it’s helping it by exposing people to artists that aren’t getting radio play, aren’t appearing on MTV and aren’t being marketed properly by the labels. If I had a dollar for every time someone emailed me and said they went out and bought a CD because they liked what they downloaded from my web site I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d have a lot of dollars.

I’m not so naive to think that everyone is downloading music and then going out and buying the CD, but why not mention the benefits of free music on the Internet. Yes, I believe artists should be paid for music, some more than others, but again, I’ll stay on-topic.

3.6 billion songs are being downloaded every month, you say? I’d say there’s a business in there somewhere! Trouble is, you can’t figure out how to turn it into one. Tell you what, I will give you the answer. I’m quite certain that if these three simple steps are followed, you may just see a decline in music piracy and an increase in music sales. Listen carefully and read slowly.

First of all, lower the prices of CDs. How about instead of $18.98 for a new CD, consumers pay $13.98 for a CD.

Second, give consumers a place they can go on the Internet, or even in record stores, where they can download any song they want, from any label, at any time, to any device with a single transaction and I bet you people will pay for the service.

Finally, stop spending money and time working against music piracy. Work with it. It will always be there no matter what you do. Give a few free tracks of that new artist away for free. I’ve certainly discovered some great music on the Internet that I might not have bought if it weren’t for music piracy.

Oh, and one other thing, I think that saying this is a “life or death issue” is a little dramatic, don’t you. Come on, admit it.

Yes, there are other topics I did not touch on. If you want more, let me know and Iíll be happy to discuss.