Saturday, May 30, 2009

Music: Passion or Commodity?

The issue of the performance rights organizations has reared it's ugly head once again, and as in the past, this issue has once again taken over my thoughts on another sleepless night. In early 2008 a Royalties page was created on Whole Wheat Radio concerning the effect SoundExchange would have on our little Internet radio community. SoundExchange, which is an offspring of the RIAA, quickly became the most prominent corporate oligarchy with the help and blessing of the federal government. The U.S. Government and the U.S. Copyright Office basically privatized and outsourced our national copyright system over to RIAA. Now the RIAA ignores the Copyright Royalty Board Judges who once made our copyright determinations. Since SoundExchange was put in charge of collecting royalties by Congressional legislation back in December of 2006, it has taken on the appearance of a syndicate strong arm collector for the RIAA Corporate Mob.

I have witnessed the world which corporate power has created, and I have seen how corporations through lobbying efforts and payoffs have successfully converted our government from a people oriented form of democracy into a oligarchy that represents an elite few. It has been painfully apparent in my eyes, that we have allowed this to happen so easily with very little opposition. That does not mean we have to continue to keep our eyes closed to the corporate hegemony and it's dominance of our culture. It is simply not the model of governance in which I want to participate...and I certainly do not want to support such a socially detrimental system for our future generations. What I do want to support is a more sustainable model of community interaction. An interaction between the artists and the people who love their art.

Is music a passion or is it merely a commodity? I for one am tired of the consumer society, and do not see art as a commodity to be consumed. Music is a passion...artists are passionate about their music and this passion is passed on to their listeners. For the life of me, I can not see how music can be defined as a product, it goes way beyond the labels the corporate world places on it!

I found Whole Wheat Radio back in 2006, and I found something unique and reviving about the I stuck around a while. I was exposed to a world of independent music I had never known existed, and I have never looked back. I have purchased so many CDs through our community I have literally had to move and rearrange furniture to compensate. When I exhausted those options, I had to begin burning them to a new hard drive and either sharing the CDs or storing them in containers. Now I am just one member of the community, so just multiply that times all the members of our community who have found the same amount of extraordinary independent music via the music library and Whole Wheat House Concerts. Yes there is another way to do it rather than the existing unsustainable model. We have found out it is possible, and we have also found out how important it is to share in the building and maintenance of a community that supports independent artists. It is a shared experience in a collaborative approach for the future of music. Maybe even beyond that, perhaps it is a shared vision of what our future communities will look like and how we will mesh our local and virtual communities into one!

There is a quote from the documentary Before the Music Dies that is so profound in my humble opinion...

Never have so few companies controlled so much of the music played on the radio and for sale at retail stores. At the same time, there are more bands and more ways to discover their music than ever. Music seems to have split in two - the homogenous corporate product that is spoonfed to consumers and the diverse independent music that finds devoted fans online and at clubs across the country.

I truly believe the power of change lies in our willingness to support real non-profit grassroots communities similar to Whole Wheat Radio. We can either decide to take those steps necessary to oppose those who have corrupted the common good of the people, or we can continue down the same road that got us to this unsustainable state in which we now find ourselves. As always, our future in this quickly changing world lies in each of our hearts. We are the change and it is in our hands!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Transfer Industry into Community

As always, what I will relate is just my humble opinion, as I'm not a songwriter, nor do I make a living as an independent musician. I am certainly not an expert at anything, but only a fellow human being with another opinion! I am merely one who loves the art of music and believes in the artists right to have control over their art. I also realize the sacrifices the independent musician has to make in order that those sacrifices will hopefully bear fruit. I also believe in the power of the music community's organizational culture and it's shared goals and values. That said, here is my take on the issues brought up by Bob Lefsetz which Jim Kloss linked to yesterday.

I'm sure they are doing the research, but if those who do the research continue to have ties with the old music guard, that research is going to be filtered to show those ties. What is wrong in the music industry mirrors the turmoil within our little planet's social and economic structures. These structures based on "who can get the most marbles wins"...are dying, and the handlers of these 20th Century models are scratching and clawing to hang on to their power over the artists in the music industry.

As Bob Lefsetz mentions, if suddenly the artists had control over the rights, it would be a whole new ball game. But unfortunately it will not happen suddenly, there will not be a clap of thunder or a bolt of lightning which will bring about the shift of power. Due to the power pooled in the top of our little pyramidal structure, it is going to take a consolidated effort on the part of the artists and their fan base; and it will be a slow turning...not an overnight U-turn. This is the very reason I became part of the Whole Wheat community back in 2006; because of the potential for artists and listeners to organize into a vibrant and active independent music community. A community which places the value and love of that art above the bottom line. Like I mentioned yesterday, to me the ideal community embraces the principle of "Give according to your abilities, receive according to your needs!" Perhaps I am a little naive and maybe I do dream a little too much...but if a person does not believe in positive change, it certainly will not happen.

I've read and heard all the alternatives that have been introduced by the music futurists and industry pundits, and all seem to somehow keep one foot in the existing corporate world as some sort of appeasement of the beast's ravenous appetitie. The existing corporate music biz does not want a diet; it is not capable of tightening it's belt; it will feign approval just to sate it's unending and unsustainable hunger of profits! Profits which it needs to maintain it's power structure of the few at the top and the many at the bottom supporting it's mass weight. While I respect many of the enlightened authors and activists who are attempting to create a vision of the music industry's future...I'm afraid they must extricate themselves from the prominent, yet outdated structures of the past. In order to build a sustainable model, they must go beyond what is accepted and take that leap into the unknown.

I spoke yesterday about The Wall that keeps all of us in a state of obedient subservience to the existing order. This wall is not a physical wall, but one built of our own fears about changing what is accepted as the current reality. This article comes from the hearts and minds of union reformers and workplace democracy advocates, but it is just as pertinent to all people who find themselves in structures that just do not make sense, or fail to offer any end to the injustices which are by-products of the current systems in place. We have to be willing to take those steps; willing to walk that unlighted path towards something sustainable that works for all of us!

Take Lefsetz quotes of Malcolm Gladwell from the New Yorker, David only beats Goliath if he puts in incredible effort and is willing to do what is "socially horrifying". "Socially horrifying" means you challenge the rules, and break them. Or as Gladwell states, "He couldn’t fight the establishment, because he WAS the establishment." "The price that the outsider pays for being so heedless of custom is, of course, the disapproval of the insider."

Socially horrifying and most certainly the disapproval of those who still work within the current system. It takes guts to stand up to power and build something completely outside their realm. My background is steeped in organized labor and it's struggles, but the struggles are the same. It has always been the same. It's always been a powerful few who want it all against the rest of us! The power has always lied within the hands of the people and their willingness or foresightedness to come together under common goals and values. This is where communities such as Whole Wheat Radio or other like minded communities hold great potential to pool like minded people, artists and fans alike...who believe in the power and justice within grassroots organizations.

Yes, it will be a slow turn as we morph from the "ME" social standard into the sustainable "WE" model. Yes, it will not be easy, power never concedes without a fight, but to quote Lorde...When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Other Wall

I was reading one of my favorite feeds this morning from Open Culture. The part of the story that caught my attention was the link to an Internet Archive collection of some wonderful private photos and home movies of the Berlin Wall, it's collapse, and the reunification afterward.

When I was growing up we only knew it as "The Wall", and it was as much a part of our lives as was the continual nuclear holocaust stories associated with the "Cold War". After the Berlin Blockade there was a constant U.S. military presence in West Berlin. I remember sitting in front of the television and watching JFK's Ich bin ein Berliner speech with the wall as his backdrop. Then came the fall of "The Wall" in 1989, and during this time I remember reflecting back on what that wall represented. Now once again I find myself reflecting back to a 2003 article from the Members for Democracy community. Another kind of wall separates the people and keeps us from our freedom. I just felt the need to share this, and I feel it has not lost one bit of relevance over the last six years since it was composed. We still have a wall to climb over or tear down, but this one seems to be built much better than the one made of stone, concrete, and barbed wire. This wall has been constructed within our own minds!

A great wall separates us, in our current reality where the powerful pee - figuratively - on us, from the emerging new era with its limitless possibilities. It's not a physical wall, but rather a wall built of our own fears - fears about changing the current reality, fears about looking at conventional wisdom and saying "oh piss on this" and fears about moving forward on our own steam to our own future...

If you're having a hard time picturing this figurative wall of fear, think about this well-known wall. Residents from the oppressed side would come to the wall to look at what was on the other side. Some would even go over the wall at great personal risk. For many years the wall seemed impenetrable. Then it came down pretty much overnight. How'd that happen? What lay on the other side was more desirable and more important than bigger cars, nicer homes and more money: It was Freedom.

Read the entire article of Freedom for our People.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Whole Wheat Radio-Independent Music
& the PROs

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