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Courtney Love does the math
The controversial singer takes on record label
profits, Napster and "sucka VCs."
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By Courtney Love
June 14, 2000 | Today I want to talk about piracy and
music. What is piracy? Piracy is the act of stealing
an artist's work without any intention of paying for
it. I'm not talking about Napster-type software.
I'm talking about major label recording contracts.
I want to start with a story about rock bands and
record companies, and do some recording-contract math:
This story is about a bidding-war band that gets a
huge deal with a 20 percent royalty rate and a
million-dollar advance. (No bidding-war band ever got
a 20 percent royalty, but whatever.) This is my
"funny" math based on some reality and I just want to
qualify it by saying I'm positive it's better math
than what Edgar Bronfman Jr. [the president and CEO of
Seagram, which owns Polygram] would provide.
What happens to that million dollars?
They spend half a million to record their album. That
leaves the band with $500,000. They pay $100,000 to
their manager for 20 percent commission. They pay
$25,000 each to their lawyer and business manager.
That leaves $350,000 for the four band members to
split. After $170,000 in taxes, there's $180,000 left.
That comes out to $45,000 per person.
That's $45,000 to live on for a year until the record
The record is a big hit and sells a million copies.
(How a bidding-war band sells a million copies of its
debut record is another rant entirely, but it's based
on any basic civics-class knowledge that any of us
have about cartels. Put simply, the antitrust laws in
this country are basically a joke, protecting us just
enough to not have to re-name our park service the
Phillip Morris National Park Service.)
So, this band releases two singles and makes two
videos. The two videos cost a million dollars to make
and 50 percent of the video production costs are
recouped out of the band's royalties.
The band gets $200,000 in tour support, which is 100
The record company spends $300,000 on independent
radio promotion. You have to pay independent promotion
to get your song on the radio; independent promotion
is a system where the record companies use middlemen
so they can pretend not to know that radio stations --
the unified broadcast system -- are getting paid to
play their records.
All of those independent promotion costs are charged
to the band.
Since the original million-dollar advance is also
recoupable, the band owes $2 million to the record
If all of the million records are sold at full price
with no discounts or record clubs, the band earns $2
million in royalties, since their 20 percent royalty
works out to $2 a record.
Two million dollars in royalties minus $2 million in
recoupable expenses equals ... zero!
How much does the record company make?
They grossed $11 million.
It costs $500,000 to manufacture the CDs and they
advanced the band $1 million. Plus there were $1
million in video costs, $300,000 in radio promotion
and $200,000 in tour support.
The company also paid $750,000 in music publishing
They spent $2.2 million on marketing. That's mostly
retail advertising, but marketing also pays for those
huge posters of Marilyn Manson in Times Square and the
street scouts who drive around in vans handing out
black Korn T-shirts and backwards baseball caps. Not
to mention trips to Scores and cash for tips for all
Add it up and the record company has spent about $4.4
So their profit is $6.6 million; the band may as well
be working at a 7-Eleven.
Of course, they had fun. Hearing yourself on the
radio, selling records, getting new fans and being on
TV is great, but now the band doesn't have enough
money to pay the rent and nobody has any credit.
Worst of all, after all this, the band owns none of
its work ... they can pay the mortgage forever but
they'll never own the house. Like I said:
Sharecropping. Our media says, "Boo hoo, poor pop
stars, they had a nice ride. Fuck them for speaking
up"; but I say this dialogue is imperative. And
cynical media people, who are more fascinated with
celebrity than most celebrities, need to reacquaint
themselves with their value systems.
When you look at the legal line on a CD, it says
copyright 1976 Atlantic Records or copyright 1996 RCA
Records. When you look at a book, though, it'll say
something like copyright 1999 Susan Faludi, or David
Foster Wallace. Authors own their books and license
them to publishers. When the contract runs out,
writers gets their books back. But record companies
own our copyrights forever.
The system's set up so almost nobody gets paid.
Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
Last November, a Congressional aide named Mitch
Glazier, with the support of the RIAA, added a
"technical amendment" to a bill that defined recorded
music as "works for hire" under the 1978 Copyright
He did this after all the hearings on the bill were
over. By the time artists found out about the change,
it was too late. The bill was on its way to the White
House for the president's signature.
That subtle change in copyright law will add billions
of dollars to record company bank accounts over the
next few years -- billions of dollars that rightfully
should have been paid to artists. A "work for hire" is
now owned in perpetuity by the record company.
Under the 1978 Copyright Act, artists could reclaim
the copyrights on their work after 35 years. If you
wrote and recorded "Everybody Hurts," you at least got
it back to as a family legacy after 35 years. But now,
because of this corrupt little pisher, "Everybody
Hurts" never gets returned to your family, and can now
be sold to the highest bidder.
Over the years record companies have tried to put
"work for hire" provisions in their contracts, and Mr.
Glazier claims that the "work for hire" only
"codified" a standard industry practice. But copyright
laws didn't identify sound recordings as being
eligible to be called "works for hire," so those
contracts didn't mean anything. Until now.
Writing and recording "Hey Jude" is now the same thing
as writing an English textbook, writing standardized
tests, translating a novel from one language to
another or making a map. These are the types of things
addressed in the "work for hire" act. And writing a
standardized test is a work for hire. Not making a
So an assistant substantially altered a major law when
he only had the authority to make spelling
corrections. That's not what I learned about how
government works in my high school civics class.
Three months later, the RIAA hired Mr. Glazier to
become its top lobbyist at a salary that was obviously
much greater than the one he had as the spelling
The RIAA tries to argue that this change was necessary
because of a provision in the bill that musicians
supported. That provision prevents anyone from
registering a famous person's name as a Web address
without that person's permission. That's great. I own
my name, and should be able to do what I want with my
But the bill also created an exception that allows a
company to take a person's name for a Web address if
they create a work for hire. Which means a record
company would be allowed to own your Web site when you
record your "work for hire" album. Like I said:
Although I've never met any one at a record company
who "believed in the Internet," they've all been
trying to cover their asses by securing everyone's
digital rights. Not that they know what to do with
them. Go to a major label-owned band site. Give me a
dollar for every time you see an annoying "under
construction" sign. I used to pester Geffen (when it
was a label) to do a better job. I was totally ignored
for two years, until I got my band name back. The Goo
Goo Dolls are struggling to gain control of their
domain name from Warner Bros., who claim they own the
name because they set up a shitty promotional Web site
for the band.
Orrin Hatch, songwriter and Republican senator from
Utah, seems to be the only person in Washington with a
progressive view of copyright law. One lobbyist says
that there's no one in the House with a similar view
and that "this would have never happened if Sonny Bono
was still alive."
By the way, which bill do you think the recording
industry used for this amendment?
The Record Company Redefinition Act? No. The Music
Copyright Act? No. The Work for Hire Authorship Act?
How about the Satellite Home Viewing Act of 1999?
Stealing our copyright reversions in the dead of night
while no one was looking, and with no hearings held,
It's piracy when the RIAA lobbies to change the
bankruptcy law to make it more difficult for musicians
to declare bankruptcy. Some musicians have declared
bankruptcy to free themselves from truly evil
contracts. TLC declared bankruptcy after they received
less than 2 percent of the $175 million earned by
their CD sales. That was about 40 times less than the
profit that was divided among their management,
production and record companies.
Toni Braxton also declared bankruptcy in 1998. She
sold $188 million worth of CDs, but she was broke
because of a terrible recording contract that paid her
less than 35 cents per album. Bankruptcy can be an
artist's only defense against a truly horrible deal
and the RIAA wants to take it away.
Artists want to believe that we can make lots of money
if we're successful. But there are hundreds of stories
about artists in their 60s and 70s who are broke
because they never made a dime from their hit records.
And real success is still a long shot for a new artist
today. Of the 32,000 new releases each year, only 250
sell more than 10,000 copies. And less than 30 go
The four major record corporations fund the RIAA.
These companies are rich and obviously
well-represented. Recording artists and musicians
don't really have the money to compete. The 273,000
working musicians in America make about $30,000 a
year. Only 15 percent of American Federation of
Musicians members work steadily in music.
But the music industry is a $40 billion-a-year
business. One-third of that revenue comes from the
United States. The annual sales of cassettes, CDs and
video are larger than the gross national product of 80
countries. Americans have more CD players, radios and
VCRs than we have bathtubs.
Story after story gets told about artists -- some of
them in their 60s and 70s, some of them authors of
huge successful songs that we all enjoy, use and sing
-- living in total poverty, never having been paid
anything. Not even having access to a union or to
basic health care. Artists who have generated billions
of dollars for an industry die broke and un-cared for.
And they're not actors or participators. They're the
rightful owners, originators and performers of
This is piracy.
Technology is not piracy
This opinion is one I really haven't formed yet, so as
I speak about Napster now, please understand that I'm
not totally informed. I will be the first in line to
file a class action suit to protect my copyrights if
Napster or even the far more advanced Gnutella doesn't
work with us to protect us. I'm on [Metallica drummer]
Lars Ulrich's side, in other words, and I feel really
badly for him that he doesn't know how to condense his
case down to a sound-bite that sounds more reasonable
than the one I saw today.
I also think Metallica is being given too much grief.
It's anti-artist, for one thing. An artist speaks up
and the artist gets squashed: Sharecropping. Don't get
above your station, kid. It's not piracy when kids
swap music over the Internet using Napster or Gnutella
or Freenet or iMesh or beaming their CDs into a
My.MP3.com or MyPlay.com music locker. It's piracy
when those guys that run those companies make side
deals with the cartel lawyers and label heads so that
they can be "the labels' friend," and not the
Recording artists have essentially been giving their
music away for free under the old system, so new
technology that exposes our music to a larger audience
can only be a good thing. Why aren't these companies
working with us to create some peace?
There were a billion music downloads last year, but
music sales are up. Where's the evidence that
downloads hurt business? Downloads are creating more
Why aren't record companies embracing this great
opportunity? Why aren't they trying to talk to the
kids passing compilations around to learn what they
like? Why is the RIAA suing the companies that are
stimulating this new demand? What's the point of going
after people swapping cruddy-sounding MP3s? Cash! Cash
they have no intention of passing onto us, the writers
of their profits.
At this point the "record collector" geniuses who use
Napster don't have the coolest most arcane selection
anyway, unless you're into techno. Hardly any pre-1982
REM fans, no '60s punk, even the Alan Parsons Project
was underrepresented when I tried to find some Napster
buddies. For the most part, it was college boy rawk
without a lot of imagination. Maybe that's the
demographic that cares -- and in that case, My Bloody
Valentine and Bert Jansch aren't going to get screwed
just yet. There's still time to negotiate.
Destroying traditional access
Somewhere along the way, record companies figured out
that it's a lot more profitable to control the
distribution system than it is to nurture artists. And
since the companies didn't have any real competition,
artists had no other place to go. Record companies
controlled the promotion and marketing; only they had
the ability to get lots of radio play, and get records
into all the big chain store. That power put them
above both the artists and the audience. They own the
Being the gatekeeper was the most profitable place to
be, but now we're in a world half without gates. The
Internet allows artists to communicate directly with
their audiences; we don't have to depend solely on an
inefficient system where the record company promotes
our records to radio, press or retail and then sits
back and hopes fans find out about our music.
Record companies don't understand the intimacy between
artists and their fans. They put records on the radio
and buy some advertising and hope for the best.
Digital distribution gives everyone worldwide, instant
access to music.
And filters are replacing gatekeepers. In a world
where we can get anything we want, whenever we want
it, how does a company create value? By filtering. In
a world without friction, the only friction people
value is editing. A filter is valuable when it
understands the needs of both artists and the public.
New companies should be conduits between musicians and
Right now the only way you can get music is by
shelling out $17. In a world where music costs a
nickel, an artist can "sell" 100 million copies
instead of just a million.
The present system keeps artists from finding an
audience because it has too many artificial
scarcities: limited radio promotion, limited bin space
in stores and a limited number of spots on the record
The digital world has no scarcities. There are
countless ways to reach an audience. Radio is no
longer the only place to hear a new song. And tiny
mall record stores aren't the only place to buy a new
Now artists have options. We don't have to work with
major labels anymore, because the digital economy is
creating new ways to distribute and market music. And
the free ones amongst us aren't going to. That means
the slave class, which I represent, has to find ways
to get out of our deals. This didn't really matter
before, and that's why we all stayed.
I want my seven-year contract law California labor
code case to mean something to other artists.
(Universal Records sues me because I leave because my
employment is up, but they say a recording contract is
not a personal contract; because the recording
industry -- who, we have established, are excellent
lobbyists, getting, as they did, a clerk to disallow
Don Henley or Tom Petty the right to give their
copyrights to their families -- in California, in
1987, lobbied to pass an amendment that nullified
recording contracts as personal contracts, sort of.
Maybe. Kind of. A little bit. And again, in the dead
of night, succeeded.)
That's why I'm willing to do it with a sword in my
teeth. I expect I'll be ignored or ostracized
following this lawsuit. I expect that the treatment
you're seeing Lars Ulrich get now will quadruple for
me. Cool. At least I'll serve a purpose. I'm an artist
and a good artist, I think, but I'm not that artist
that has to play all the time, and thus has to get
fucked. Maybe my laziness and self-destructive streak
will finally pay off and serve a community desperately
in need of it. They can't torture me like they could
You funny dot-communists. Get your shit together, you
annoying sucka VCs
I want to work with people who believe in music and
art and passion. And I'm just the tip of the iceberg.
I'm leaving the major label system and there are
hundreds of artists who are going to follow me.
There's an unbelievable opportunity for new companies
that dare to get it right.
How can anyone defend the current system when it fails
to deliver music to so many potential fans? That only
expects of itself a "5 percent success rate" a year?
The status quo gives us a boring culture. In a society
of over 300 million people, only 30 new artists a year
sell a million records. By any measure, that's a huge
Maybe each fan will spend less money, but maybe each
artist will have a better chance of making a living.
Maybe our culture will get more interesting than the
one currently owned by Time Warner. I'm not crazy. Ask
yourself, are any of you somehow connected to Time
Warner media? I think there are a lot of yeses to that
and I'd have to say that in that case president
McKinley truly failed to bust any trusts. Maybe we can
remedy that now.
Artists will make that compromise if it means we can
connect with hundreds of millions of fans instead of
the hundreds of thousands that we have now. Especially
if we lose all the crap that goes with success under
the current system. I'm willing, right now, to leave
half of these trappings -- fuck it, all these
trappings -- at the door to have a pure artist
experience. They cosset us with trappings to shut us
up. That way when we say "sharecropper!" you can point
to my free suit and say "Shut up pop star."
Here, take my Prada pants. Fuck it. Let us do our real
jobs. And those of us addicted to celebrity because we
have nothing else to give will fade away. And those of
us addicted to celebrity because it was there will
find a better, purer way to live.
Since I've basically been giving my music away for
free under the old system, I'm not afraid of wireless,
MP3 files or any of the other threats to my
copyrights. Anything that makes my music more
available to more people is great. MP3 files sound
cruddy, but a well-made album sounds great. And I
don't care what anyone says about digital recordings.
At this point they are good for dance music, but try
listening to a warm guitar tone on them. They suck for
what I do.
Record companies are terrified of anything that
challenges their control of distribution. This is the
business that insisted that CDs be sold in incredibly
wasteful 6-by-12 inch long boxes just because no one
thought you could change the bins in a record store.
Let's not call the major labels "labels." Let's call
them by their real names: They are the distributors.
They're the only distributors and they exist because
of scarcity. Artists pay 95 percent of whatever we
make to gatekeepers because we used to need
gatekeepers to get our music heard. Because they have
a system, and when they decide to spend enough money
-- all of it recoupable, all of it owed by me -- they
can occasionally shove things through this system,
depending on a lot of arbitrary factors.
The corporate filtering system, which is the system
that brought you (in my humble opinion) a piece of
crap like "Mambo No. 5" and didn't let you hear the
brilliant Cat Power record or the amazing new Sleater
Kinney record, obviously doesn't have good taste
anyway. But we've never paid major label/distributors
for their good taste. They've never been like Yahoo
and provided a filter service.
There were a lot of factors that made a distributor
decide to push a recording through the system:
How powerful is management?
Who owes whom a favor?
What independent promoter's cousin is the drummer?
What part of the fiscal year is the company putting
out the record?
Is the royalty rate for the artist so obscenely bad
that it's almost 100 percent profit instead of just 95
percent so that if the record sells, it's literally a
How much bin space is left over this year?
Was the record already a hit in Europe so that there's
corporate pressure to make it work?
Will the band screw up its live career to play free
shows for radio stations?
Does the artist's song sound enough like someone else
that radio stations will play it because it fits the
sound of the month?
Did the artist get the song on a film soundtrack so
that the movie studio will pay for the video?
These factors affect the decisions that go into the
system. Not public taste. All these things are
becoming eradicated now. They are gone or on their way
out. We don't need the gatekeepers any more. We just
don't need them.
And if they aren't going to do for me what I can do
for myself with my 19-year-old Webmistress on my own
Web site, then they need to get the hell out of my
way. [I will] allow millions of people to get my music
for nothing if they want and hopefully they'll be kind
enough to leave a tip if they like it.
I still need the old stuff. I still need a producer in
the creation of a recording, I still need to get on
the radio (which costs a lot of money), I still need
bin space for hardware CDs, I still need to provide an
opportunity for people without computers to buy the
hardware that I make. I still need a lot of this
stuff, but I can get these things from a joint venture
with a company that serves as a conduit and knows its
place. Serving the artist and serving the public:
That's its place.
Equity for artists
A new company that gives artists true equity in their
work can take over the world, kick ass and make a lot
of money. We're inspired by how people get paid in the
new economy. Many visual artists and software and
hardware designers have real ownership of their work.
I have a 14-year-old niece. She used to want to be a
rock star. Before that she wanted to be an actress. As
of six months ago, what do you think she wants to be
when she grows up? What's the glamorous, emancipating
career of choice? Of course, she wants to be a Web
designer. It's such a glamorous business!
When you people do business with artists, you have to
take a different view of things. We want to be treated
with the respect that now goes to Web designers. We're
not Dockers-wearing Intel workers from Portland who
know how to "manage our stress." We don't understand
or want to understand corporate culture.
I feel this obscene gold rush greedgreedgreed vibe
that bothers me a lot when I talk to dot-com people
about all this. You guys can't hustle artists that
well. At least slick A&R guys know the buzzwords.
Don't try to compete with them. I just laugh at you
when you do! Maybe you could a year ago when anything
dot-com sounded smarter than the rest of us, but the
scam has been uncovered.
The celebrity-for-sale business is about to crash, I
hope, and the idea of a sucker VC gifting some company
with four floors just because they can "do" "chats"
with "Christina" once or twice is ridiculous. I did a
chat today, twice. Big damn deal. 200 bucks for the
software and some elbow grease and a good back-end
coder. Wow. That's not worth 150 million bucks.
... I mean, yeah, sure it is if you'd like to give it
Tipping/music as service
I know my place. I'm a waiter. I'm in the service
I live on tips. Occasionally, I'm going to get
stiffed, but that's OK. If I work hard and I'm doing
good work, I believe that the people who enjoy it are
going to want to come directly to me and get my music
because it sounds better, since it's mastered and
packaged by me personally. I'm providing an honest,
real experience. Period.
When people buy the bootleg T-shirt in the concert
parking lot and not the more expensive T-shirt inside
the venue, it isn't to save money. The T-shirt in the
parking lot is cheap and badly made, but it's easier
to buy. The bootleggers have a better distribution
system. There's no waiting in line and it only takes
two minutes to buy one.
I know that if I can provide my own T-shirt that I
designed, that I made, and provide it as quickly or
quicker than the bootleggers, people who've enjoyed
the experience I've provided will be happy to shell
out a little more money to cover my costs. Especially
if they understand this context, and aren't being
shoveled a load of shit about "uppity" artists.
It's exactly the same with recorded music. The real
thing to fear from Napster is its simple and excellent
distribution system. No one really prefers a
cruddy-sounding Napster MP3 file to the real thing.
But it's really easy to get an MP3 file; and in the
middle of Kansas you may never see my record because
major distribution is really bad if your record's not
in the charts this week, and even then it takes a
couple of weeks to restock the one copy they usually
keep on hand.
I also know how many times I have heard a song on the
radio that I loved only to buy the record and have the
album be a piece of crap. If you're afraid of your own
filler then I bet you're afraid of Napster. I'm afraid
of Napster because I think the major label cartel will
get to them before I do.
I've made three records. I like them all. I haven't
made filler and they're all committed pieces of work.
I'm not scared of you previewing my record. If you
like it enough to have it be a part of your life, I
know you'll come to me to get it, as long as I show
you how to get to me, and as long as you know that
Most people don't go into restaurants and stiff
waiters, but record labels represent the restaurant
that forces the waiters to live on, and sometimes
pool, their tips. And they even fight for a bit of
Music is a service to its consumers, not a product. I
live on tips. Giving music away for free is what
artists have been doing naturally all their lives.
Record companies stand between artists and their fans.
We signed terrible deals with them because they
controlled our access to the public.
But in a world of total connectivity, record companies
lose that control. With unlimited bin space and
intelligent search engines, fans will have no trouble
finding the music they know they want. They have to
know they want it, and that needs to be a marketing
business that takes a fee.
If a record company has a reason to exist, it has to
bring an artist's music to more fans and it has to
deliver more and better music to the audience. You
bring me a bigger audience or a better relationship
with my audience or get the fuck out of my way. Next
time I release a record, I'll be able to go directly
to my fans and let them hear it before anyone else.
We'll still have to use radio and traditional CD
distribution. Record stores aren't going away any time
soon and radio is still the most important part of
Major labels are freaking out because they have no
control in this new world. Artists can sell CDs
directly to fans. We can make direct deals with
thousands of other Web sites and promote our music to
millions of people that old record companies never
We're about to have lots of new ways to sell our
music: downloads, hardware bundles, memory sticks,
live Webcasts, and lots of other things that aren't
even invented yet.
But there's something you guys have to figure out.
Here's my open letter to Steve Case:
Avatars don't talk back!!! But what are you going to
do with real live artists?
Artists aren't like you. We go through a creative
process that's demented and crazy. There's a lot of
soul-searching and turning ourselves inside-out and
all kinds of gross stuff that ends up on "Behind the
A lot of people who haven't been around artists very
much get really weird when they sit down to lunch with
us. So I want to give you some advice: Learn to speak
our language. Talk about songs and melody and hooks
and art and beauty and soul. Not sleazy record-guy
crap, where you're in a cashmere sweater murmuring
that the perfect deal really is perfect, Courtney.
Yuck. Honestly hire honestly committed people. We're
in a "new economy," right? You can afford to do that.
But don't talk to me about "content."
I get really freaked out when I meet someone and they
start telling me that I should record 34 songs in the
next six months so that we have enough content for my
site. Defining artistic expression as content is
anathema to me.
What the hell is content? Nobody buys content. Real
people pay money for music because it means something
to them. A great song is not just something to take up
space on a Web site next to stock market quotes and
DEN tried to build a site with artist-free content and
I'm not sorry to see it fail. The DEN shows look like
art if you're not paying attention, but they forgot to
hire anyone to be creative. So they ended up with a
lot of content nobody wants to see because they
thought they could avoid dealing with defiant and
moody personalities. Because they were arrogant. And
because they were conformists. Artists have to deal
with business people and business people have to deal
with artists. We hate each other. Let's create
companies of mediators.
Every single artist who makes records believes and
hopes that they give you something that will transform
your life. If you're really just interested in data
mining or selling banner ads, stick with those
"artists" willing to call themselves content
I don't know if an artist can last by meeting the
current public taste, the taste from the last
quarterly report. I don't think you can last by
following demographics and carefully meeting
expectations. I don't know many lasting works of art
that are condescending or deliberately stupid or were
created as content.
Don't tell me I'm a brand. I'm famous and people
recognize me, but I can't look in the mirror and see
my brand identity.
Keep talking about brands and you know what you'll
get? Bad clothes. Bad hair. Bad books. Bad movies. And
bad records. And bankrupt businesses. Rides that were
fun for a year with no employee loyalty but everyone
got rich fucking you. Who wants that? The answer is
purity. We can afford it. Let's go find it again while
I also feel filthy trying to call my music a product.
It's not a thing that I test market like toothpaste or
a new car. Music is personal and mysterious.
Being a "content provider" is prostitution work that
devalues our art and doesn't satisfy our spirits.
Artistic expression has to be provocative. The problem
with artists and the Internet: Once their art is
reduced to content, they may never have the
opportunity to retrieve their souls.
When you form your business for creative people, with
creative people, come at us with some thought.
Everybody's process is different. And remember that
it's art. We're not craftspeople.
I don't know what a good sponsorship would be for me
or for other artists I respect. People bring up
sponsorships a lot as a way for artists to get our
music paid for upfront and for us to earn a fee. I've
dealt with large corporations for long enough to know
that any alliance where I'm an owned service is going
to be doomed.
When I agreed to allow a large cola company to promote
a live show, I couldn't have been more miserable. They
screwed up every single thing imaginable. The venue
was empty but sold out. There were thousands of people
outside who wanted to be there, trying to get tickets.
And there were the empty seats the company had
purchased for a lump sum and failed to market because
they were clueless about music.
It was really dumb. You had to buy the cola. You had
to dial a number. You had to press a bunch of buttons.
You had to do all this crap that nobody wanted to do.
Why not just bring a can to the door?
On top of all this, I felt embarrassed to be an
advertising agent for a product that I'd never let my
daughter use. Plus they were a condescending bunch of
little guys. They treated me like I was an ungrateful
little bitch who should be groveling for the
experience to play for their damn soda.
I ended up playing without my shirt on and ordering a
six-pack of the rival cola onstage. Also lots of
unwholesome cursing and nudity occurred. This way I
knew that no matter how tempting the cash was, they'd
never do business with me again.
If you want some little obedient slave content
provider, then fine. But I think most musicians don't
want to be responsible for your clean-cut, wholesome,
all-American, sugar corrosive cancer-causing, all
white people, no women allowed sodapop images.
Nor, on the converse, do we want to be responsible for
your vice-inducing, liver-rotting,
child-labor-law-violating, all white people,
no-women-allowed booze images.
So as a defiant moody artist worth my salt, I've got
to think of something else. Tampax, maybe.
As a user, I love Napster. It carries some risk. I
hear idealistic business people talk about how people
that are musicians would be musicians no matter what
and that we're already doing it for free, so what
Please. It's incredibly easy not to be a musician.
It's always a struggle and a dangerous career choice.
We are motivated by passion and by money.
That's not a dirty little secret. It's a fact. Take
away the incentive for major or minor financial reward
and you dilute the pool of musicians. I am not saying
that only pure artists will survive. Like a few of the
more utopian people who discuss this, I don't want
just pure artists to survive.
Where would we all be without the trash? We need the
trash to cover up our national depression. The
utopians also say that because in their minds "pure"
artists are all Ani DiFranco and don't demand a lot of
money. Why are the utopians all entertainment lawyers
and major label workers anyway? I demand a lot of
money if I do a big huge worthwhile job and millions
of people like it, don't kid yourself. In economic
terms, you've got an industry that's loathsome and
outmoded, but when it works it creates some incentive
and some efficiency even though absolutely no one gets
We suffer as a society and a culture when we don't pay
the true value of goods and services delivered. We
create a lack of production. Less good music is
recorded if we remove the incentive to create it.
Music is intellectual property with full cash and
opportunity costs required to create, polish and
record a finished product. If I invest money and time
into my business, I should be reasonably protected
from the theft of my goods and services. When the
judgment came against MP3.com, the RIAA sought damages
of $150,000 for each major-label-"owned" musical track
in MP3's database. Multiply by 80,000 CDs, and MP3.com
could owe the gatekeepers $120 billion.
But what about the Plimsouls? Why can't MP3.com pay
each artist a fixed amount based on the number of
their downloads? Why on earth should MP3.com pay $120
billion to four distribution companies, who in most
cases won't have to pay a nickel to the artists whose
copyrights they've stolen through their system of
It's a ridiculous judgment. I believe if evidence had
been entered that ultimately it's just shuffling big
cash around two or three corporations, I can only pray
that the judge in the MP3.com case would have seen the
RIAA's case for the joke that it was.
I'd rather work out a deal with MP3.com myself, and
force them to be artist-friendly, instead of being
laughed at and having my money hidden by a major label
as they sell my records out the back door, behind
How dare they behave in such a horrified manner in
regards to copyright law when their entire industry is
based on piracy? When Mister Label Head Guy, whom my
lawyer yelled at me not to name, got caught last year
selling millions of "cleans" out the back door.
"Cleans" being the records that aren't for marketing
but are to be sold. Who the fuck is this guy? He wants
to save a little cash so he fucks the artist and goes
home? Do they fire him? Does Chuck Phillips of the LA
Times say anything? No way! This guy's a source! He
throws awesome dinner parties! Why fuck with the
status quo? Let's pick on Lars Ulrich instead because
he brought up an interesting point!
I'm looking for people to help connect me to more
fans, because I believe fans will leave a tip based on
the enjoyment and service I provide. I'm not scared of
them getting a preview. It really is going to be a
global village where a billion people have access to
one artist and a billion people can leave a tip if
they want to.
It's a radical democratization. Every artist has
access to every fan and every fan has access to every
artist, and the people who direct fans to those
artists. People that give advice and technical value
are the people we need. People crowding the
distribution pipe and trying to ignore fans and
artists have no value. This is a perfect system.
If you're going to start a company that deals with
musicians, please do it because you like music. Offer
some control and equity to the artists and try to give
us some creative guidance. If music and art and
passion are important to you, there are hundreds of
artists who are ready to rewrite the rules.
In the last few years, business pulled our culture
away from the idea that music is important and
emotional and sacred. But new technology has brought a
real opportunity for change; we can break down the old
system and give musicians real freedom and choice.
A great writer named Neal Stephenson said that America
does four things better than any other country in the
world: rock music, movies, software and high-speed
pizza delivery. All of these are sacred American art
forms. Let's return to our purity and our idealism
while we have this shot.
Warren Beatty once said: "The greatest gift God gives
us is to enjoy the sound of our own voice. And the
second greatest gift is to get somebody to listen to
And for that, I humbly thank you.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About the writer
Courtney Love is the lead singer of the rock group
Hole, and has starred in films like "The People vs.
Larry Flynt" and "Man on the Moon."
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