JAIMIE VERNON: THE WAR OF INDEPENDENTS

Not since the great Napster clap trap a decade ago has music – specifically the people making that music – been under such vociferous attack. For those that missed the multi-pronged brouhahas over the last 10 days, let us review: 1a) National Public Radio intern Emily White confessed in a blog that her personal collection of 11,000 songs have never been paid for. She excused this behaviour as a modern cultural construct – having been raised in an environment where the acquisition of music has never involved the exchange of money. She actually ripped these tracks from NPR’s library which had been given to them as promotion-only releases from record labels and independent musicians. She was unapologetic and closed her statements by saying that moving forward she, and her friends, would only ever pay for access to the music…not the music itself. Her support for musicians begins and ends with buying concert tickets and T-shirts.

1b) White was dutifully chastised for her music theft by Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven’s David Lowery who has been steadfastly and publicly critical of music theft for awhile – especially in relation to how it has affected his own livelihood. He held her feet to the fire and wanted to know why she was stealing.

1c) Gang of Four member David Allen then called out Lowery because, let’s face it, Cracker sucked and no one was buying his music anyway and he should leave the kids alone to rape and pillage what’s left of the music industry.

1d) Blogger Peter Ames Colin calls out Allen who called out Lowery who called out Emily White. All the original blogs are referenced in his post and sums up by calling Allen a dick – and thus Emily White. http://www.peteramescarlin.com/node/209

I firmly believe, on moral and ethical grounds, White should take responsibility for the theft of digital music (especially since stealing promotional versions of music has its own set of penalties in the US). But, neither Lowery nor Allen offered a SOLUTION to the problem that has now plagued the music business for more than a decade.

Canadian musician, producer and radio talk-show host Blair Packham backs a plan proposed by The Songwriters Association of Canada that is far from a utopian cure-all but it falls in line with White’s notion that payment for music should come at the source of access – internet service providers. See their manifesto here.  http://blaise.ca/blog/2012/02/06/the-songwriters-association-of-canada-wants-to-embrace-file-sharing-but-does-it-have-the-right-approach

Meanwhile, an intrepid blogger [sarcastic font assumed] on Facebook this week proposed that all music should be free and musicians need to wander around minstrel-like playing in open squares and anywhere else where the public gathers and…hope that people will throw money at them out of the goodness of their hearts. He wasn’t joking. He thinks that Beethoven and Bach had the right idea by giving away their music. Failing, of course, to recognize that both Beethoven and Bach had rich benefactors paying them to create those works – not unlike the record labels of the last century. And this, along with White and her peer group’s attitude toward music, has contributed to the music industry’s victory laps around the toilet bowl and severely hindering any musician from making a living from their music moving forward.

Admittedly, the public is only part of the problem. The industry itself decided to drop more smart bombs on music makers this week as well:

2a) XM Satellite Radio Canada announced this week that in an effort to prop up its profit margin and divert people’s attention away from XM’s failing business model the first ‘cuts’ to their budget will entail NOT paying for the music they use. What? Yes, the asset that generate money for them via listeners they now want for free. It’s like CTV, ABC, CBS and NBC declaring they will not pay for TV shows anymore. Part of this concept stems from the recent launch of CBC Radio’s streaming music service that negotiated lower performing rights royalties from SOCAN (the regulatory body that collects revenue from those who use music in public places). Private broadcasters are pissed that the crown corporation gets special treatment. They’re also pissed that terrestrial radio, under an ancient handshake deal to promote product from record labels dating back to the 1940s, do not pay for their content at ALL.
The inequities are noted and truly unfair in a competitive free market. However, it’s not the fault of the music makers that XM is crashing and burning. Similarly, independent disc jockeys have been riding this gravy train for years – taking a fee for spinning music at clubs, weddings, etc. – but not compensating a single person that created that music while they walk away with a paycheck in their own pockets. Fortunately, neighbouring rights collectives like the AVLA this year put a cork in that leaking revenue stream. Disc jockeys are now required to pay a licensing fee for use of music in public. Hopefully, the issue with XM, terrestrial radio and the CBC will see money eventually trickle down to those who’ve earned it.

2b) The organizers of the 2012 London Olympics announced last week that they will not be paying for performers who play during the incidental events or the main Olympic ceremonies surrounding the event in August. I guess they assume that patriotic pride should supersede personal expense and time in the form of a talent donation. To their credit, the 2011 Vancouver Winter Olympic committee insured that everyone that performed and played at those Olympic events was paid – handsomely, as reported by some who played there.

As the world attempts to adjust and monetize the Wild Frontier that is The New Music Business, the first casualty has, and always will be, the people creating the commodity that is being monetized. The major labels set the tone by designating musicians as nothing but ‘work for hire’. Keeblers and cobblers toiling away at their craft and when the shiny bauble that is a ‘song’ is complete and held up to the sun to reveal it’s diamond-like brightness, it is forfeited by the worker bee and sold to the world like so much soda pop…never to be seen by or owned by the musician…ever again.

And it is this battle for control of the music, and who gets to benefit from it monetarily, that is turning a once vibrant entertainment empire into a burning, smoking post-apocalyptic husk. While the Nero’s fiddle their way into obsolescence, the serfs are rising up and rebuilding the city – except it no longer looks like it once did. Though, it does have a striking similarity to the music business in the 1950s with thousands of indie labels popping up and laying siege to small geographic territories and corners of the internet. To that end I have been receiving many new and encouraging releases from all over. Many artists are creating first and worrying about the cash second. It’s a true DIY spirit and one that they will control. It remains to be seen if they can maintain their spirit of enthusiasm in the midst of a culture that does not respect what they do. To that end, please check these acts out and support them monetarily.

[photo: Joanna vanBenschop]

KRIS + DEE “Still Here Inside”
Kris Abbott, guitarist and vocalist for The Pursuit of Happiness, and Dee McNeil, bassist and vocalist for cowgirl punk act The Strap-Ons dropped their electric guitars, picked up acoustics and high-tailed it to Kingston, Ontario. Their debut album, ‘Still Here Inside’, was released in 2011 but has now been picking up steam. As all independent releases, it takes a good amount of post-production promotion and marketing to get the word out. The album finally landed in my hands and it’s a beautifully crafted surprise. Unlike the poppy Woodstockian duo Dala, Kris + Dee present a more wizened folk narrative taking on environmental issues (“Polar Bears”), introspection (“Empty Nest”, “Cloth I’m Cut From”) and the human condition (“Mars”, “Truth Lies”, “). There’s even an uptempo rogue pop track here which recalls the 1990s Chick Rock ethos entitled “Presence of Me”. The song helps break up the otherwise mid-tempo album, though the late-album ‘Force To Be Reckoned With’ also picks up the pace with one of the few songs featuring drums and bass courtesy Anna Rees and Wil McGonegal respectively. The duo saves the best for last with the beautiful ballad “My Own Devices.” http://youtu.be/TxC_L_d25Ko
They’ve left themselves room to grow and a new album is expected in early 2013.
http://www.krisanddee.com

MENA HARDY – “The EP”
I declared Mena Hardy a ‘DISCovery of the week’ last month and in response she sent me her new ‘balls to the wall’ EP entitled, whimsically, ‘The EP’. This, ladies and gentleman is a gal with rock and blues in her soul. Don’t let her age catch you off guard – “I’m a Loser (At 17)” http://youtu.be/DvVGSS9odpY indicates that she’s a freshly minted juvenile delinquent – there’s an old soul in this agile mind, if not in body, and she’s quite adept at turning a lyrical phrase as well as a face-shredding guitar solo. I do not do gushing hype, but I gotta say that Mena Hardy is the best parts of Bif Naked (“Living It Up”), Bonnie Raitt (“The Way She Goes”), Sass Jordan (“I’m In All Over”) and Lita Ford (“I’m A Loser”) rolled into one. If she can find a label and a high profile producer to take her to the next level, it’s only a matter of time before Hardy will be leading the next charge in guitar-driven rock. Look out, boys…she’s gonna kick your asses.
http://www.menahardy.com

NEXT WEEK: How the major label beast continues to eat itself; reviews of J. DAVID BAND, WELL WISHERS, DAVID WARD.

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com

5 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON: THE WAR OF INDEPENDENTS”

  1. Bob Roper Says:

    Nicely stated!

  2. Benny Sanders Says:

    Great article Jamie! Thank you for the details.

  3. Thank the gods! The way you led into the “artists to watch” epilogue, I thought I was going to have thirteen more artists to research. I think I can handle two more. I think. Excellent column, Jaimie. Would it be okay if I just copy it for my next column? For free, of course. I mean, it’s not like it’s music or anything.

  4. 🙂 – More new music next week though….be warned!

  5. […] there,” but it is even more complicated than that.  Jaimie Vernon, in last week’s column, The War of Independents, simplified the music world as much as I suppose it could be and I have bookmarked it for future […]

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