Frank Gutch Jr: The Second Time Around….

Editor’s Note – When I promised that Frank would always be here, I wasn’t kidding. In the weeks to come you will be introduced to one of Frank’s closest friends, whose writing will be presented here, as well as co-writes with Frank, and some of Frank’s work which has never been seen in these pages. The rest of the time on Tuesdays Frank’s original columns will be reproduced here, in the order in which they originally appeared, starting with this one…his first.From September 7th, 2011.

They say life is better the 2nd time around…Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Frank Gutch Jr….

Frank Gutch Jr: To Spotify or Not to Spotify

As if we don’t have enough 800-pound corporate gorillas fucking up the music business, here comes another. Hear me, now— I’m not saying they have or will fuck it up (God knows if they do, we probably couldn’t tell anyway), I’m just saying that when a $250 million dollar behemoth enters the room to fanfare from the supposed (but losing ground quickly, thank God) media giants, I get suspicious. That’s right. When the talking heads get to yaking and goosing each other playfully, you can bet something’s up and that something may not be what they say. Think Microsoft and that wonderful new operating system that would strew hackers to the winds. Think Nike and all of the good they have done and are doing for third world countries. Think Apple and their commitment to the common man. Think…Spotify? The jury’s still out on that one and the early returns are both favorable and unfavorable, depending upon the consumer’s stance.

But let us first cover the basics. What is Spotify? It is a streaming service not unlike Pandora or MOG or any of a number of streaming services. Right now it is all about music, but they claim that soon it will grow to include video and a number of other areas. My buddy Joe says it is basically glorified radio except that you, the user, are the DJ. That means that if you want a Beatles hour, you can do it (assuming that they have The Beatles among the supposed 15 million songs at your disposal). If you want a mixture of big band tunes, you can do it. If you want Death Metal, you can do it. Again, that depends upon what they have available. More on that later.

The way it was promoted , I thought we were getting a new and amazing breakthrough in music but what we got was maybe a better mousetrap. That’s not a bad thing, really. The site is easy to navigate and most everything is self-explanatory. Those fifteen million songs they claim to have at their (your) disposal? I found, in fact, one Blue Sky Boys song that I have been searching for for years, and two Hank Snow tracks which took me back to my childhood.

What is surprising is what I did not find. I did not find at least twelve Steve Young albums (I’m talking the Seven Bridges Road Steve Young). The man has had around thirteen or fourteen releases and numerous re-releases, some major label. The only one available through Spotify at the time of my search (last night) is Primal Young, an album Steve recorded for Shock Records in Australia and Appleseed Records in the U.S. In 1999. I did not find even close to a decent selection of Green Pajamasproduct. Besides a couple of tracks off of compilations, Spotify listed only three of 24—Essence of Carol (2004), This Is Where We Disappear (2002), and Seven Fathoms Down and Falling (2000). No All Clues Lead to Meagan’s Bed, no Poison In the Russian Room, no Strung Behind the Sun. Too obscure, you say? Not as obscure as some might think.  Both Steve Young and the Green Pajamas, while not lighting the world up with sales figures, are major artists despite the lack of major label backing.  Leave them out (and so many others besides) and those fifteen million start looking pretty thin.

I know what you’re thinking— those of you who have been following this story and who have an inkling of the workings of the music world.  You’re thinking, so what?  Spotify is new to the States.  They’re not going to have everything right off the bat.  I get that, but I’m not the one trumpeting numbers here.  You would think that that fifteen million would go a bit deeper.  Unless…  unless there aren’t fifteen million.  Unless that is a hypothetical figure handed PR people at a corporate meeting of minds.  I’m not saying that is what happened.  I’m just saying….. And for those who were thinking who cares as long as they have the hits, I am conjuring up a musical plague of unheard dimensions as I type.  Coming soon.

It turns out that all is not perfect in the Spotify world, regardless of what they say.  The big news a couple of weeks ago was that Century Media, a small label specializing in hard rock and metal, pulled their catalog from Spotify.  Why would they do that, you ask?  Especially if Spotify was a stream of money waiting to be tapped?  Because of the artists.  Here is what they posted on their website:

Century Media and its associated labels “InsideOutMusic”, “Superballmusic”, “Ain’t no Grave Records”, “Hollywood Waste” and “People Like You” have decided to pull their repertoire from Spotify in an attempt to protect the interests of their artists.

While everyone at the label group believes in the ever changing possibilities of new technology and new ways of bringing music to the fans, Century Media is also of the opinion that Spotify in its present shape and form isn’t the way forward. The income streams to the artists are affected massively and therefore that accelerates the downward spiral, which eventually will lead to artists not being able to record music the way it should be recorded. Ultimately, in some cases, it will completely kill a lot of smaller bands that are already struggling to make ends meet.

At the same time Century Media also believes that Spotify is a great tool to discover new music and is in the process of reintroducing their bands to Spotify by way of putting up samplers of the artists. This way, fans can still discover the great music released by the label.

Physical sales are dropping drastically in all countries where Spotify is active. Artists are depending on their income from selling music and it is our job to support them to do so. Since the artists need to sell their music to continue their creativity, Spotify is a problem for them. This is about survival, nothing less and it is time that fans and consumers realize that for artists it is essential to sell music to keep their heads above water.

Obviously it is ultimately up to the music fan and consumer, how they access their music, whether it is buying, streaming or stealing. There needs to be awareness though, that how you will consume your music has direct consequences for the artists, who we are all trying to support.

To which the 800-pound gorilla replied:

We are sorry that Century Media have opted not to offer its music to their fans through Spotify. Spotify has one of the biggest music libraries in the world — of over 15 million tracks — and is committed to offering our users the widest possible selection of music across artists and genres from around the world.

Spotify was launched out of a desire to develop a better, more convenient and legal alternative to music piracy. Spotify now monetizes an audience the large majority of whom were downloading illegally (and therefore not making any money for the industry) before Spotify was available.

Spotify is now generating serious revenues for rights holders; since our launch just three years ago, we have paid over $100 million to labels and publishers, who, in turn, pass this on to the artists, composers and authors they represent. Indeed, a top Swedish music executive was recently quoted as saying that Spotify is currently the biggest single revenue source for the music industry in Scandinavia.

Spotify is now also the second single largest source of digital music revenue for labels in Europe (IFPI, April 2011). Billboard reported in April that Spotify territories saw an average digital growth rate of 43% last year. By contrast, neighboring countries (without Spotify) saw only 9.3% digital growth. We are very proud of the positive contribution that Spotify makes towards growth in the music industry.

Read them both, then read them both again. Whether you believe them or not, Century Media claims they pulled the music to protect musicians.  I choose to believe them.  Whether their statements about small bands dying a horrendous death at the feet of the 800-pound gorillas which seem to control the purse strings are true or not, you’ll have to figure out for yourself.  But protecting the musicians?  Yeah, I get that.  And the gorilla responded right on cue.  Textbook shout and response.

My first impression is that Spotify execs ran this by legal.  Their response is PR-speak, corporate speak.  I took that class.  PR-101.  Start off with a statement of remorse regarding the action taken (Century Media’s pulling of songs), then run the in-house spot.  You know.  The one they play to the entire company every day before work begins to give them that corporate shot in the arm (consider it the video equivalent to Wal-Mart’s pep talk/physical training meetings— better known as propaganda).  Toss in a few numbers;  that always stops detractors cold.  Then run the spiel about the money they’re handing out— money the world would never see otherwise.

Let’s look at that spiel:  Spotify is now generating serious revenues for rights holders;  since our launch just three years ago, we have paid over $100 million to labels and publishers who, in turn, pass this on to the artists, composers and authors they represent.

I’ve heard that before.  The labels have been spewing that crap for decades.  What they’re saying is that they are passing money to the same corporate crooks who have been taking musicians to the bank since the beginning of recorded music.  What they’re saying is that it isn’t their responsibility, that they are only handing money to the “rights holders”.  That ain’t the musicians, my friends.  That’s corporate-to-corporate.  And they love it.  Legally, they have musicians by the balls.  Who owns close to 30% of Spotify?  The major labels.  The same major labels which have used every accounting trick in the book to screw artists.  The same major labels which pumped more cocaine up their noses than Steroid Nation pumped iron.  The same major labels which, during certain periods of the fiscal year, put together projects guaranteed to lose money— for tax purposes, you understand.  The same major labels which dumped cut-outs on the market at whim with no regard for the artists at all.  Did you know that the vast majority of musicians who recorded for the major labels have never seen a dime in royalties?  Sure, they may have received small amounts of cash at the beginning, but you can bet every cent was charged back to the artist.  They wrote it all off on taxes years ago.  Still, here they are doing it again.  I can only imagine the fiscal skullduggery employed by the corporate powers.  Proof, you say?  You want proof?  It is more than likely in the same place which houses George W’s military records.

I tell you, I get so angry at times that I can’t think straight.  I’ll tell you who can, though.  Jon Gomm can. Gomm is an accomplished and talented musician who recently started a discussion about Spotify on Facebook.  He had just pulled his music and wanted to explain why as well as to find out how other people saw the situation.

“The return on plays is tiny,” he wrote when I contacted him, “a miniscule fraction of a penny for each play.  People can listen for free, which I am all for, but you’re better off providing that facility on your own website or, so people are in the right place to make a purchase if they choose to.  (note:  Spotify does not yet sell downloads through their site in the States).

“The biggest problem for me, though, is that the major corporate labels have, as I understand it, bought up what amounts to a majority stake in Spotify, so they potentially will be paid whether their artists make money or not.  I, as an independent artist, have made a decision to not be part of the mainstream industry for many reasons— artistic, financial and ethical— and the last thing I would choose to do now is to help fund them or legitimize them.  Indie artists on Spotify lend it a coolness, a cache and sense of ‘giving back’ to struggling artists whom sites like cdBaby and Bandcamp support.  Spotify doesn’t do anything towards deserving that as far as I can see.”

To present, not that I can see, either, but it is early in the game in the States.  Spotify is new here.  It will take time to establish the system, to validate purported corporate goals. Only time will tell whether it harms the artist while pumping money into corporate coffers as Century Media seems to think, or whether it gives music a much needed booster shot.  I know it sounds like I didn’t, but I’ll wait until the figures are in.  But I’ll be watching.  Very closely.

A NOTE:  If you have read this far, you either have a stake in the music industry or are a blood relative (thanks, Uncle Ferd).  I am not usually this serious nor do I enjoy tilting at windmills, but the overwhelmingly positive hype which accompanied Spotify’s move into the States blinded me with red flags.  If Spotify was as good as the talking heads made them sound, they would be worth a hell of a lot more than the mere $250 million they claim.  Imagine my surprise when I found out it was just glorified radio, as Joe suggested.  I live in Oregon, where the state legislature in their infinite wisdom decided to make Nike a separate state rather than make them pay local taxes, and threw in a University, besides!  (Nike’s ploy, and a brilliant one, was to make everyone look the other direction by clothing that University’s football team in theugliest uniforms imaginable… now, THAT is graduate level legerdemain)  Oregon is part of the Pacific Northwest, which cowtows to anything Intel or Microsoft or, truthfully, anything corporate at all.  So I am used to corporate hype and PR fog.  Even so, the talking heads’ joy at the coming of Spotify caught me by surprise.

Future columns, assuming Segarini doesn’t send me packing, will be more about music than the music business, more positive than negative, and will hopefully be more entertaining.  I love a good laugh as much as anyone (one reason I read Segarini, in fact) and hopefully I will be able to exhort a chuckle or two while digging through the mountains of music releases we are seeing in this strange world run amok.  You know, while others are busy heralding the death of the compact disc and in fact the entire music industry, I’m enjoying what may be the best period rock music has ever experienced.  I swear, there is more great music out there than ever before.  So to the naysayers, let me quote an old friend, Larry Norman, whose Only Visiting This Planet initially fell on deaf ears only to become a cult classic:  “I don’t like none of those funeral marches!  I ain’t dead yet!”   Neither is music.  More to come.

Segarini says I have to write my own byline, so here it is.  “Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew.  He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row).  He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted.  Read at your own peril.”

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