This photo stolen via Flickr
Greg Kot, left, and Jim Derogatis, right, with Booker T.
Who: "Sound Opinions" with Jim Derogatis & Greg Kot



Bumbershoot Review: The "Sound Opinions" Guys on Why Artists Should Make Money off Plumbing, Not Recorded Music

This photo stolen via Flickr
Greg Kot, left, and Jim Derogatis, right, with Booker T.
Who: "Sound Opinions" with Jim Derogatis & Greg Kot

When: 3:45 p.m.

Where: Words & Ideas Stage

Jim Derogatis (formerly of Chicago Sun-Times) and Greg Kot (Chicago Tribune), the hosts of the syndicated music radio show, "Sound Opinions" are a pair of affable music geeks with encyclopedic knowledge of pop music that's as impressive as it is exciting to behold. But, I take issue with a few of the overarching themes/points they made regarding the future of the music industry during their hour-long discussion this afternoon.

Here's a look at few of them, followed by my thoughts. I've paraphrased both the points/themes and my thoughts:

-- Derogatis/Kot: Artists shouldn't expect to make money off of recorded music anymore, and they should get used to making more than the lion's share of their money off the road.

Yes, this is the direction the industry has gone in the era of massive illegal downloading and file swapping that has shaved overall music sales to have their peak. But while Derogatis and Kot painted the major labels--the folks who charge Flaming Lips for ever staple and press release until the band could turn no profit on a record--as villains, they laid no responsibility for the decline of music sales on the people no longer paying for music: the "fans" who illegally download albums instead of buying them. No, every download is not a lost sale.

But with overall sales down by about half, many downloads are obviously lost sales. And the story of the decline of the industry is not complete without the fact that most consumers feel morally permitted to download music for free, in no small part because so many people have hammered home the notion that labels - of all sizes -- exist to exploit bands. The reality is that illegal downloading hurts independent artists, too. Just ask Laura Veirs.

Derogatis and Kot had nothing but venom for the folks they say have screwed over bands in the past (labels), but when it comes to the people who aren't compensating artists today (the fans), they've got nothing. It's easy to pick on giant corporations that file lawsuits against parents whose kids illegally downloaded Master of Puppets, but more responsibility for the financial troubles affecting bands and labels need to be placed on the people who are taking music without pay for it.

It's not just major labels who are suffering from the prevelance of illegal downloading. Everyone is struggling. Just because it's impossible to stop fans from illegally downloading music, doesn't mean that responsible music consumers should continue to do so. Bo Diddley was famously taken advantage of when he was young and saw little--if any--royalties for his early work. As a consequence the man had to support himself and his family by staying on the road until the day he died. What Derogatis and Kot appear to be advocating is that this model of under compensating musicians for their art continue, only at the hands of "fans" not labels and publishers.

Consumers have been downloading music for more than a decade, and bands still see the need for record labels. Even if more money from the sale of records are going to the label (for their expenses and profit) than bands, it's still a business model bands want to be a part of. Most bands can't do it by themselves. Illegal downloading is hurting the infrastructure bands rely on for survival, and that music fans rely on for good music. No, that doesn't mean the infrastructure doesn't need changing.

-- Major labels royally screw over artists, most of which never see any money from the records they make.

This is the most common talking point in conversations about the music industry. During their "they aren't making any money..." speech, the guys really didn't address the amount of money labels throw down on artists in the form of advances, publicity, marketing, promotion, etc. There was little acknowledgment of the fact that many of the most successful independent artists today wouldn't be where the are were it not for the massive amounts of cash pumped into their BRAND by the major label they've since left.

What was also left off the table was that bands--including popular indie bands--continue to jump to major labels. There's still something they have that bands want. And it's their money, THEIR INVESTMENT in the band. Death Cab For Cutie jumped to Atlantic, vocalist Ben Gibbard told me, because they believed a major label could get them to a place their beloved hometown indie, Barsuk, could not, thanks to their infrastructure and cash.

-- Licensing songs to corporations to commercials cheapens the art.

Personally, I think what cheapens art even more is when people don't pay for it and assume it should be distributed for free. That it's not worth the $5 or $10 or $15 an artist/label/retailer is asking for a record. That shows the true value consumers place on the creation of the art they "love."

When consumers refuse to pay for recorded music, it's natural for musicians to look for alternative revenue sources. If you don't want your favorite band selling a song to Wal-Mart, you should make sure your friends aren't illegally downloading their music.

Anyone remember Bo Diddley's "Bo, you don't know diddley," Nike commercial with Bo Jackson?

-- Artists should plan on making money off things like being a plumber, and doing music on the side. Derogatis says he's willing to do the same, and joked about taking a job at Starbucks and blogging at night. Half-joking, but considering the revenue opportunities he leaves open for bands, this is about what it would come to.

I'm actually a little speechless here, Jim. But the faucet in my kitchen needs fixing, when you've got a minute.

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