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Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. His memoir, It's So Easy (Simon & Schuster) is out now.
It's not at all uncommon that


Let's Try This Again

Thumbnail image for duff004.jpg
Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. His memoir, It's So Easy (Simon & Schuster) is out now.
It's not at all uncommon that I write a piece here that I hope inspires discussion in the comments section. My mission statement of sorts has been to help usher in a higher bar for social media. I know that we are capable of educating each other, and I have been thrilled at some of the deep conversations that have taken place here. We are capable of much more than just typing "fuck you, you suck dickhead" under an anonymous moniker. We have (largely) succeeded.

I wrote an article last week on the SOPA/PIPA debate. I was hoping to get a conversation started about a facet of the debate that I hadn't seen explored. I think in my rush to write it, I assumed many things about some of my readers here. I wasn't clear on some things.

For example: I received e-mail from some fans of my band or things that I had done in the past, who were pissed at some of my wording. I never meant to lump true supporters of music into some catch-all "all you fans" type of category. To all those fans of music who go out there every day and hunt down music with the sole intent of wanting to fully support artists, if you were offended, I sincerely apologize.

I am a great supporter of music. I love to go see bands, and buy their T-shirts and CDs. I urge others publicly to go BUY bands' new records. I know how hard it is to make the whole thing work from a basic economic scale. Artists do have to pay their own way when they record something new. And, believe it or not, that shit is still expensive, even if you do it at home. You need a computer and an expensive program. You need mic pres, and good microphones, a mixing board of some sort, and compression and mike stands and drum kits and amps and strings and time off work and guitars and numerous other pieces of gear . . . just to record your first note. This is not including the time you need to write the damn songs.

I have been there as an artist when the Major Label rips you off. I have been there when the manager takes his cut off the gross while you are left to pay for the crew, travel, hotels, a bus, gas, food, and every other expense involved in touring. I've been there as large merchandise companies try to sell your shirt for 35 bucks while you demand as hard as you can to charge only $15. The artist still has to pay for the shirts and the printing, and ends up making a dollar--maybe two--off the end sale. I've been there.

Even at the height of major label-dom, the most a band would make off a record was something like $2. Split among five people, after paying for your producer and mixer out of that $2--well, you can do the math of what a band member would see from that. Pennies. Oh, and of course before you see penny number one, you do have to pay back that label for the recording costs . . .

I was there when the major labels kept trying to change formats so that they could sell artists' whole catalogues over and over. I could see it plain as day when the digital format was introduced just as home computers were beginning to be the norm in every household. It was only a matter of time before file-sharing on a large scale became a major player in how music was delivered to the end user.

I saw Napster try to work with the labels. They tried to cooperate, and share the immense advertising revenue. The artists would get paid. The labels would get paid, and people would get their music for free . . . legally and without feeling like a thief or living in fear of legal prosecution. The labels balked. The labels failed in their short-sightedness. The labels are now in serious trouble, cutting back to a point where I believe major labels will be fully a thing of the past within five years.

I am not an advocate of "the man." Never have been. Never will be.

But I AM an advocate of the artist. Those who, since Chuck Berry, have gotten the short end of the stick.

A lot of you argue that illegal file-sharing gives some bands and artists worldwide exposure. Maybe so. But whose place is it to say that a band who records their own shit and puts it up on their site for sale, or on iTunes, doesn't actually need those folks to actually purchase their music, so that they can afford to just eke out paying back the expense that they took to record that thing?

A lot of us will buy three grande lattes at Starbucks throughout a day ($15 or $20?), and then complain about paying $10 for a CD. I'd argue that all you get from that coffee is the jitters and bad breath, while that CD gives you music, that beautiful thing that'll fill your soul for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

I understand that there is a new paradigm. People argue that "Art wants to be free" and that the digitizing of music is all the proof that one needs for that argument. But aren't there many arguments that can offset that one?

The real argument or point I wanted to put up for discussion was with people on Twitter and Facebook going so damn crazy last week when Wikipedia went black and everyone was complaining about something called PIPA. How many of those educated themselves first before they went on the Twitter and exclaimed "Fuck the SOPA. I want my first amendment rights" or "Big Government is taking over!!"?

A wise man once said to me: If you don't understand something that a government or business does, it's always going to be about the almighty dollar. We must educate ourselves, and then take that education to the rally.

The PIPA bill, as it was written, left so many gaping holes and open language that those in that business who would be looking for loopholes to capitalize against a smaller competitor could use this bill to squash said competitor.

For those of you thinking that PIPA and SOPA were equivalent to what is going on in China, please make that argument. But try to back that argument.

If there was some way to have a person-to-person, live, open "town hall" type of talk about this whole deal, I think a lot would come of it. A Senator. A musician or two. A person who used to own a recording studio. Someone from the movie business. A book publisher. Advocates for open file-sharing. And so on.

Hopefully this week we can all sort of get along and try to educate each other here in the comments. Let's try a "do-over."

Please reply with your real name.

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