Our Government Thinks We’re a
Bunch of Douchebags

While the general public sits home watching wrinkle rock on parade, to those actually in the music biz the Grammies is a week-long affair. It’s parties, yes, but it’s mostly important meetings. The crown jewel of which is the “Town Hall.” This is the place where NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) members and journalists get to ask select politicians, who are supposedly guarding our interests on the Hill, the tough questions; the legislative questions; the questions behind the issues that are going to shape the next 20 years.

Question one was posed by NARAS Vice President of Advocacy & Government Relations, Daryl Friedman, and let me tell you, it had the senators squirming: “What song do you think best describes Washington?”

Ouch! What a sting. For a second it occurred to me that NARAS might take this gathering about as seriously as they seem to take their other so-called “advocacy efforts.” Which is to say, it’s a great way to gather a bunch of rich, music folk and make them feel outraged enough to bring a checkbook. But then I realized that while NARAS could focus a bit better on the education and advocacy part of their mission statement, few others are doing even half what they have done for the music biz.

After the levity of smug answers like, Fool on the Hill, and You’re so Vain got us all in the proper mood, the agenda quickly turned to something relevant: “What the hell are you clowns doing about stopping P2P (peer-to-peer file sharing) from destroying our industry and what are you doing about getting performance royalties for artists on terrestrial radio?”

Marsha Blackburn, lead with a hollow simile that completely misstated the legal issues at hand: “I liken piracy in radio to piracy on the high seas.”


Darrell Issa, Michael McCail and Linda Sanchez followed with comments that were far more on-point, but no more reassuring, and it was not long before the dialogue turned to the controversial solution to all the Music Biz’s problems: an IPS tax as compensation for infringers using the internet to rob music makers.

The basis for this already exists in the form of a tax on blank media collected every time consumers buy a CDR. Could this concept be legislated for the internet? Panelists steered away from responding directly. They know that ISPs butter their bread far more lucratively than record companies. Instead they suggested the music industry make the subscription model “work better.” “Remember,” one senator said, “legislation doesn’t make good business models. Business people make good business models.” (Sigh…)

At this point, one frustrated mega record exec (whose privacy I’ll respect in this piece) stood up and retorted that the numbers for subscription services “Just don’t add up,” that the industry is competing with free and no amount of clever models are going to replace a solid piece of law. He made a comparison to the porn industry; that even they have better protection under the law than record companies and added “Maybe it’s time we started licensing some good music to that industry.” Which received a thunder of applause and laughter.

All-in-all, I left the room thinking, my God, if we’re relying on these politicians to protect us, NARAS and the RIAA better start making some serious campaign contributions.

Mo out

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