Letter to Cracker’s David Lowery in response to his Letter to Emily White at NPR’s All Songs Considered…

June 19th, 2012 | Posted by Evan

Yes, I realize it has been a good long while since I’ve checked in. I hope you’ve been following where I’ve been all too chatty at facebook and twitter. If not, here’s a good one……

Everyone loves music. Some love to just listen, but some need to create it. Currently the listening consumers and creative artists are in a bit of a skirmish.

Emily White, an intern at NPR’s All Songs Considered, represents the guilty consumer.

David C. Lowery, co-founder/frontman of rock band Cracker and Economics Lecturer at the University of Georgia, represents the disgruntled undercompensated artists.

Emily’s argument can be found here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/allsongs/2012/06/16/154863819/i-never-owned-any-music-to-begin-with

David’s argument can be found here: http://thetrichordist.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/letter-to-emily-white-at-npr-all-songs-considered/

I’ve decided to contribute to this dialogue for personal reasons: I am also a professional musician. However, I’ve never had a hit single like David’s band Cracker. My former band did cover “Low” at several shows and I’m a bit fearful he’s going to come after me for retroactive compensation of some sort.

Personally, I have written, recorded, and performed original music throughout the US for ten years. Sadly, music has not generated enough income (despite a resume that I am entirely proud of) for me to sustain what would humbly be considered a modest lifestyle, like the majority of my musical peers and friends. Because I have a wife and dog that depend on me, and need more than free drink tickets to keep my life machine running, I work a full-time job doing HIV/AIDS research for a government contracting foundation, using my vacation and sick days to play shows, many times driving through the middle of the night in fear of using too many. Recently, after a dear friend missed a show on a Sunday night he commented “I’m so sorry I missed your show, but it was a Sunday night! Why would you even be there?!”

The music business is no different than any other business. It’s still money changing hands for services rendered. Services for every business vary, and I’d concur that musical services are probably different than most, but stripped away it’s still plain old supply and demand, as the old Cracker Econ lecturer should agree. If we can all agree on this principle than the first rule of business applies to music as it does any other industry: the (collective) customer is always right. It may seem odd, crazy, or stoopid, but I find more value in Emily White’s simple admission of rarely paying for any music in her library, and her wish for a “universal database” to link with her phone and other gadgets that will (get this) pay out royalties to artists based on their play count, than any insight or comfort in the old Cracker’s 63 paragraph retort (not including 2 updates) which intends to ascribe blame towards consumers who are victims of cultural ignorance at the expense of the underappreciated and overworked artists, like me.

Admittedly, my argument is based on one presumption: today’s average consumer is more like Emily than the old Cracker. When I consume it’s not because of guilt or obligation, even if I’m more greatly compelled by the plight of a farmer in the developing world (circumstance) than a musician who doesn’t take a second job (choice). In fact, when I’m made to feel guilty or coerced I want to regurgitate anything I feel might have been force fed into my system. I consume like any red blooded mammal, because of need and desire. I want my albums to go platinum, I want to see my logo on people’s bumpers and across their chests, and I want to play in front of sold out shows where fans put their nose up when other fans mess up a lyric. Every hungry living beast dreams of a feast, but most used to prefer the hunt to the buffet.

In defense of the old Cracker, it’s not unusual for a successful individual to be dissatisfied. Success only has so many tables and people fight to stay in the dining room because the food is addictive. Beyond the addiction there is a drive in people that is never fulfilled. I get that. Athletes, politicians, CEOs, English Bands, an Irish Band, never know when to quit. They always believe their best work lays ahead. If anything, the old Cracker is telling the world that he essentially has nothing left in his creative tank or physical drive to provide the world with another hit so he wants you to stop stealing his old one.

In actuality, the US is one of the only countries in the world that still pays significant money for music via albums at shows, downloads, streaming, licensing, etc. Government and advocacy for artists’ rights is stronger here than anywhere in the world. Maybe Cracker never toured Asia or Central and South America where pirated CDs and DVDs and sold for pennies. I’m not talking black market here. I lived in Nicaragua for nearly two years and there were shops everywhere selling popular music for dirt at every almost every rotunda in Managua. No Cracker discs though. Maybe someone should be thanking US consumers for continuing to pay more than the rest of the world, even for outdated material.

Musicians play for music, not royalties. You don’t see poets walking around like meter maids trying to charge little boys for plagiarizing while wooing young girls. You don’t see jazz musicians complaining about how much one-hit wonders make. An audience for one’s art is a gift. Earning a living from a life of love is nothing short of a fantasy. Regardless, any popular acclaim or financial reward is a blessing and should be treated as such. You are blessed with a numerous, albeit dwindling, fanbase, whereas if 10,000 new people discover my world because of Spotify or free downloads I’d surely be grateful rather than argue my royalty percentages.

Alienating a consumer who would prefer to reward all musicians then guilting other consumers while shamelessly self-promoting is nothing short of disgraceful and petty. That being said I’ve lost several friends to suicide, non-royalty related, and I have free downloads available at facebook.com/whoisevanbliss.

PS – ask Todd Park Mohr, Rodeo Rob Squires, Brian Neville, John Popper, Jim Creegan, and/or Ed Robertson for their thoughts on this issue. Even though they’re all multi-hit musicians I’d be interested to hear their perspective.

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54 Responses to “Letter to Cracker’s David Lowery in response to his Letter to Emily White at NPR’s All Songs Considered…”

His use of suicide is valid. He points out that 2 very successful musicians who had large followings and were not able to makes ends meet. They both had other contributing factors. However, one of the main contributing factors was disenchantment due to the theft of their art. Imagine you are playing large rooms consistently, selling out venues, living modestly, everyone knows the words to your songs, everyone owns your songs, yet no one pays for it. You can’t pay your bills. Imagine how utterly demoralizing that is. It not hard to see why some can’t go on as a musician. From there it’s not hard hard to see how a self identified musician who knows nothing else might take a turn into darkness.

For some You keep dismissing album royalties by saying its not that much money. First, off that depends on the label. Secondly, who are you to say an artist isn’t entitled to what money is owed to them regardless oh how little it is. Sure money can be made from t-shirts and ticket sales but it is made from album sales as well.

Well I have refrained from a serious critical assessment of your “work” b/c I considered that kinda cruel. I’m all for you letting you do your little twiddle twaddle in the swiss chard aisle of Whole Foods to the collect groups of dum dums and their infants. I suppose if I did take the time to truly critically assess your “work” terms like, sophomoric, sentimental & falsely soulful would come up … put that would be shooting fish in a barrel.

Record companies have done their fair share of bullshit over the years but that isn’t license to just declare an artists intellectually property null and void. A record company very well may not be treating the artist particularly well either but that’s their business. I’m all for artists sidestepping those people, the music I listen to isn’t beholden to those corporate structures. But once again that’s their call to make … not ours to ignore. Do you fill and run at Exxon? Oil companies such nicer guys than record companies of course.

There are two main factors endangering democracy: money and secrecy. Less journalists on the beat will do a lot to make that second factor worse and worse.

Free Speech all and good? How’s your free speech look like weighed against the Koch Bros right about now?

Lose the first “you” in the 2nd sentence and make “collect” “collected”.

nothing really to do with anything, but I’ve gotta admit, I don’t understand why the original piece has inspired such vitriol from of the commenters…..

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