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.