From Rock and Rap Confidential 228:
YOU CAN ONLY FIND WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR IF IT EXISTS… Paul McGuinness is the perfect manager for U2: Self-righteous, most confident that he’s expressing Truth when he recites cliché and propaganda, smug in his conviction that nobody out there is smarter, arrogantly dismissive of dissent. It’s an ugly blend, fulsomely displayed in McGuinness’ article from British GQ’s July edition, modestly entitled “How to save the music industry.”
The article is crammed with the boiler plate nonsense typical of copyright maximalists in general and the U2 camp in particular: Bono is a brave man for using his New York Times column to stand up for copyright against the Big Meanies in the blogosphere. Copyright is the only imaginable defense for young and poor artists since nobody will make music unless somebody can get rich. All critics speak with “inchoate, abusive voices.”
Superficially, McGuinness’s strongest argument is that the beneficiaries of copyright are creative people and therefore the victims of infringement are also creative people. However, he never mentions a single artist who has been harmed and even acknowledges that U2 hasn’t suffered. His only specific example is the fact that Tower Records and Virgin Records are no longer operating in the US—we’re supposed to pity the poor music business because file-sharing might prevent the system from churning out another creative genius like Richard Branson?
According to McGuinness, the solution to all the music world’s problems lies in a subscription service along the lines of Spotify. Specifically “a per-household monthly payment” keyed to “usage rather than units sold. Why should the price paid not correspond to the number of times the music is ‘consumed’?”
That means the cost of the subscription is keyed to how often you listen to music. The more you listen to a song or an album, the more you pay. One can only imagine the cries down the hallway in tomorrow’s teenage-ridden household: “Tommy, turn that off when you leave the goddamn room! What do you think, we own stock in U2?”
Pay-per-usage already exists in terms of broadcast revenues to the performance rights societies. But unlike fans, radio, TV, satellite and internet broadcasters make their living from such airplay. A kid who wants to play “Get On Your Boots” is either just loving the hell out of U2, getting ready to have his own band play it, or (in this case) perhaps possessed by a bad song demon. It makes no more sense for him to pay every time he listens than it would to pay a fee to General Motors every time he turns the ignition key in the family Chevy.
How will it help struggling creators if listeners confront the choice of experimenting with something new or relistening to an old favorite as an economic decision?
McGuinness ignores this problem and simply blathers on, proving once again that he knows nothing about the condition of struggling musicians. “Spotify could be the future model,” he writes, “but it will have to demonstrate that not only can it collect revenue from its users and advertisers, but that it will fairly pass on those sums to the artists, labels and publishers.” If that’s an issue, why doesn’t McGuinness write articles attacking SoundExchange, which has collected hundreds of millions of undistributed dollars? Why doesn’t he attack his business partners at Universal Music, whose prosperity is largely dependent on old masters for which the artists (list upon request) are seldom if ever compensated even though their contracts call for royalties? Why doesn’t he assault the rest of the record labels which do the same?
McGuinness concludes by saying, “I’m convinced there are sunlit uplands for the music industry ahead. What will those sunlight uplands be like?… It will be a world in which the norm will be for artists to get paid for their work when it is downloaded or streamed off the internet.” It is not the norm now, but that isn’t the product of the Internet, file-sharing and other modern technology. It’s the product of music industry business practices over the past century.
A subscription “solution” to file-sharing would not benefit creators. It would benefit the worst forces in the music world–the corporations that have been consolidating control and income during the entire recorded music period. New artists would have to “buy in” to a system of consolidation that would require as a down payment surrender of rights to records and songs in virtual perpetuity. If, by chance, the new system turns out stars like U2, they will have to claw their way to a reasonable share of the proceeds—just as McGuinness helped U2 to do. This is not a route to fairness. It is a route to the usual scenario: Prosperity for the few, poverty for the many.
McGuinness is most scathing about a blogger critic named Anonymous Coward, who apparently said some particularly abusive things about his and Bono’s previous rants. But Anonymous Coward is not alone. For instance, there’s RRC and its editor Dave Marsh. Two years ago, Bono personally challenged Dave, before several witnesses, to a public debate on such issues as these. When Bono unilaterally backed out of that conversation, who was being abusive? Who is being abusive when Bono and McGuinness make assertions without evidence; insulate themselves from contrary opinions, not to mention inconvenient facts; and dismiss anyone who disagrees with them as “inchoate”?
It’s true that for the one or two per cent of recording artists who got rich off the old system, the new one seems stingy and unfair. It’s beyond question that ISP owners and Apple have gotten much richer partly as a result of artists being uncompensated in the present system. It’s also irrelevant to McGuinness’s proposal, which amounts to the same There Is No Alternative that Bono espouses for solving the problems of the world’s poor.
But there are alternatives. It is NOT essential that capitalist markets be the vehicle for meeting the needs of the poor. It is NOT essential that listeners and less well-known artists be subjected to a “new” system that strengthens the same old villains.
Rather than wasting time on such scheming follies as subscriptions that cost far more than what consumers can spend, it would be better to consider how to take the money grubbing and hustling out of the music world. This can be done by creating a society in which artists—like everyone else—have sufficient support in obtaining the basics of life that they wouldn’t need to suck up to big corporations in hopes of paying the rent, feeding the kids, and paying for their next recording session.
The price might be no more Bonos.
Boo fucking hoo.