For too many years brain-dead executives ruled the now nearly defunct major record labels. I’m not talking about publicists and artist relation staffs, just the misguided hacks at the top of the shit heap from punk’s 1977 heyday ‘til now. These stuck-up money-grabbing twerps were the ones who offered secretarial staff’s health insurance but were too cheap to provide it for their own artists – the people responsible for making them money. And what’s now ironic is how the corporate giants who raped and pillaged the industry are now getting raped and pillaged by free internet downloads.

In the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s, independent labels such as Motown, Atlantic, and Stax were well-staffed with producers, artist relation people, and executives who understood and loved the rock, soul, and folk beaming like beacons through radio’s amplified waves. Moreover, these important smaller labels had major distribution and powerful promoters hyping new music through radio lobbying and payola tactics.

By the time punk and rap came along and newer indie labels emerged, major labels got scared and avoided the street noise coming from places like CBGB’s and Bronx schoolyards, allowing commercial radio to become a pathetic place for flaccid conservative fodder. Major labels and commercial radio made sure punk and rap could not receive commercial radio access, major distribution, and breakthrough sales at a time when they enjoyed the benefits of thriving ‘heritage’ rockers such as Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles – not to mention the disco fad. Even more corrupt than in the past, the major labels shunned the punk and rap movement and promised more grass, wine, and, of course, payola money, to make sure indie labels and artists couldn’t receive commercial airplay lamer major label artists received.

And here’s how the major labels finally got their comeuppance – overpricing newly marketed Compact Disc’s during the ‘80s. This alone decreased access for developing punk and rap artist’s as impressionable teens were not only unable to discover worthy new independent label product at corporately sponsored record stores, but they also refused to absorb the inexcusable, exorbitantly priced ‘new tech’ CD’s being marketed at highly inflated rates.

Collectors of cool independent music stopped buying! In the ‘70s, $4 albums were bought on teen’s $200 a week wages and taking chances on newer artists was fairly cheap. This made access to a growing number of new glam-rock, prog-rock, soul, and country artists easy to afford, especially compared to the ‘80s, when Compact Disc versions (with smaller, compromised cover art and sterilized sound) sold for $12 when teen’s had $300 a week wages. That’s a 300% jump in price for a sound carrier that a mere 50% wage increase couldn’t absorb a decade hence (and I didn’t adjust for inflation!).

In other words, teen consumers’ budgets got tighter and their interest in discovering developing indie artists decreased. Audaciously higher pricing for a cheaper-to-make sound carrier undermined teen buyers.

In reality, the arrogance of the major labels finally caught up to them. Face it major label thieves, it costs one penny to make a CD and the high warehousing costs previously encountered for drying and storing vinyl no longer exists. These labels had the stupidity to price themselves out of existence. And the lack of commercial radio exposure depriving independent artists of a fair playing field partially ruined the careers of better ‘80s artists such as the Minutemen, Replacements, and old school rappers. Due to major labels neglectful tactics, independent artists of all stripes were kept down on the farm at college stations way below the 92.1 radar on the FM dial. This is the same despicable deprivation black slaves suffered through at the birth of this supposedly great nation.

And that’s why parasitic major label execs deserve to perish. They used gifted artists for their talent, paid cheap wages, and got rich. So don’t feel sorry for the last few remaining stiffs surviving major label downscaling. I doubt there are any in tune with what’s happening beyond the velvet rope for over a decade or two. Most of these clueless, careless executives have no doubt moved on to divorce, drugs, and pettier careers (perhaps in real estate).

The kick in my ass is I’m used to relying on free promotional advances from both major labels and indie start-ups – hard copy CD’s with artwork, pix, bio, and publishitty ephemera. And now due to major label downsizing and indie label cutbacks, I may be forced to only receive free promotion links with limited access time to download. Not sure how I feel about that. I’ve never considered myself a music collector, though I own thousands of CD’s and records. I’m just a big pop fan with free access to great independent (and co-dependent) music.

I’m so accustomed to building a record library that it’ll probably be like quitting heroin now that I’ll stop getting physical copies of 90% of the stuff I want. It’ll still be free. Oh yeah. Nothing will stop me from downloading whatever the fuck I want anyhow. Luckily, the major labels that still exist now offer even fewer artists I care to spend time listening to. Besides, everything worthwhile starts on the streets at indie labels (if they survive).

As for the artists, whose work I’ve cherished and kept coming back to for years, the game is over for high-priced major label signings, big bonuses, and boondoggled bonanzas. I always thought if Steely Dan wanted to just sit back and make albums without touring, go the fuck ahead. They still collected a disturbingly limited monetary stipend off album sales and royalties but were able to somehow survive financially. But the game may be over for that kind of introverted musical lifestyle.

Simply put, if you don’t go out on the road, you’re gonna have a helluva time collecting money these days in the music biz. So studio rats like rappers, producers, and introverted rockers beware. Then again, those rappers, producers, and introverted rockers who’ve got skills in visual arts, web design, or cheesy promotional devices beyond the merch table, may be able to eke out a meager living.

Sure there’ll be those mega-selling teen faves – the Jonas Brothers (yea for Wyckoff, New Jersey!) and Miley Cyrus (whose dad’s got big Country/Western bucks) – but blockbuster sales will be close to nil. Many teens’ computer games now have 10 or more songs on them anyway and that will further cheapen audio CD’s by one artist.

I do get a kick out of the rap community, so eager to protect the rights of their artists by sending promo CD’s with interrupting ‘sound bites’ and stupid messages all over ‘em so any music critic who dares give free access before release date will be compromised. But that’ll only hurt their record sales as pre-release buzz evaporates. Besides, isn’t the majority of hip-hop culture based on free access to sampling and duped instrumentation? Sure they must pay now for their borrowings, but not in the past. Ask James Brown and George Clinton. Their records got transformed through hip-hop into something new.

But the samples were originally lifted for free to underscore a rapper’s flow and then sold for profit when the major label industry and its distribution system thrived. Now, when access to recordings is free, the rap community is looking to protect profits derived mostly from sampled dupes.

Isn’t that ironic? Steal from the majors’ older recordings and get pissed when the system breaks down and you can’t make a buck off it. Go on the road, dudes. Then again, I hear the Wu Tang Clan’s recent tour didn’t suffice financially. Most likely, the Clan wasted any advance money during the tour. And it seems like the Clan is pissed off at producer-agent RZA for not paying ‘em proper residuals on last year’s new album (which the group disowned on impact). Well. The disc probably sold less than ‘gold’ (500,000 copies) and the group most likely stayed in the same fancy hotels quaffing expensive liquor as the now-dead major label execs once did.

It’s funny how the teen consumer gets the last laugh. My sons and daughter alone have downloaded hundreds of songs for free – and I feel no guilt. Neither should you. The internet has freed the teens from corporate greed. Though the enslaved artists still suffer from unfair monetary reciprocation, at least they’ve gained instant worldwide exposure and the chance to make small money.

-John Fortunato


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