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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The good old bad old days

Posted By on 04.17.12 at 02:44 PM

David Lowery
When David Lowery talks about the music business it's worth paying attention, and not just because he played in two rock bands (Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker) that were fairly successful in their day. For one thing he's been using the Internet to distribute music and connect with fans for almost two decades, or since the rising tech superstars currently steering the music industry into the future were toddlers. He also teaches a class in the University of Georgia's music business program. He's also really good at math.

And when David Lowery gets up in front of a conference of leading professionals from the music and tech industries to compare the current modes of digital-music distribution and royalty payment to the old major-label system in an unfavorable way, you want to sit up and pay attention—because, wait, isn't this the same guy who once wrote a song about one of his former labels entitled "It Ain't Gonna Suck Itself"?

But he did exactly that at the SF MusicTech Summit in February, and a reconstruction of his speech is now available here. It's long and complicated, and probably not of much use to anyone who doesn't have a vested interest in the current system, either in content production or distribution, but it makes a convincing case that even though the majors were every bit as bad to bands as everyone says, they were still better than a setup where Apple takes 30 percent of the cost of a product they assumed no risk to produce and Google actually makes a profit from sites that illegally distribute music. I don't think Lowery is totally right, and I wouldn't want the hazy glow of Grunge Bubble nostalgia—with its visions of big-ass advance checks flying into the hands of anyone with a guitar and a thrift-store T-shirt—to distract anyone from all the artists who've been completely ripped off by their labels. But there's a lot in here to think over.

Especially the part about Google's shady relationship with piracy sites, which is just infuriating.

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