Mix received numerous letters about Paul Lehrman's Oct. 2000 InsiderAudio column, "Caught Napstering." Songwriter Wendy Waldman's responseis, not surprisingly, the most articulate.
NAPSTER: A SONGWRITER'S VIEW
I'm a songwriter and participant in the music business and have beenfor 30 years. I've had some good years, such as when I co-wrote "Savethe Best For Last" with Phil Galdston and John Lind for VanessaWilliams. I've had some modest years way back in the '70s as a cultishrecording artist, and some interesting times as a female producer inNashville in the '80s; I was even interviewed in Mix. I've also hadsome stupendously hard times when nobody wanted anything I had tooffer.
My engineer Michael Boshears and I are both fans of your column, butI am distressed as I read your article on Napster that had some trulymajor omissions in your presentation, which I am certain areunintentional, but which reflect many people's tendency to overlookthese most critical and least attended issues.
In general, the Napster argument has been framed as "us vs. the bigguys," and it's always about the record companies and the artists,signed or unsigned, who suffer at the hands of the labels. On thispoint I totally agree, and I work a great deal in the field ofAmericana music where the money is low, but the creative freedom ismarvelous. It's the world you describe as you outline the way artistscan make a better living working with the Internet and going theindependent route.
With that said, I noted with alarm that you mentioned the word"songwriter" only once in your entire article, and that was inreference to Roger McGuinn. You made no mention of music publishing andthe concept of intellectual property.
People don't realize that the ones who truly stand to be hurt themost are, in fact, the songwriters who aren't all necessarily artists.Nobody talks about the fact that there are many, many people who writesongs for a living, day after day, and maybe get lucky enough to get apublishing deal or a few songs recorded, and for whom the publishingand performance royalties are the only financial reward they will everreceive. Most are in a low to low-middle-income bracket, living frompublishing deal to publishing deal, if they're lucky. Our industryleans with at least one leg on the unheralded work of songwriters, andhas since the days of Irving Berlin and before.
While I applaud and want to participate in the liberation of artistsfrom the yoke of the traditional labels, I fear that Napster iseducating a new generation of listeners to believe that music is free.This will, without a doubt, put many songwriters out of business, and,as songwriters, you and I don't need Hilary Rosen to demonstrate thatfor us. I've seen hundreds of files of my songs online, for which Iwasn't paid a penny, and I stare at my rent and grocery bill everymonth, wondering if I can stay in the business of writing songs if Ican't earn a living at it. And there are many more songwriters whoaren't necessarily going to get in the van and hit the road as artists,because that's not what they do.
We make a few pennies when our tune is played on the radio. Thosepennies are divided into the tiniest fractions between other writers,publishers, sometimes the artists themselves, sometimes managers. Wedon't get paid until a year after the song has been on the radio. Wemake a few pennies when a CD is sold, and those pennies are again splitinto fractions. Needless to say, with Napster, we get paid nothing.
How interesting that you point out that Napster shows no income yet,but all of its investors must be counting on making a lot of money oncethe question of intellectual property is out of the way. All I can sayis, "Yeah, they won't have to pay the people who write the songs orproduce the records, and that will save them a bundle, in theirminds."
They must be thrilled, at the same time, that so many people havetaken the bait of the populist revolution this is supposed torepresent. As long as the argument continues to rage about the badrecord companies and no one looks at the real problem - which is, ofcourse, whether our culture is going to honor the notion ofintellectual property as it does all other kinds of business andpersonal property - these guys have everyone in their pockets. The kidsare too young to get it; but you, as a songwriter and musician, shouldbe able to see this for what it is. To use The Nation's definition ofcopyright as you did is ironic. The Nation is a great thought-provokingforum geared toward the notion of ideas, but no mention of theprotection of intellectual property exists in that definition.Copyright law is also there to protect the holder of the copyright fromhaving his or her work taken without consent. You do a disservice toomit the fact for your readers that there are two copy-writes in everywork of art: one for the performance or recording, and that belongingto the person who wrote the work.
On that topic, I also want to say that the populist anti-Metallicarhetoric is not well-thought-out, nor well-informed. What Lars Ulrichsaid very clearly was simply that he wasn't given a choice as towhether he wished to be posted on Napster. No one, including Metallica,argues the value of the Internet for artists, who want to reach peoplein that way. However, those artists elect to be on Napster. Metallicawasn't asked, and they have a right to be asked and to decline.
I also was not asked if I wanted my songs posted on the Internet,but there are hundreds of files of them out there, and I can assureyou, I'm not only not being paid, but I, along with every other writerin the business, am being put into jeopardy, because people don'tunderstand the real issues. I think that Metallica's position is verycourageous and very lonely, and I applaud them for defendingintellectual property and the right to choose if one wants to be postedor not. This has nothing to do with their encouragement of taping attheir shows, as that was their choice. Anything short of that istheft.