Bootlegs Save the Music By Ian Rice
Arts and Lifestyle Editor
The music industry has been in a definite slump for at least the last five years, if not more. Where at one time true artists gathered to give people beautiful songs to soothe their souls and create good vibes; now all you get are mechanical backbeats, sampled loops and trite, generic lyrics. For the assumed benefit of distracting the public from this mediocrity, you are also treated to big breasts covered by just enough clothing to sneak by the FCC’s increasingly watchful eye.
But some of us aren’t fooled for a second. We see today’s music for what it is: disposable garbage out only to make a buck for a roomful of record company executives. Speaking for myself, I’d rather have someone chuck razorblades dipped in hepatitis at me than hear one bar of Britney Spears’ latest release. But I do tend to border on the extreme from time to time.
So what do we, the masses yearning for good music, do? After all, there are only a limited number of good bands still active these days. Most of the greats hung it up years ago or moved into the province of lame and boring (Rod Stewart, anyone?), leaving behind a back catalog that while impressive in quality remains limited in quantity. When you’ve bought all the essential titles from the past, where do you go next?
The answer is simple: bootlegs. That’s right, bootlegs. The music industry hates bootlegs, as they provide free to listeners something that the suits could be lining their pockets with. I understand completely why record companies panicked over Napster and file sharing. After all, it costs money for a label to release an album; if you download that album for free, they can’t heat their swimming pool that year. But the bootlegs are a unique entity, one that remains separate from the legal repercussions of downloading commercially released music. The bootlegs belong to the people.
Many of today’s “working bands” (bands consistently on tour) allot the privilege of taping to fans attending their shows. The Black Crowes, Gov’t Mule, The Dead and Dave Matthews Band are just a few of the artists that hold an “open taping” policy at their performances. The bands also maintain an unwritten agreement with the tapers to use the shows for personal means and not make a profit from them. Trading between fans, however, is perfectly acceptable.
Record company disapproval has deterred many bands from instituting an “open taping” policy. But the artists that do permit performance recording see it as nothing but positive and pay little mind to the suits who frown on it. “We don’t care what the record companies think,” Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson said in a Relix magazine feature. “It’s for the people who are really into the music and who’ve supported us…If someone wants to come tape our show and take it home with them, I mean, it’s their evening too – then that’s cool.”
Indeed, Robinson’s statement mirrors the sentiment of many tapers and traders. Concertgoers have, in essence, paid for the music by purchasing a ticket to the event. If they want to take home a recording of the evening’s performance, who are they hurting? As long as no financial profit is made, where is the harm? After all, record companies will still make their cash, as loyal fans will still purchase albums no matter how many bootlegs they possess.
I personally have over 3200 hours of music on bootleg discs, either traded or given to me over the years. Of those 3200 hours, 1600 of them are Black Crowes related. Now, if you took a look at my shelves full of commercially released CDs, you’d notice I own every Black Crowes album. Why? I mean, I undoubtedly have all their songs in my vast library of bootlegs. Why purchase the albums? Well, because I, like countless other music fans, support the artists.
Supporting the artists, by the way, is something that the record companies don’t do. In fact, they do just the opposite. In the over-inflated corporate world known as the music business, you’re only as good as your last million units sold. As it stands right now, if a release doesn’t shift a million or two copies immediately upon its release, it’s considered a failure. And what do artists get in return for selling at the platinum level? Well, in most cases they get less than a dollar per sale. So, to sum up, the artists do the work and the record executives reap all the benefits. If the artist fails to line the record company’s pockets with a release, they will most likely be dropped from the label. How’s that for loyalty?
Case in point is a band called the Spin Doctors. You may remember them: back in 1993, they were riding a multi-platinum album (Pocket Full of Kryptonite) and the year’s biggest single (“Two Princes”). But when they released their second album the next year, it fell flat. To their credit, Epic Records did give the Spin Doctors a second chance (most likely based on the sheer commercial viability of their debut) and the band got to work on their third album. But since their sophomore effort was considered a dud, the new album hit the stores with virtually no marketing and zero promotion. So, when said album failed to get much further than gold status (500,000 units sold), the band was dropped from the label. Never mind that their two “flops” were huge strides for the band from an artistic standpoint or that Epic Records dropped the ball in terms of promotion – the band was sent packing. Nice, huh?
Given this information, it’s no surprise that many bands are flocking to smaller labels when their deals with the corporate pork run out. Although smaller labels can’t offer acts the same financial clout the big names are able to, they still posses many more attractive and artist-friendly features. The most notable of the aforementioned perks is that smaller labels allow bands to record the material they want to record. Big labels will often pressure a band to produce at least one “hit” track per record and will even go as far as requiring song approval during the recording process to secure a chart-topper’s inclusion. With the smaller labels, the band’s can finally give you the songs they want you to hear.
The sheer lack of understanding and loyalty on the part of record labels regarding their signed artists is a big part of the reason bootleg recordings are on the rise in terms of popularity. The added benefit of the Internet is also an essential element. With a decent Internet connection, the right software and a little bit of patience, music fans can download and share an endless number of live shows via peer-to-peer networks. In fact, for once in the history of music, the fans are winning. They’ve figured out a way to legally circumvent the corporate pigs and get what they really want: the music.
Want to join in on the bootleg trading but don't know where to start? Check out these helpful links:
Etree.org - An Online Trading Community
Bit Torrent Explained
What You'll Have Access to Once You Get Involved
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