The Pirates of LA and New York

Do you ever get the feeling that the four major record labels can't be bothered with the next generation and their unorthodox ways?

These labels are so secretive, silent and yes, shameful these days while almost everyone else is at least trying something to become part of the digital future.

Their seeming indifference to reality leads us to to butcher a famous Marie Antoinette quote: "Let them eat vinyl".

Look, I don't like theft any more than the labels do.

When I owned the trade publication Inside Radio we used to charge over $400 a year for each subscription to the daily fax of news and comment. I sure as hell didn't like it when managers -- that's right corporate types, executive VPs and station staff -- subscribed to one copy at full price then re-faxed it to all their stations for free. I liked it less when consolidation came along because there were more stations to pirate my only living.

But a funny thing happened on the way to destruction -- profitability. Enough people paid for subscriptions and did not retransmit the content to make me a nice living for many, many years. So nice, Clear Channel paid a premium to buy the company and they're no fools. (Okay, I'm pushing it now!).

But in time I came to learn that the more those media pirates stole my content, the more people became exposed to it and yes, subscribed at full price. They unwittingly made Inside Radio one the biggest brands out there.

It was nerve-wracking in the early days but as I became certain I would not go out of business, it made Inside Radio's billing bigger and it made the business more profitable. (I have to laugh when these fine examples of honor and ethics bitterly complain about stealing).

I never had to lower the Inside Radio subscription price as many of my competitors did to combat such thievery.

In a perfect world everyone would pay for that which they consumed. But this is not a perfect world and has never been even before the Internet came along with its so-called band of youthful pirates downloading music for free.

Some of you think I have been drinking their Kool-Aid during my sabbatical at USC. I've heard it all. They are privileged (many are). They are atypical (many are). They are too young to matter (no, no).

They do pirate music. But they also buy music.

They want to share digital music as they do music from a CD and they will eventually get their way. What's so wrong about the marketplace getting its way?

The real problem the music industry faces is the band of thieves running the record labels.

There are a few key record people who are beginning to wake up. I know them. They are smart. But they, too, are being held back by a lack of vision as to what they can become in the future. I hope they will be able to get out of their comfort zones and shake things up a bit. Take some leadership. Do something other than attack a whole generation of their customers.

But many are clueless. Arrogant. They are sitting out this revolution while young Internet whizzes and the number two computer company are dictating the new rules.

You've seen the Pirates of the Caribbean on the big screen.

Well, these are the pirates of LA and New York. Unsheathing their mighty legal swords aboard the good ship RIAA to pummel grandmothers and kids -- those dastardly music thieves that they are.

The real pirates are the record label execs who serve as no example of ethics or honesty to be sure. They point fingers at a generation they should be marketing to -- not suing. And while they are pointing fingers at their customers they have three pointing back at themselves.

The mystery has been solved.

The youth pirates are stealing their music and promoting it through viral sources and social networks. They are still buying product, merchandise -- they are still supporting live music.

The real pirates are record industry swashbucklers who are hell bent to go down with the ship.

And the treasure will not wind up at the bottom of the ocean because it has already been plundered.

Moral: Just as in my personal example, maybe -- just maybe -- the "thieving" next generation is actually promoting your music and you are preventing the sale.


You don't have to look any further than the record industry's latest attempt to charge additional performance fees to their other great promoter -- radio stations.

For those of you who would prefer to get my daily posts by email for free, please subscribe in box on the right.