"Know Your Enemy"

On the day KNAC-FM went off the air, James and Lars from Metallica shared the stations final hours on the air with the rest of the staff.  The band’s “Fade to Black” brought to a close the long run of a legendary radio station.  After the final sign-off, many of us shed some real tears over the loss of, not only, our jobs, but a station we believed in.  It was a very surreal scene as I sat weeping, like a baby, with Lars trying to comfort my pain with some kind words and assurance that everything would be all right.  From that day on, I have had a special place in my heart for Lars Ulrich.  He took the time to help bring KNAC-FM to a close with his presence and helped me, personally, with the loss.  This is why I am convinced that Lars and the rest of Metallica are not fighting Napster for the purpose of  “greed”.  I don’t believe that trait could come from the same heart that sat with me on that dark day.   He didn’t get paid to be with us on that last day and he certainly didn’t have to spend any time with me as a grief counselor.  I truly believe, in this particular case, that the band has been mismanaged.  Blame them for all your perceptions of the last few releases, but not their “misguided” passions on an issue that is, at this point, out of control. 


If Napster goes down in the courts or when they final start charging in some form, you will find, a refugee train out of Napsterland like you’ve never seen before.  These refugees will be entering new portals for “sharing” that have even more potential than Napster.  “Pirates”, “file sharers” or whatever else you want to call the 20 million people that are currently using the service, will continue to get whatever they want for “free” that can be converted into a computer file.


The reason this topic is now in the mainstream of the news and in the courts of this land, is not because it is a “black and white” issue, like so many people want to portray it. Instead,  it is an issue that has many sides and the outcome will likely change how musicians make and distribute their music.


Metallica’s, Lars Ulrich:  "With each project, we go through a grueling creative process to achieve music that we feel is representative of Metallica at that very moment in our lives.  We take our craft -- whether it be the music, the lyrics, or the photos and artwork -- very seriously, as do most artists. It is therefore sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is. From a business standpoint, this is about piracy -- a.k.a. taking something that doesn't belong to you; and that is morally and legally wrong. The trading of such information -- whether it's music, videos, photos, or whatever -- is, in effect, trafficking in stolen goods."


On the surface, there is very little that can be argued about this assessment.  However, it’s also not as simple an issue as “artistic control,”  like Lars would want us to believe. 


Several years ago Metallica went head-to-head with Elektra Records and came out of the fight with, reportedly, an unprecedented 50-50 partnership with the label, gaining more control over their product than most artists have ever had in the history of recorded music.  An example of the scope of their success in this battle is that you will not find Metallica product featured in any of the several “CD clubs” sponsored by the record labels, that produce little or no revenue for the artists that are featured.  The victory in their battle with Elektra (and another earlier successful fight against Metal Blade Records) places Metallica in an extremely small fraternity of musicians that could REALLY gain something from this battle with Napster.  So for Metallica, it is a battle to continue to have “artistic control” after some previously hard fought battles to gain control.  The problem is that most musicians NEVER had, or have NEVER been able to gain control of their work from the tight stranglehold that the record labels have on their music.  This is probably why there are only a few other artists that are paying lip service to condemning Napster, while some are mute and others are speaking in favor of the technology that could, when all is said and done, give them the control that Metallica has had to fight so hard to get and keep.


When asked at the Congressional Hearings on the “Future of Digital Music” what plans Metallica has to embrace the new technology in marketing the bands future music, Lars said that he couldn’t worry about that until the current battle with Napster was resolved and that, as an “artist,” it wasn’t for him to decide.  It would seem that if you are interested in jumping into the fray of protecting “artist rights” in the digital world, that you would, at least, have an idea of the alternatives or a way to direct the technology away from the open flood gate of the “free music download.”  Instead, Lars was the only one on the panel, comprised of representatives from both sides of the issue, that made the call for governmental intervention with some kind of legislation.  It’s clear that, in spite of Metallica’s stance on the situation, most detractors of Napster and other file sharing tools are not anxious to have the government step in and muddy the waters anymore than they already are.


Hole’s, Courtney Love:  "It's become quite fashionable lately for artists to express outrage at music piracy, and I'm a fashionable gal. Stealing artists' music without paying for it fairly is absolutely piracy, and I'm talking about major-label recording contracts, not Napster.....It's a radical time for musicians, a really revolutionary time, and I believe revolutions are a lot more fun than cash......If these major labels aren't going to do for me what I can do for myself with my nineteen-year-old Web mistress Brooke [Barnett], which is drive millions and millions of people in less than a month by just doing that website, and providing real content for that Web site, than they can go to hell."


It remains to be seen whether an artist has the resources or ability to provide many of the “services”, including marketing and distribution, that a record label is able to provide.   It is clear, however, that some musicians are willing to give it a try -- and get REAL “control” of their art.  It can also be argued that the record labels, as part of their job and service to an artist, should have been “on top” of this Internet situation years ago.  Anyone with a basic computer knowledge five years ago could have predicted the potential for “file trading” on the Internet.  The record labels, who have gained the most profit from the “old system”, refused to step away from the gravy train long enough to figure out how to turn a profit from the “new system.”  Now the barn door is open and it may be too late, although recently several labels have hooked up with, former adversary, MP3.com to distribute music downloads.  There is some school of thought that Napster, who has yet to make any money in their venture, will cut similar deals down the line, which might require either payment for the software or small download fees.


Seagram Co. CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr.:  “We will fight for our rights and those of our artists, whose work, whose creations, whose property are being stolen and exploited. We will take our fight to every territory, in every court in every venue, wherever our fundamental rights are being assaulted and attacked.  All of us who believe in the right to own property, and therefore in the sanctity of the copyright, will be fiercely aggressive in this area.”


How valiant of Mr. Bronfman.  Maybe the record labels are not that bad after all?  Maybe they do believe in artist’s rights?  Before you uninstall your Napster software and burn all the CD’s you’ve made from those Napster downloads, consider this:  Currently Mr. Bronfman’s company, along with most of the other record labels, are pushing for a change in the copyright laws that would make all sound recordings “work for hire” and property of the record company -- not the artist.  So it’s no wonder that Mr. Bronfman is fighting for control of the artist’s music on the Internet, because if the “work for hire” legislation passes, then his company will be the rightful owner of the artist’s music that are under contract with his record labels.  It is the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), who represent most record companies, with their continued litigation against Napster that is making it clear that Bronfman’s threats are real.


Metallica is right that artists should control their music, but it appears they’re not only fighting the wrong people, but giving aid to the real enemies. 


© 2000 Mike Stark

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