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Extra Virgin

‘It’s like, freaky, man. Real freaky.’

‘Since when have you been a hippy from the sixties, Nigel?’ (As you are probably aware, Reg’s pretentious friend sets my teeth on edge, even more so when he speaks to me with a bizarre accent.)

‘You look like an Irwin, man.’

‘Eh?’

‘You look like your name should be Irwin. Irwin Lawrence.’

‘Have you been drinking with Reg all day again, Nigel?’

‘Nope. Been buying olive oil for the dips, baby, you dig?’

‘Why are you talking like an idiot?’

‘We’ve got chicks coming round to the house tonight, man. It’s Reg’s idea to have a sixties themed evening. I’m making the dips. Dug out my old kaftan this morning, I did. Know where I can buy any incense in this square village, baby?’

‘No.’

‘You should come, Irwin, man. One of the chicks coming is a sixty-five year old virgin.’

‘Stop calling me Irwin.’

‘You got it, man. Crazy.’

‘Good grief.’

The great rock and roll swindle

As an independent musician I am acutely aware of the way the music industry is changing. The slow and steady demise of the record label as a concept is something that all independent musicians benefit from and I, like many of my peers, look forward to the day when full transparency exists between artist and audience, allowing the public to make a fully informed decision when choosing what to listen to and what to support.

Today I would like to share something that has been on my mind for a little while. Something that occured to me when discussing some of the dirty tricks employed by record labels as they struggle to hang on, grasping at every scrap of income they can steal from the artist and the audience.

If I’m right, the record labels have managed to pull off the greatest swindle in the history of the music industry.

I’ll explain.

Once upon a time things were easy for the record labels. They chose who got signed, they controlled radio, they controlled distribution and they controlled the audience.

The internet changed all of that, sapping the power of the labels by facilitating direct communication and relationship building between artist and audience.

The internet also allowed audiences to circumnavigate those labels that prevented their musicians from enjoying any direct relationship. Napster happened. The original Napster, not the corporate piece of junk it has become, meant that the public didn’t have to pay if they didn’t want to.

Of course, independent musicians were already reaching out to their audience so they, and I include myself in that group, couldn’t care less about the fate of the labels. From a musicians point of view, watching the public steal from the record labels was a little like watching a little kid knock out a bully. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but watching the record labels get their comeuppance was something of a guilty pleasure.

And who doesn’t feel a little smile inside when a bully takes one square on the chin and runs away crying?

With money haemorrhaging from their hole ridden business model, the labels immediately tried to lock everything down.

And every step they took, every cowardly application of digital rights management, was met with even more file sharing, even more illegal downloading. Music lovers, as they learned more and more about how the labels had held down real music whilst attempting to force feed the world a steady diet of sonic effluent, became more and more cunning, more and more determined to show the middle men the door.

The labels had to find a way to make money.

And they did.

The subscription system was floated as an idea. Give everyone limited access to everything in a specific label’s catalogue for a monthly fee.

It didn’t work. Music lovers didn’t want to pay a monthly fee for the same old junk.

The illegal download continued. The file sharing raged on. The labels continued to lost the battle.

Or did they?

How could the record labels make money from the very file sharing and illegal downloading they claim to want to stop?

It’s simple when you pull back for a second.

Think about it. Who owns the big internet service providers?

Think about companies like Time Warner and Virgin. Those companies have arms that happily take a monthly fee from millions of people in return for internet access.

The record labels, the big ones at least, have found a way to make money from the file sharing, from the illegal downloading, by simply charging the public for access to the systems that allow them to share and to download.

If this is true, why do the labels continue to whine and moan about piracy? Why not just tacitly endorse it and enjoy the monthly income from the ISP wing of the business empires?

Because the moment they admit to taking money to allow people to download and share music they will have to pay royalties to the musicians responsible for the material that is being downloaded and shared.

They win.

They win because they are able to keep 100% of the money

And the money they make allows them to continue pumping aural sewage.

What’s the solution? Use an independent ISP.

Am I right? It’s impossible to be sure. Maybe I’m just a typical independent musician, angry with the record labels for hoodwinking the public, looking for patterns that aren’t really there.

Or maybe I’ve hit the nail on the head.