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Damned artists and their money grabbing

September 19, 2013

Uh oh, I’m in that sort of mood again. This is the second of three tirades against celebrities I have written, the first of which… Will turn up somewhere. [This is what I get for writing and uploading out of sequence.] Not that I have anything in particular against celebrities; in any group of people, I am usually the one who reminds the more cuckoo members of the party that celebrities are, in fact, human beings. I know in the case of actors this is hard to tell, since they go to such strenuous effort to convince us of their humanity that it’s painful to watch. But enough about actors, I already had a go at them on the Bafta blog.

It’s the turn of the musicians, now. Like all these guys, they’re slaves to the ideas created for them by the public, since humans search for Gods as pigs search for truffles. I was witness the other day to a trivia note on a BBC 4 production, where non-American musicians (wow, what a find) came on stage and covered American classic singles from musicals and the like. Michael Bublé came on and sung Come Fly With Me by Frank Sinatra and while he did this, a little box appeared at the bottom of the screen informing me that Mr Bublé chooses not to drink before a performance so he can “stay sharp for his fans”.

Now, I’m not having a go at Bublé personally. Really, I’m not. But do the guys at the Beeb really expect me to be impressed by that? “Behold this man! He can make it through a day’s work without getting pie-eyed as a pudding and snogging Mrs Jones over the grand piano! I wish I could do that.”

This is us, the public, all over. We apply different rules to these guys because we need them to be different in order to elevate us. If they aren’t outrageous every second of every day, we complain. And again when they set bad examples. Well, why the fuck shouldn’t they? They’re just people, aren’t they? They get paid to ponce around on stage, not to be moral. It is not their concern if people follow their example, since most of the time the dodgy things they get caught doing are only caught because some git with a telephoto lens is lurking outside their window. Blame him if the kids start copying.

But the thing that really gets me is the attitude towards creative ownership and money. A successful pop star will make a phenomenal amount of money, and I think such a person (not mentioning any names) would be amazingly audacious to make a fuss about illegal downloading. Let’s face it; if you’re so famous that your music is ubiquitous enough that anyone can (and will) share it with anyone else, you’re making enough money.

Ticket prices for your tours cost the same as a small car, and your minions facilitate the auctioning of concert seats online as if the world has declared a National Seat Shortage, then request payment by only credit card, presumably because otherwise people won’t be able to afford them. Everyone wants you wearing their clothes, their perfume, to hear you talk about what you had for breakfast. You’re paid just to be you.

It’s not about the “principle”, either. If you want to talk about principles, here’s a principle; art shouldn’t just be for the people who can afford it. You can take a book out the library for free, go to an art gallery for free… What makes musicians so damn special? Christ, if I wrote music, I’d be gratified if anyone wanted to listen to it. Gratified. I wouldn’t expect them all to pay me without knowing what they’re getting. People download because they want to know that, if they do make a purchase, it won’t be one they’ll regret. It’s all going digital now and it’s not like you can return a digital file to the seller.

And so bloody expensive! 79p a track sounds fair if it distributes equally among the people who make the music, but it obviously doesn’t, because people who produce synth and electronic drums don’t make anything like as much as the front man. I expect they earn a wage, not commission. Expecting endless money to come for a few months work is laziness and greed, pure and simple, plus a sense of entitlement that would put a teenager to shame. Your average singer writes maybe a vocal melody and some lyrics, sometimes not even that. Your average song is three minutes long, and the person getting most of the money isn’t the person who did most of the work for that three minutes.

Three minutes! I’ve bought DVDs for less than 79p and a feature length film is two hours long – and a film is made by hundreds of people, not hidden dozens. Yet they all seem to get along all right financially. Even runners make minimum wage, and runners are to film-makers what work-experience kids are to office drones.

See, for films, price is affected by age and demand. A film from the mid nineties is neither a classic nor a new blockbuster, so if it is not a niche indie film or altered foreign import which needs a high price to make its money back, the price will drop to reflect this; especially since DVDs can legitimately be sold from one third party to another without more money changing hands to production company and associates. It works because you have to shoot low to undercut licensed sellers when selling second hand, so you don’t make a profit from selling on things you bought from someone else unless you’re very canny.

This is not the case for music, evidently, since what you are doing when you download illegally is exactly that; a transferral from third party to third party. Better yet, strangers do this for other strangers and ask for no money in return; to my mind, the people who designed and keep updated YoutubeMP3 are internet heroes, because they’re giving the whole world something which a small section of people want to hug to their chest like a diseased childhood teddy bear.

The law in this regard is about numbers I think; you are not allowed to play a film to a public audience (even for free) without expressed permission from the producers. They do not specify the size, so I assume they mean a sort of home cinema type set-up. It seems arbitrary to me, since the same film can be passed from friend-to-friend, seller-to-buyer indefinitely without issue. Because of Youtube, music can be shared on a much larger scale. A frightening scale.

What no one ever acknowledges is, illegal downloads would not happen if music wasn’t so expensive. If you buy a selection of your favourite singles, a selection of three minute songs lasting two hours (same as a film) would be comprised of 40 songs. That would be £31.60 – though not so for an album, which is bought at a discount, once again rewarding you for buying crap that you didn’t really want. Even so, those are about £20, average. I don’t ever buy films or books for that price. I barely spend over a tenner. And it doesn’t matter if you bought songs from the late Rambling Syd Rumpo, they would still be 79p a pop. It’s a rip off.

Which brings me neatly to my next gripe. Copyright doesn’t end when the people who created the material die, it just keeps on coming in. The money is no good to a person who is dead. We aren’t Vikings, for fuck’s sake, we don’t entomb people with their wordy possessions. If we did, we’d have to keep breaking them open and depositing more truckloads of money in there every month. I hope the afterlife has a well-stocked Selfridges.

More irritating still, rich people buy the rights to songs, meaning essentially just that rich people are rewarded for being rich by getting richer, if you can call that a reward. What artist in their right mind wants someone else to own their music? It was made to be shared with people who would enjoy it, not to make a little nest egg for a stranger’s distant descendants. If I could have it my way, the instant one of the people involved in its production die, their earnings aren’t distributed to their next of kin but are instead deducted from the overall price. After all, when you lift crates for a living, your children don’t get money for every day that the crate sits exactly where you put it.

As it is, usually their children and distant relatives get it. Don’t get me wrong, whatever the artist earned while alive should be put in a bank and kept for the Dearly Beloved, like how normal people operate, but what rights do they have over money coming in post mortem? The family didn’t earn it any more than you or I did. I’m sure they don’t do nothing with their lives, but whatever they do is unfairly subsidised with an necessary amount of money, while people from other families regardless of their abilities have to start from the bottom, simply because their Dad wasn’t Bob Geldof. And we sit here and wonder why we live in such an unequal society.

Actually, I think it’s debatable that the original artist even earned it themselves. I am firmly of the belief that no one “earns” one million dollars, much less several million. Because one million dollars is a ridiculous amount of money which you will never spend in your entire life if you bought everything you ever wanted twice over. Try and think about it, go on. Try and envision one million dollars. What ever you just thought of, the stacks of money bales should be at least fifty times bigger. It’s a lot of money. Once you’ve got that lying around, you’re buying custom-made ivory jet-skis and keeping them in the garage just because you can.

I just think celebs – more musicians than anyone – are full of shit when they talk as though they’re entitled to every penny. After all, talent is ascribed not earned. There are those working equally as hard in less glamorous professions, and have no cause to say they’ve “earned” it, because they don’t have enough earnings that they feel the need to justify them. Probably the surest way to tell if someone has too much money (and knows it) is if they constantly tell you how hard it was to get.

It wasn’t. Let’s just be honest with ourselves, here; a career where people allow – no, expect – you to be pissed off your face for your entire working life is not harder than spending all of it cold sober with your hand stuck down a toilet. We’re obsessed with fake humility and we think that if a celebrity says he loves his life and his money, he’s being an insensitive arsehole. But at least he’s honest, at least he isn’t trying to be on the level of people who don’t want him on their level, knowing that he doesn’t belong there. Even if he came from there once, he’s well shot of it now. Money changes the way people think about themselves and their achievements. Once you’ve got it, you want to keep it, so you have to tell yourself you deserve it.

Besides, let’s face it, if one of our current celebrities was with you when you were cleaning the toilets, you’d probably kill him out of sheer annoyance.

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From → Media Analysis

3 Comments
  1. a ginger-bearded oaf permalink

    Possibly you’re shooting the wrong target. Michael Buble is probably the hapless pawn of some enormous, soulless conglomerate who constructed him from a normal person using the power of absolute cynicism. The terrible truth is that 99% of all music profits are recycled into a corporate entity that exists to absorb every piece of talent available and drain it to the husk, thereby extracting maximal amounts of filthy lucre – most artists signed are perpetually in debt to said companies despite making them tidy sums, naively sign over their creative rights or even their very name (as happened with Prince) and are generally subjected to intense pressure to be successful all of the time or be disposed off like yesterday’s dog-chewed newspaper. They might get big headed whilst they’re living the dream but being surrounded by sycophants and adoration will turn anyone’s head backwards. The tragedy is that it’s all lies, and is only done so long as company X can milk the profits from this confused soul and to ensure they don’t defect to company Y.

    Just look at Justin Bieber. There’s a person who might have been an attractive, normal child but who the industrialised meat farm we call the ‘music industry’ has transformed into an emotionally stunted, spoiled ruin of a person. God help the lad when he goes past 25. Or how about Britney Spears? Michael Jackson?

    Not that all record labels are like this. But a lot are, especially the big pop-music producing ones.

  2. a ginger-bearded oaf permalink

    Oh, and of course these companies only exist because of us and our continued funding. The only solution? stop listening to music and make your own with rubber bands and an oddly shaped twig

  3. I agree! I totally agree. If you read “Famous? You’re meat.” on this blog you’ll see that exact idea about Bieber and the rest of them being expressed there. I have no doubt that record labels are a pile of shit and I can tell that they suck the life out of otherwise promising artists. It seems to be the only way they can “come up”, but once their up I think they should leave for their own good, since their fans will follow them anywhere and they get creative freedom. It’s a horrible system. Artist get my criticism when they criticise punters rather than labels and when they act like entitled little shits. I’ve heard enough out of them to know that a couple of them don’t know their born, pressure or no pressure. Nonetheless, I feel sorry for the way they are treated in the media. Clearly, they have no grounding in reality.

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