Left For Dead: even more broadsides from the seas of piracy
Only days after noting we didn't care much about the whole file-sharing fuss, comes the news that UK Music, the umbrella organisation supposedly representing labels, songwriters, musicians and producers have chosen this week to place an advert in The Guardian about the issue, almost a decade after Metallica went after Napster and with an end to the hand-wringing no nearer in sight.
With the Labour party conference in full swing, no doubt the advert has been designed to catch policy makers at their most enthused and, coming on the back of Lily Allen's much-publicised postings on the subject, may lead to pirate-bashing legislation being introduced sooner rather than later.
The advert reprints a blog post from Future of the Left's Andrew Falkous, originally uploaded in April after the band's new album was leaked online more than two months before the planned street date. Most genuine music fans will sympathise with his frustration at a year's worth of creative work being distributed freely without financial reward to its authors, and despair at the sneering tone that many leakers trumpet, as if distro-ing any release - even minor ones like this - is some kind of two-fingers in the eyes of The Man.
Falkous' post has been used to highlight that those most affected by piracy are the little guys, the bands just starting out - and not the Radioheads and AC/DCs of the world, which is essentially what Allen was trying to say too. But what's slightly disingenuous of UK Music in taking this tack is that it perpetuates the notion that acts like FotL can make a living through music.
And that, for the most part, is a lie.
In his posting, Falkous states "Some of us, in all honestly, just want to make the music we love and play it around the world without living in poverty," which, on the face of it, doesn't seem like an outrageous ambition.
And yet, let's think about where they fit into the scheme of things historically. Who were 4AD's (FotL's label) hopes ten years ago, before filesharing became as much of an issue? Gus Gus, Lakuna, The Hope Blister. Who were the acts storming the stages at Reading Festival 1999? Symposium, Kent, Ultrasound. Artists just as ambitious as 4AD's current roster but almost certainly not making any money from their music either. Of the 33 bands listed as playing the Radio 1 tent that year, no more than six are still making music under their original moniker - and one was a bottom-of-the bill Coldplay. That's not due to piracy: that's the result of 'musical differences', boredom, the demands of family life, the creative well running dry ... and the endless grind of financial penury that comes with having 'musician' stamped on your passport.
Only 4AD will know the sales forecasts and the reality, but what UK Music have done is peddle the lie that low and mid-grade indie musicians can spend the rest of their lives living the dream. For sure, CD sales are down and musicians are probably making less from their recordings than they used to, but 50% less of nothing is still nothing - the past 30 years of 'indie' music prove as much. For those of us of a certain age, we've spent years watching our favourite acts fall apart due to the merry-go-round of recording and touring and where still having enough of an audience to justify album number three was the exception rather than the rule. I know one musician who had deals in the UK, USA and Japan and probably sold four times as many records as today's moderately successful indie acts. Having been thoroughly stiffed by the managers and accountants, he was back on the dole within nine months of their debut album being released.
Our schools, our colleges, our hospitals, our Social Work departments - all staffed by ex-musicians who maybe did a couple of Reading Festivals back in the 90s and got one cover of Melody Maker. If you want a house in London, a nice car and a holiday with the kids once a year, become a teacher. Don't flog yourself in an indie band - 'cos it'll never fucking happen. Bands with three, four, five members can't survive on the scraps from 79p i-Tunes downloads, just like they've never been able to live comfortably sharing out the spoils from the few pennies due to them from a £10 CD.
So that's the reality of being a musician. A couple of years in the spotlight. A couple of albums. An audience ultimately so indifferent that you will find copies of your life's work at a car boot. Piracy? A short-term discomfort that will be dwarfed by the pain of realising that those who used to hang on your every word have left you behind for the real world of dirty nappies and MOTs.
Please don't plan on making a career in music. It will almost certainly end in tears for you - and broken hearts for us. We've seen it before and we'll see it again.
But please never stop making music. It makes the world a better place.