Of MTV, Jammie Thomas & Dinosaurs
MTV on the moon, a single mom in court
Some 27 years ago today, the earth spun ever so slightly off its axis as MTV went on the air for the first time with a "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll" voice over as the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing was shown with an astronaut standing beside a flag with the new cable station's logo superimposed on it.
Appropriately, the Boggles' Video Killed The Radio Star was the first music video shown and at that very moment the music industry was changed forever.
And has never been the same as this greedy and arrogant cartel has suffered one setback after another because of its stubborn refusal to embrace the changes inherent in MTV revolution and then the digital revolution until forced to do so and unwillingness to reinvent itself as a multimedia leader and not a litigious dinosaur-esque follower.
While I feel sympathy for the thousands of record company and record store employees who have been pink slipped because of the industry's intransigence, I have watched this decline with great relish and particular interest as someone for whom music is an almost constant companion, who has had many musician friends (one now a millionaire but most of them of the starving artist variety), and as a one-time publicist and de facto road manager for an up-and-coming rock band that came thisclose to breaking into the big time.
Except for the evolution from 78 rpm to 33 rpm disk to cassette and CD and parallel evolution of monophonic sound to high fidelity and then stereo sound, the music industry had been marching in place in the decades between the collapse of the sheet-music business and the birth of MTV.
A small handful of powerful plantation owners determined who recorded the vast majority of commercially available music. The vast majority of artists signed recording and performing contracts entirely on the owners' terms and were routinely screwed out of royalties. Most radio stations played what the owners wanted played and the few independents had to struggle to stay on the air.
When the first wave of the digital revolution broke on the shore, the record industry believed that it could finesse this party crasher by producing bigger and bigger hits, but the opposite happened. And when Napster, the first big file-sharing service, arrived on the scene the industry's response was not to embrace it and confront online piracy issues head on, but to slay it.
As the ways of listening to and sharing music multiplied, the traditional market stagnated. The digital train had left the station, but instead of getting on board the industry kept calling out the lawyers, most infamously in the case of Jammie Thomas, a single mother of two from Minnesota who was successfully sued by the Recording Industry Association of America for file-sharing copyright infringement.
In November 2007, Thomas was ordered to pay $222,000 in damages, or about $9,250 for each of the 24 Kazza song files targeted by the RIAA by artists including Aerosmith, Green Day and Guns N' Roses.
The ongoing collapse of the physical music market -- as in CDs sold through retail outlets and online -- is now in its eighth year and is not even beginning to be offset by the growth of the digital market -- as in iTune downloads, subscriptions, online streaming and ringtones, although the industry has finally shaken off its arrogance and climbed on board with licensing deals with digital providers without cumbersome copy protections.
Meanwhile, musicians still are getting shafted.
Even in the best of times, a gold record selling 500,000 copies and grossing $7 million netted a musician only about $40,000 — or $10,000 each for a four-member band, and with so much great music out there today it is even harder to get noticed and played.
While some musicians have opted out of traditional record-company deals and sell directly to listeners, many still end up owing loan-shark record companies money and not the other way around.
And even the once revolutionary MTV has had to change its focus away from music videos to reality shows as YouTube and other Internet-based programming have eroded its core audience.