PM PT Chuck D: Music
wants to be free
"This is the most exciting time in music -- ever," said Chuck D, a champion of MP3 music and an unofficial spokesman for freely traded music on the Web.
Calling the Internet "music's biggest sensation since The Beatles, disco, and rap," the rapper vowed that free music-swapping sites, such as Napster, let talented musicians circumvent clueless and greedy record labels as well as talent scouts too lazy to seek out quality music.
The former leader of rap group Public Enemy now runs Rapstation.com, a multimedia site that promotes rap music by featuring, among other things, free songs and artist interviews. Chuck D was the featured speaker at CMJ Music Marathon, a four-day conference for music industry insiders.
As evidence of how much influence the Internet has had on the music industry in recent years -- particularly because of the high-profile litigation against Napster, MP3.com, and others -- the conference featured multiple Web panels.
fans be the filters
During his profanity-peppered speech, Chuck D said music labels were wasting their time trying to quash services such as Napster in the courts. As he put it, "Trying to stop that s--t is like trying to stop the rain."
A Mets fan, the rapper said he'd like to see the music industry more closely resemble the sports world, where "cream rises to the top."
In other words, a band from Akron, Ohio, should have as much chance of making it big as a ballplayer from the same place. The Web can help bands build an audience that reaches far beyond the borders of their hometown, he said.
Artists who use the Internet wisely won't have to wait for years to get their music to market or shell out thousands of dollars for the videos or the other promotional tools that get their music heard, he said.
"You can get in the game without being subjected to anybody letting you in the game," he told the crowd, whose members sported leather pants and T-shirts advertising bands that had toured musical hot spots from Steven's Point, Wisc., to Gunnison, Colo.
As alternative song-swapping services become a greater part of the musical landscape, Chuck D said that even the record labels are starting to realize what's so obvious to artists and their fans.
"Is the genie out of the
bottle?" he asked rhetorically. "Hell, yeah. And it ain't going back
It may be CMJ 2000 in NYC, but what the world truly cares about going into this weekend is the Yankees-Mets Subway Series, and Chuck D wasted no time playing the sports card in his speech. "It's a crazy time for sports right now," he said. "How many native New Yorkers we have here? [Cheers] Need I say more ... Let's go Mets!"
Chuck D used the Subway Series to draw a parallel between the "organization of baseball" and the "disorganized hustle" of the music business. Where in baseball, a good player almost always rises to the top; in music, however, good bands can easily be kept down and out.
"In sport, it wasn't a matter of whether you were good or whack, you could at least participate on some level," said Chuck D. "Music wasn't necessarily like that. As far as somebody from Akron, Ohio, if they had a real good band and wanted to get a recording contract, more often than not in the past, if they didn't start their own independent company, chances are they would do it, do it, do it, do it, do it -- never get a contract and be ass out."
Chuck D introduced the concept of the "intie" during his speech; that is, not a major label, not an indie label, but an "intie" -- Internet labels and artists. "That's the third level of recording artists, labels, and music industry participation," explained the rapper. "By 2002, I predict that there will be a million artists and more than a million labels all participating in the redistribution of music from artists, and creative output, to the people. It's the biggest music industry sensation since the Beatles, disco, and rap."
Chuck D, who is pro-Napster if you're counting, relayed the idea that in the past the buying public was at the mercy of the software and hardware manufacturers, who dictated the means of music distribution. "If you got this new thing -- a cassette -- the public couldn't make a cassette player," he said. "The public was subject to respond to the technology of the hardware makers and also be subservient in spending their dollars on the software manufacturers. Therefore, the public had no choice when they bought that Marvin Gaye album in 1971 for about $6.99 and bought the same damn thing 20 years later for $17. The period of 1986 to 1997 is known as the Big CD Scam."
In other words, when cassettes were invented, people were forced to re-purchase music they once owned on vinyl, then cassettes to CD's, and so on. For the first time is history, Chuck noted, the public is controlling the distribution of music through file-sharing. "File sharing," said Chuck D. "Trying to stop that shit is like trying to stop the rain. You've got some motherfuckers out there trying to control the weather and trying to stop the rain, barking up at the sky, clenching their fists at God. 'Stop! Stop!' And you put them right where they need to be, right in the motherfucking crazy house."
In closing, Chuck D compared the current Internet music revolution to the Big Bang Theory -- it's happening and there's not a damn thing we can do about it. In the rapper's view, the days of huge record company executives raking in the majority of the dough are long gone -- nowadays artists don't need it, they can do it themselves. And like baseball, the cream will rise to the top.
"More money will be made in
the future of music than ever before, the problem is that you will have a
million hands in the pot. Which means that if anybody think that they going to
end up getting as rich as [former CBS Records CEO] Walter Yetnikoff, you better
look at your script, revise some of your thinking -- them days is over."
The leader of influential rap group Public Enemy has been a pioneer in utilizing Internet technology, with a trailblazing website and web radio station; he has also been a tireless supporter of Napster and MP3 technology. Public Enemy was the first platinum-selling group to make an album available for digital downloading on MP3 prior to its commercial release.
The CMJ Music
Marathon, MusicFest, & Filmfest is set for October 19-22 at New York's
Hilton Hotel. It will feature more than 50 panels discussing music, the
Internet, film, and radio, as well as numerous music showcases.
to scoring, Chuck D is on the road performing as part of another group: Confrontation
Camp. Public Enemy member Professor Griff is also a member of the
Confrontation Camp, which released its debut album, Objects
In The Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, in July. The group makes rap
music from a rock 'n' roll perspective, according to Chuck D.