Chris Larry

Waking Up from Dinosaur Dreams: Why file-sharing and the death of copyright are good for musicians

By Chris Larry (from

"I am not threatened by file-sharing and lost revenue. If you are, then get the hell out of rock 'n' roll."

The music industry is going through a shift that threatens to destroy it but could also rebuild it. Mergers, huge sales figures, new technology, layoffs, and an almost unimaginable diversifying of the product have left all those involved in the process of making and selling music wondering what comes next. Previously held truths and practices are suddenly irrelevant. The Internet is buzzing daily with new ideas and concepts of music in an online world.

What is all this about? It comes down to a new generation's rallying cry for music access. But it's not about music alone: This battle will spill beyond music and set the standard for many Internet-related issues. As a musician as well as a fan, I want to help mold what the industry will become. I don't care about getting paid for my music. I am not opposed to getting paid in a militant anarchist squatter punk way, but money is not my motivation for making music. I wanted to be in the church chorus, volunteered for high school musicals, and even went to something called "Choir Camp." Somewhere all this morphed into playing in rock bands with ridiculous names like Papa Smurf and the Shrooms, and Simple Justice and the Ice Cream Socialists. It was something I did without even thinking about why. I am not especially good at it; I have basics and a whole lotta desire, but nobody says, "That boy is going to make it someday."

These days, my band the Hecklers plays a kind of stripped-down rock 'n' roll that appeals to only a few. We are a loud, socially offensive, poorly-played mess. In my best of all possible worlds, the Hecklers would be self-sufficient, but I expect no financial benefit from singing and playing guitar. Fact is, if I were playing music for conventional success my efforts would be a laugh.

So why do I do it? Because rock 'n' roll is my religion. I worship at the altar of the buzzing amplifier and driving backbeat.

Why are you playing music? If your reasons are similar to mine, then the ability to share your music easily should excite you, not scare you. I wouldn't care if every man, woman and child in the U.S. of A. downloaded my songs. I am not threatened by file-sharing and lost revenue. If you are, then get the hell out of rock 'n' roll.

"Imagine using your songs instead of marketing strategies or industry junkets to bring in fans."

New Standards for Success

One difference between the '60s and '70s and today is that then the possibility of success in music was much more viable. There were fewer bands, and dreams of making good existed in the heads of every would-be Beatle. Today, no one can deny the overpopulation of bands and musicians; we are more prevalent than SUVs on the Jersey Turnpike. It's inconceivable to think you'll have that hit or break through using old-fashioned methods.

This is why we need a new definition of success. I still dream of rabid fans and the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, but unlike musicians from the past I believe that non-corporate concepts like file sharing might allow that to come true. Imagine using your strongest asset -- the songs -- instead of marketing strategies or industry junkets, to bring in fans. Imagine being able to bring your music to like-minded people without going into debt. If that means that some lose a small cut of their millions to such "crimes" as file swapping, we can't worry about it. It's music -- not stocks and bonds. I am not going to accuse people of stealing and criminalize the act of enjoying and exploring music. After all, what we do is based on a folk tradition of sharing that creates a common cultural/musical language. Music history is littered with examples of cheap or free exposure to diverse music, which spawns innovation and special performers. Ask the Jamaican musicians who picked up radio signals from the U.S., the Caribbean, and Central America, digested it, and spit out a beat the world would dance to for decades. If a fan uses Napster to learn about Bill Monroe, Lightin' Hopkins, the Dead Boys, Al Green, the Runaways, or Public Enemy, then everybody gains through cultivating a smarter public. Unfortunately, the debate has centered on stamping out new ideas, not on nurturing them. Napster's recent victory in appeals court at least allows the discussion to continue. FreeNet's 23-year-old designer, Ireland's Ian Clarke, is in L.A. trying to start Upriser, a company that will attempt to compensate musicians through means other than copyright.

The health of music needs to be our main concern. 'N Sync, Britney Spears, and Celine Dion are selling huge units, but that doesn't mean that music is okay. As the Big 4 record labels spend millions on superstars, music as a whole suffers and fights to survive. Whether you're a Baby Boomer who still chases your dream of the big time or a 14-year-old whiz kid creating beats on the family PC, you can't let the musical power elite like Lars Ulrich, Sheryl Crow, and the RIAA force-feed you their ideas of what's good for the artist.

Instead of waiting for the trickledown, let's bust open the dam. Traditional and conventional ways of communicating my music won't work, but with the Internet and the power of computers, worlds of new methods to share, experience, make, and sell are open to me.

Why fight to protect a system that marginally protects me on the slim chance that I might "succeed" when I can help build a system that might allow me to keep music as a force in my life?

My belief in that ideal is not for sale.

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