Pete Townshend


10 January 2001
Napster

I checked out the site yesterday with my son. I was amazed how quickly one
can gather together good quality tracks. This is because a lot of people in
the USA have their Internet service provided by cable companies, and their
lines are open pretty much all the time. It's usually possible to find a
copy of what you want to listen to.

My son regarded what we did as illegal. He kept saying it was wrong to steal
the music. I told him we were listening to it, just that. When we were
finished we could trash it if he preferred. If he wants to fight for my
rights he could call up BMI and ask them why my broadcast-related payments
were so low during the years The Who were in the top 10 AOR playlists. He
might ask them why during the 1989 Who tour, when we paid a huge sum of
money to BMI for the right to perform songs I had written, they eventually
paid me (after a lot of complaining from my manager) a tiny portion of that
sum, excusing themselves because their main payout area that year was
Nashville.

Two things struck me looking at Napster. One was hooray - at last I might as
well say fuck BMI. They are not protecting me any more, if they ever did.

The other was ..... now I have BT openworld ADSL (which runs at about
500kbps at its best) everything seems easier simply because it's so much
faster. When your computer hangs, you know about it sooner. When you've
connected to a server you know straight away. Even if some downloads still
take time, getting hooked up in the first place seems so much quicker.

What is immediately clear is that the future is Broadband entertainment.
There is now no question in my mind. I wonder who will be the first artist
to offer a daily live performance programme?

The second fact was that when I typed in my own name there was such a lot of
stuff. Even very obscure material was there. This raises an interesting
hypothetical point. Supposing a bootlegger gathered up rare tracks and put
together some interesting artwork, and - with a limited edition - managed to
sell say 2000 to Japanese collectors. Does the involved editorial and
graphic creative work (necessary to make the package interesting enough to
sell) justify the rip?

As things stand I think there is enough for everyone. Many bootleggers do
better work repackaging than record companies. That's because they are often
fans. But many bootleggers are not fans. They produce conterfeit CDs in huge
volume. Mo Ostin admitted as much to me once back in 1982 when WB were
chasing Pacific rim bootleggers who were producing better quality vinyl than
they were.

Ultimately, in the face of all this exploitation of my art, whether by fans,
criminals or incestuous and lazy institutions like BMI, I do feel gently
forced into reliance on what only I can do - that is, to perform live, and
to constantly produce new work.

If everything I do is immediately used by others for their own collateral
will there be an inevitable fall in quality in what I do? By turning out too
much, will I fail to honour my audience? I think not. As things stand I am
aware I rarely do enough. And, as so many artists have said, radio stations,
newspapers and magazines have freely used and abused the reputation, work
and images of pop artists for the last 50 years. Artists cannot control
over-exposure of their image. They can only run with publicity and hope for
the best.

What's my reality? My reality is that because of the certain knowledge
(gathered in the main from the internet) that people want to hear my music,
I am writing today. I run a web site. I give away some of my music. If it is
packaged well I sell it. I was armed with information gathered from the
internet when I approached last year's Who touring work. I was certain we
would sell out wherever we played, and barring the loss of a ticket here or
there, we sold out. (How nice for BMI).

There may be a fall in quality if I try to do too much. A performance on the
web every day might be a little crazy. But many pop and country artists have
played hundreds of shows a year all their lives. An album release every week
is too much. But most musicians play constanly, and as I have found,
generate a huge volume of recorded material that is never released. This is
not always because it bad. Sometimes it is not released because it is not
properly targetted, or is ill-timed, doesn't fit the mood of the day.

When you spin live televisual webcasting into this soup, and only universal
Broadband will make this financially feasible, everything starts to look
even more challenging for the artist. When to write, work and rest will be
an even tougher question when any market gap you leave is filled not only by
copycat artists, but also by bootleggers.

Seriously, can I expect an organisation like BMI, who are merely assigned
collectors (and sometimes distributors) of cash to protect me? I think not.
It seems that if I rest today, I may be exploited by bootleggers, but at
least I am not forgotten. The way it used to be was that if an artist took
two or three years out, they might never get back, not without a huge
touring audience behind them. Today the problem is a different one. If I
wish to take time out, how can I influence the way my work is exploited by
others?

Answer - I can't. But in fact I have never been in control of that.

www.petetownshend.com

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