The Marginal Prophets are a San Francisco metal/rap/industrial group. The following is a commentary on Napster they've been distributing on the Internet….

"So, Jeff, tell us: where do you stand on this whole Napster thingie?"

Well, as long as you've asked: At first, it was a tough call. I mean, I've been swallowing and following the rock star dream for so long, that my initial reaction was like "Woah, they're taking money away from musicians." But now that I've had time to think, and now that I've read about a million editorials and opinions about it, I've come to the following conclusion.

Anybody can make music. Anyone can create it and record it. The hardest part is getting the music TO PEOPLE. Why is that hard? Because the distribution channels, the ways in which you would get that music to anyone who is interested in it, are controlled by the major labels (for the most part.)

It is not in the major label's interest to flood the market with ALL the good music there is out there. It is in their interest to flood the market with THEIR music, the limited number of bands and musicians who they have selected and developed and marketed. Sure, I can go into a Tower Records in San Francisco and ask them to carry our CD, but it would be almost impossible - and certainly a very expensive prospect - to go into EVERY Tower Records across America and place my CD in them on consignment. If I want to get into every Tower, I need to go through a distribution channel.

Napster, the internet, MP3's, etc. change the whole distribution system. Suddenly, you don't even need a CD any more. The music has been converted into pure data - data that can be distributed over a wire, not in the back of a truck to a rack in a Tower Records store.

Why do I think this is a good thing? Because, I believe, it will lead to music being judged on its MERIT, not its availability. "Do I like this song?" will be the criteria, not "What's that song that I heard on the radio 35 times so that now, because I've been exposed to it so much, I find myself liking it?"

In other words, if you remove the control that the major labels have over distribution, and make getting music to people as easy as sending email to people (sometimes referred to as "leveling the playing field") people will now be able to choose what they want to listen to based on HOW GOOD the SONG IS. They no longer will be drawn to it simply because it's the only game in town.

Here's an example, a parallel, that doesn't involve music. Let's say you're driving to Las Vegas. You are going through the desert. Let's also say that you hate Fanta Grape Soda.

You pull into a gas station in the middle of Bumfudge, Nevada.

"Can I get a Coke?" you ask the grizzled attendant.

"No Coke in these parts, Mr. City-Slicker." "How about a Dr. Pepper?"

"Folks didn't take to it, I'm afraid."

"Well, what have you got to drink?"

"Fanta Grape Soda. It's real popular 'round here."

So, you either BUY the Fanta or you GO THIRSTY. Chances are, you buy it, because that's all there is available to you in the store. Even though there are hundreds of soda pops produced in America, that store carries Fanta, and only Fanta.

Go into Best Buy, or Target, or Wal-Mart. Think you're going to find a Marginal Prophets CD in there? Or the latest disc from Blue Period, or any other SF band? You'll find the major label stuff, and, not surprisingly, you'll buy the major label stuff. Especially if you live in a place where Best Buy or Target or Wal-Mart is your only outlet for music. (Thankfully, in the Bay Area, we've got lots of choices. But folks in Wisconsin may not be as lucky.)

Likewise, when all you hear on the radio is Britney Spears, and all you see on MTV is Britney Spears, and when you walk into Tower you see a huge Britney Spears poster on the wall and her CD is on sale on the rack closest to the cash register, well, it's not surprising that most people end up buying Britney Spears (or The Offspring, or Blink-182, or any other waaaaay over-hyped band.) I'm not saying their music is bad - because that's a matter of opinion. I'm saying it sells because to the majority of America, that's all the music that is available to them.

Sure, there's always been alternative music, and not everyone buys Britney Spears. But the majority of the people DON'T seek out new bands, new music. They wait for Cake to be played on Live 105 before they buy the Cake CD, in spite of the fact that the Cake songs that were on the radio from their first CD were EXACTLY THE SAME SONGS that Cake had produced when they put out the CD themselves, independently. The only thing that changed was the label. The production was the same. The songs were the same. Only now, it came to Live 105 from Capricorn, instead of from "Cake's Basement Records" or whatever.

Eminem has been making records for years, but it was only when his music was put out by a major label that he "blew up", that his songs got on the radio, that he sold MILLIONS of CDs, not just 10,000 - 20,000 copies to the "underground."

What's stopping a Marginal Prophets song from being played 6 times a day, every day on a commercial radio station? It's because it's not on a major label, plain and simple. It's not because the song isn't good, or the production values aren't up to snuff. It's because they don't play music that isn't on a major. (And I mean in a regular rotation. Obviously there's the Local Lounge or specialty shows where they spin a local band once or twice, but there's big difference between that and getting played 28 to 40 times a week.)

So, imagine, a world in which MANY musicians sold 10,000 - 20,000 CDs instead of one where a very select FEW sold millions. Or, if Napster eliminates the sale of CDs entirely, imagine a world where MANY musicians play in front of 200 - 500 fans in all the markets, versus a select handful of musicians playing a live show in front of thousands of fans.

One of the guys in the group Negativeland had this to say: (and I'm paraphrasing here) Users are now realizing that the major labels are not the only game in town. Suddenly, that game can be Bypassed. Is it illegal to bypass them? OF COURSE IT'S ILLEGAL. But just because it's illegal, that doesn't mean it isn't a better idea. It means it's "wrong" because it goes against the status quo. That hasn't stopped other SUPERIOR ideas from taking over everyone's imagination before, and showing up bad, self serving laws for what they are. (The bad, self-serving laws that the record labels created and that they continually lobby congress to enforce.)

So, in short (HA! Not possible at this point!) anything that levels the playing field, that opens up my music to MILLIONS of people, instead of a few thousand, anything that threatens the strangle-hold of the major labels on MUSIC, something that up until very recently was not viewed as a commodity to be owned and sold, but simply a pass time to be enjoyed and created by anyone who could play an instrument or sing a tune, anything that does that is a good thing.

And if I don't make a million dollars from it, because everyone downloaded my music for free, that's okay, 'cause you know what? The more people who hear my songs, the happier I am. Sure, it would be great to be one of the handful of acts that wins the "rock and roll lottery" and gets put on the radio and sells a million records. The chances of that happening are pretty slim. But the chances that some girl in Reykjavik, Iceland can download "Like This!" and start bobbing her head to a song that me and Keith wrote, they just got a whole lot better.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, feel FREE to do whatever you possibly can to spread the word of The Prophets. Post our whole CD on Napster, Mac-ster, Gnutella, Free-Net, and whatever comes along next week. Trade MP3 files with your compadres. Let our tunes rise to the top because they kick ass, not because someone forcefed them down the public's throat. Let them be judged on how funky they are, how good are the lyrics, how cool is the musicianship, and not how slick was the video.

-jeff kramer
Gamma Ray Records / The Marginal Prophets
August, 2000

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