TheThe takes a stand on the music biz

July 20, 2000


After much deliberation I have decided to offer track by track, week by week free downloads of my latest album 'NakedSelf' from my official website:

This decision has not been taken lightly and below I explain the reasons why. As the tensions between artist and merchant are rising very fast I also want to stress the positive in this statement as I think this is an exhilarating time to be involved in music.


A battle between the powers that be versus the powers that will be.

Through their short sighted arrogance and greed, the major label media conglomerates are sowing the seeds for their own destruction. Artists are now poised to come off the nipple of the major labels and finally stand on their own two feet. With this greater responsibility will come a greater workload but artists can finally become masters of their own destinies. New technology, both in cheap, high quality recording equipment and the tremendous potential of the Internet, mean that it's possible for musicians to fund their own recordings, own their own copyrights, distribute their own music and control their own careers. The audience will begin to deal with the artist direct and the middle men will be cut down to size.


I've been in bands since I was an 11 year old kid and I've been earning from music since the age of 15 when I started working for a publisher and recording studio. I have seen the industry from many angles and through many eras. I'm also blessed with a solid and loyal global audience of approximately 750,000 for each of my 7 albums, a sales figure that was once enough to keep artist and Record Company in bread and jam, though not any more it seems. Obviously the sales potential of TheThe is not in the same league as the Limp Bizkits, Offspring and *NSYNCs of this world, yet each label has (or had) a dozen artists like TheThe, each with a solid and loyal fanatic audience, each selling many CDs and each serving as a creative beacon attracting other artists, some who go on to sell millions of albums of their own.

Once these artists made sense to the shareholders.

Until now.

Although the range and diversity of music being created and performed has never been wider, the traditional outlets for music have never been more restrictive.

In the blue corner: the threat (real and perceived) of MP3/Napster, digital piracy and the subsequent debates about copyright laws and intellectual property rights.

Deep in the red corner: the rampant corporate greed of the media conglomerates, major labels and radio stations which is marginalising more and more artists by the week and forcing them to look at alternative ways of distributing their music.

All the above events are converging and have placed us on the threshold of a watershed in the music business that I believe will dwarf the punk revolution in its ultimate significance.


Vivendi have just swallowed Seagrams who took over PolyGram and merged it with Universal who had bought Interscope who'd purchased nothing Records (home to Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and TheThe)

In order to get the green light for the Universal/PolyGram merger, Seagrams promised their shareholders a return on cuts, not profits. They have a huge artist stable raped from three established major labels and two thirds has got to go, bringing it down to a trim, wealthy machine made up of just the plump ripe sellers. Millions of sales are now required to cover the increasing overheads at these labels. Overheads increased through ludicrous executive bonus payouts, inflated expense accounts and the quest for the Porsche. The artist is put to work harder and faster, in order to feed the machine.

VivendiUniversalSonyAOLTimeEmiWarnerBMG, all represent a basket of share dividends to holders who are quick to move on when the coming gets tough. Oasis Brand may be less appealing than Heinz Beans right now.

After a 7 year lay off I recently released 'NakedSelf', an album that is generally considered one of the best of my career to some of the best reviews I've ever had (check the website). I've also been on tour since November 1999 selling out shows by word of mouth across Europe and America to fantastic audience response. Yet the reaction from Interscope/Universal has been destructive and negative in the extreme. Their utter dependence on the radio means that the good ship TheThe is abandoned as soon as the fear of no-play takes hold. They can think of no alternative and why should they when they can swiftly move on to the next act on the plank (step forward Beck, whoops! step forward Nine Inch Nails..oh dear, No Doubt..Ouch! Chris Cornell....?) One act after another has fallen into the ocean. Being signed to the Universal conglomerate has been like being trapped on a cruise on the Mary Celeste. The lights are on but nobody's home.


I know what questions to ask in order to find out when people are doing their jobs and when they're not. Artists are often able to gain the confidence of record company employees who'll tell us things about their company they won't admit to their bosses or co-workers. Though most are afraid to admit it publicly, morale is now very, very low at the Universal conglomerate (at least 6 people I've worked closely with on my new album have walked out on the company and I know of several more who are planning to follow soon). The Seagrams takeover and subsequent merger of Universal and PolyGram was very traumatic, not only for many artists on the label, but also for many of the employees. There are many decent hard working people in this company who wanted to work in the music business for all the right reasons but now find their hands are tied behind their backs as they are not allowed to get behind the projects they really believe in. Seagrams bottle drinks and music using the same machine and the sheer incompetence of this conglomerate just beggars belief. To fully list all the cock ups that have utterly undermined and ruined the release of 'NakedSelf' would take all day and I'd like to stress the positive changes I'm anticipating in the industry rather than whinge and whine about the past year's mistakes. Suffice to say it has been the most disastrous episode of my entire career.


The million dollar question for all artists associated with this bloated company, and this is where it gets interesting, is this: Is this really just sheer incompetence or is this willful neglect? Because it does seem that Interscope/Universal can be very aggressive and successful with a certain type of popular music, so it begs the question that is it not really the fact that to pay for that preposterous merger, and in order to pacify their shareholders, Seagrams had to promise to make cutbacks rather than investments for future profits? Was an executive decision taken to only back acts that they thought were 'sure-fire' instant commercial hits palatable to corporate radio stations, rather than take a chance on any artist that doesn't conform to this bland criterion?


I loathe censorship even more than piracy and increasing numbers of artists are now becoming victims of censorship by apathy and neglect. They just cannot get their music heard through the traditional channels.

As Universal/Interscope seem either incapable or unwilling (or both) to distribute and promote my album properly, and as they've refused to give it back to me, then I've been forced to consider alternative ways of reaching my audience. After much deliberation I have therefore decided to offer free downloads of 'NakedSelf' on a song by song, week by week basis from my official site: By doing so I hope more people (including the bulk of my audience) will finally get the chance to hear this album and hopefully support me by purchasing this CD and future releases. For me to just walk away from 'NakedSelf' now would be like leaving a baby on a doorstep and I just can't do it. I believe in this album too much.

This is not a decision I've taken lightly, because as some of you may know, I've been widely quoted in recent months regarding my opposition to Napster. As musicians and songwriters, as in other professions, we have dedicated our lives to our art and craft and now face a situation of people stealing our work and passing it around the world for free. No one who has ever done a hard days work for a days pay would expect others to work for free, why should musicians? It's also a sad fact of life that the general public are still fairly ignorant as to how unfair most record company contracts really are. The artist pays for everything yet owns nothing. To receive fair and accurate royalty accounting he/she has to be able to afford to send in a team of auditors every few years to examine the books and this costs thousands of dollars to do properly. Most artists with more than a couple of years experience now sadly accept that the industry is run by principles of institutionalised corruption. The record company position is this: If you want your money you can come and find it. If you can afford to find it then you've obviously earned so much that we can afford to give you some.


This weird period we're going through in our industry right now feels both daunting and exciting and in a way reminds me of where I came from. As a teenager I was turned down by every indie and major label in the UK at least three times before I finally got a recording contract, so in the meantime I started producing and selling my own cassettes at the various gigs I attended. It was a liberating and empowering experience and taught me how to stay positive in the face of apathy. When you get knocked to the floor you have a choice, you can either curl up in the foetal position and die or you can climb back onto your feet and fight.

Matt Johnson

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