THE THE VERSUS THE CORPORATE MONSTER by Matt Johnson
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 (first MP3 download will appear as a link in the above
table of contents on 13 July 2000). 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.
I'VE SEEN THE FUTURE, AND IT WILL BE........
A battle between the powers that be versus the powers that
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
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.
MEET THE THE NEW BOSS
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 N-Syncs 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.
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 thesubsequent 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 marginalizing
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.
MEET THE NEW BOSS
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
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.
THERE'S NO POINT IN ASKING, YOU GET NO REPLY
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 REAL QUESTION IS THIS
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 wilful 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?
SOMETHING FOR NOTHING
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
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. www.thethe.com. 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 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.
THE ONLY THING THAT STAYS THE SAME IS CHANGE
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 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.
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