I currently have a love/hate relationship with the music industry - in general. I love being part of it and get to work with some amazing talent. I hate what it has become and how it has slipped into prostituting itself to the lowest bidder. I ran errands today with my wife (yeah I know exciting rock star stuff). As she was driving, this thought went through my head, "I hate the music industry". Let me clarify by saying I love music and artists, but hate the "industry". The dictionary defines industry as, "Commercial production and sale of goods", and that is what I hate so much about the "industry".
We have gone from artists who played music for the love of the art, to artists who play music for fame and fortune. I do not see anything wrong with making a living making music, but I have a real problem with artists who get into the business just to make a fortune. I despise record companies who rip off their artists to make a fortune for themselves. I loathe radio stations who take payment from record companies to spin certain artists and songs. If you think that practice died off in the 1950's payola scandal, it is as prevalent today as it has always been (even as recent as 2007). Money wins and great indie artists lose out - as does the music industry as a whole.
When I hear about the loss of big profits from major labels, I laugh and smile. It makes me happy (weird I know). I wouldn't be so happy if record companies were integrity filled corporations looking out for their musicians and people, but they are unfortunately not. While they accuse other people of being pirates and ruining their business, they have been pirate kings from their inception. Their downfall can be directly correlated in the way in which they have conducted themselves and their businesses. There is the old cliche saying "what goes around comes around" (which ironically was also a Ratt song back when). What the major labels have sown they are now surely reaping - and I do not feel sorry for them.
I like the word Jay-Z used - "purging". there is currently a purging happening in the the industry. The indie movement has garnered support and steam. The internet has opened up a whole new world of bypassing the major labels and has allowed great artists being able to break away from major label bondage. Recently, some good friends of mine lost their major label. Instead of hanging up their instruments and "calling it quits", they took their career into their own hands. They reached out to their fan base and asked them for support on Kickstarter. Their initial goal was to raise $20,000 for their new recording project, but they ended up raising almost $30,000. $30,000 clear without having to repay a major label....big win! They can now record the album that they have always wanted to record, but couldn't due to a major label dictating their every move. I will give credit to the major label for allowing my friends the opportunity to build a fan base large enough to support their current endeavors, but that is where the praise stops (the label was horrible).
I would like to imagine a world where the fan fully supports the artist through funding. Fan funded record labels and fan funded music industry. The old model was the fan buying the album at XYZ retail store and "supporting" the artist that way. The unfortunate truth of that model was that the artist saw very little of that money (the majority went to distributors and the record label). Now revamp the model to where the fan actually has the ability to fund the album through Kickstarter (or any other crowd funding service) and that is a big win for both the artist and fan. I do not believe that major labels are going away anytime soon, though I could be wrong. I believe there will always be a need for major labels to handle major artists like U2, Madonna, Lady Gaga and so on. But, I also believe that the days of the major labels reigning supreme are coming to a quick end - and that is great news for everyone.
We have entered a brave new world, but I believe a better world. If you liken the music industry to universal health care ((just track with me here I'm having an ADD moment) you can see parallels. Right now hospitals and healthcare companies are big businesses with little regard (for the most part) for a patients total well being and health. Doctors are multimillionaires and health insurance companies are seeing record breaking profits. Offer universal health care and you "weed out" doctors who are in it for just the money vs. doctors who are in it to help out the people. Then healthcare insurance providers start losing their power in Washington and have to revamp their business models. It becomes a win for the patients and people who need good quality healthcare. The same could be said of the music industry. If artists are not able to make their millions - or major labels - then that will purge the industry of people who are in it for themselves and not for the love of the art, music, or the people they entertain.
The state of the music industry is hanging in the balance with the fans holding the scales. It is a great time to be in this field (I no longer want to refer to it as an industry). My hope is that through these past years and rough patches we have learned a few good lessons. I hope we have learned that the number one reason for wanting to enter this field is for the love of the art and communicating with people on deep emotional levels. My hope is that each musician has learned to fall in love with the music again and not be infatuated with fame or fortune. My hope is that each fan has learned to invest in artists who have connected with them on multiple emotional levels. And finally, I hope we have all learned that a world without music is a mundane world - colorless and boring. Music is life and the music industry is the cancer killing it.
Music production is smoke and mirrors. It is mostly manufactured sounds by various effects and software that make you believe it was recorded that way in a studio or manufactured to sound a certain way so everyone thinks it's hip. I am ashamed of where we have landed in recording engineering and the music industry. Everything keeps evolving and is creating a lazy generation of engineers and producers. The saying "we will fix it in the mix" has become the tag line in almost all music productions in recent years. Music production has always had a smoke and mirrors aspect, but not like now. The drums you listen to are fake, the singer is fake, the guitars are at times fake, the Rhodes is fake, the grand piano is fake, the orchestra is fake and the list goes on and on. When I say fake, what I mean is that most Rhodes, orchestra and grand pianos are created by software called virtual instruments.
Every year I have an "ask the producers" type forum where I shoot a question to top industry professionals and have them respond with answers. About a year ago, I asked a panel of experts to give me their view of drum replacement software. Drum replacement software takes the drum sounds that you recorded in the studio and replaces it with manufactured, often synthesized, drum parts. In the answers every producer, except one, stated they used drum replacement so they could compete with everyone else in the industry. Cool huh? Not really. How lazy have we become as engineers that we need to replace drum parts because we can not record them the right way? I may be old school here or not in the hip crowd, but there was a time when engineers would spend hours on the drum tone and sound. A movement of just an inch or two could mean the difference between an amazing drum tone or one that wasn't great. Just placing microphones alone was an art form and there were engineering Picassos "back in the day". It was a different time and place, long before computer software started churning out lazy engineers and producers.
A couple of years ago I played a video for my class called, "It Might Get Loud". In part of the film Jack White is explaining how he still plays his cheap guitar that he had as a child. He makes the statement that he loves the guitar because it makes him struggle with his art. I think that is what makes art so great....the struggle. A vocalist struggling to hit the right note and then hitting it triumphantly. A guitarist struggling to hit that one perfect pitch bent note. A drummer struggling to put, an almost impossible fill, into perfect timing. It is the struggle that makes the triumph so sweet. But, now you throw a singer through autotune, a guitar through a software pitch shift and a drum fill through beat detective, and what does it get us? Lazy musicians all the way through to producers. All of this because somewhere along the line we all decided perfection is what everyone wants, and not the human struggle with real art thus making it imperfect. I will take emotionally imperfect any day over robotic, lifeless perfection.
If you think about it, some of the greatest albums ever recorded were full of inconsistencies and imperfections yet they are emotionally perfect. Sonic perfection should never be the goal in any production, but rather emotional response. If you listen to classic rock you will hear albums that were full of sonic imperfections, but are considered some of the best albums of all time. Modern music has taken the human element out, and has replaced it with mechanical perfection through software manipulation. I say we go back to what made music great from the start....great songs that drew out great emotional responses. I want to pose just one question, how many artists, producers and engineers today could actually be good enough to make it in this industry back when tape was the recording medium? That is something to think about. My answer.....very few.
One day I was having a conversation with an artist about her career. The artist was a female lead singer of a band that was a small indie outfit in a large city. The band had been together for a few years with very little success in their surrounding area. It was a bit of a shock since the band had a great stage show, sported a great look and wrote really good music. After about 10 minutes of talking with this singer, it was very apparent the issue that had plagued the band from succeeding and winning people to "their camp". In the midst of the conversation, the singer told me that, in more or less words, they knew everything there was to know about music production, studio recording, performing live, sound, microphones and the meaning of life. Well, maybe not the meaning of life, but from my perspective it seemed as if that was about to come out of her mouth along with the words that she and the band had created the heavens and earth in 6 days.
There is one thing that always happens year after year no matter how long I have been teaching, or speaking at industry seminars, and that is musicians and artists overstating how awesome they think they are - or how much experience they think they have. I start my classes every year with these questions; tell us your name, where are you from, what are your experiences in the audio field and why did you join this class or expect to get out of it? It never fails that various students will give everyone their verbal resume, so we are all very much aware of their uber audio expertise. I am not saying that some do not have a decent background in the industry, but you have to look at their age versus the years of experience - and then scratch your head in wonder. Some of the students are 18 years old with, maybe, two years max of experience in audio, yet to hear them talk, one would think they could teach the course at any university nationwide (at least that is the perception they would like everyone to believe). A lot of people remark about my "BS" meter and how I can call it for what it is "a mile down the road". So, in class I promptly call it like I see it. I tell my students my background, in which I get the looks with oooohs and ahhs of impressing them, and then I tell them how I am still learning something new every single day of my life. I continue to tell them that I do not have it all figured out - and that maybe as a group we can teach each other which in return will make us all better at what we do. I finally tell the class that if anyone feels as if they have "arrived" they should pack up their stuff, leave and promptly head over to the academic records office so they can drop my class.
The one thing that will kill a career, faster than a McDonald's drive through stop, is....pride. Pride is the thing that tells a person that they are awesome, better then everyone else and have it all together. It is the one thing that will stop a talented engineer or musician from hitting their pinnacle. It is the one thing that will make a talented band break up. It is the one thing that will sabotage any career including one in the music industry. It is the one thing that everyone could do without. Pride says, "You have it all together, and don't need anyone's help." I have been in the industry long enough to see pride wreck careers and people. Let's face it, nobody wants to work with the guy or girl who thinks they have it all together - and who believes they are better than everyone else. Pride can be the difference between being teachable or continuing in a flat lined rut leading to "nowheresville". I wish I had five dollars for every band, artist, engineer, producer and industry professional whose careers have been side lined by pride. I would own a hefty bank account by now. Pride is the ultimate career killer.
As we (music industry veterans) get older, we need to teach the next generation the art and skill of what we do. This applies to all career paths, as well. How can we do that if we are raising a generation of spoiled, know-it-all brats? That thought alone has frightened me as I walk into a new classroom every year, only to be greeted by more apathetic, more prideful and more distracted than ever students. I want teachable sponges who latch on to every single word, so they may grow, learn and be successful. It is becoming harder and harder to find students who do that. I had a student come up to me after a class last year and state, "I want to be more entertained in your class." I made clear that they needed to join a drama class, and leave mine, if all they wanted was to be entertained. Education is fun! We share A LOT of laughs and good times with relevant subjects in my classes, but I am not an entertainer....I am an educator. There is a difference. I was concerned, after that student approached me, that maybe I was losing my teaching "edge". I started speaking with other professors across campus and each had similar experiences. It wasn't a coincidence that multiple professors were experiencing the same. It is a shift in the quality of students and the current generational mind set.
The one thing that is prevalent in my mind when thinking about pride, arrogance and the entertain me mind set is this thing called a career killer. I wonder how many of those students are working some place that they hate because of their pride and arrogant thinking? I knew of an individual who told me that they felt I should do whatever I could do for them because they attended one of my teaching seminars. They also felt that I needed to give them the contact information of everyone I knew in the industry, as well. That was pretty bold and set me back a little bit. I gave that individual this advice, and I will end my blog with it as well. I stated, "The industry is way too small of a place to be burning bridges when you are so inexperienced. I would strongly suggest that you change your attitude so you will be able to eventually do this for a living. If you do not change your attitude and mind set then I can confidently predict right now that you will be working at McDonald's expediting Happy Meals for the rest of your life. Stop burning bridges, stop feeling entitled, stop being so darn prideful and start working hard. Put in your dues like the rest of known audio world, including myself, have done for years. Nobody owes you a free ride son."
I love this video. The video shows what people can do when they think creatively. I am a firm believer that the studio should be a place for creative experimentation, and not a quick hit factory. The video is currently hitting 6 million views and climbing each day. Check it out and watch these 5 intriguing guys make the instrument sing.
Also love this video...mashup of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know"
I am all for new technologies and the rise of social media sites. I believe they can be used to expose people to new ideas, artists, other like-minded people, and creative ventures. However, I have seen a total withdrawal of person-to-person interaction recently in the music industry (and in everyday life).
Every year I attend a festival called Kingdom Bound in upstate, NY, which draws around 50,000 people over the course of 4 days. As a family, we have been attending that festival upwards of 25 years or so, and have seen some good and not-so-good changes within the festival. One of the big changes I have noticed, in recent years, is the lack of networking and camaraderie that use to be so prevalent within the festival. There would be all kinds of "rubbing elbows and shaking hands" going on at the festival - in other words, a lot of human to human networking.
While at the festival, I was telling my wife that I remember a time when bands would stay the duration of the festival. The festival is held at Darien Lake theme park, which provides a great get away for bands, managers, artists, stage crew members and family. For many years, I would see bands stay in the rental campers with their families, and fellow band-mates enjoying not only the festival, but other bands performing. It would create a synergy that was rarely seen back then, and something that is even rarer in today's music climate. I remember our camp site being filled with band members every night as we sat around the campfire reminiscing of the day's events. Of course, there were plenty of jokes, practical jokes and laughs too. It was such a different time, a time where the future of the music industry was uncertain, but knowing we would all be OK if we stayed tight as a community.
I miss that camaraderie, and networking. Back then (and back then was not too long ago - think 1999 to about 2002/03) networking was talking face to face with the person. It was interacting on human levels, and not all through machines. Real humans, real hand shakes and real poking (literally) were the staples of the day. We handed out real paper business cards and physical copies of CD's...all in packets called promo packs complete with photos. This was all before social media and the rise of the internet, as we know it. I am not saying that we have stopped this practice all together, but I have seen a steep decline in recent years.
Music has been and should be a community of artists all coming together for one purpose...art. There is a common saying "strength in numbers", and that applies to the music scene. When artists unite together and form communities, people take notice and want to become part of it. In other words, people networking together to form something new, something fresh and something very different that people want to support.
Not too long ago, I formed an entertainment group whose sole purpose was to launch new and exciting bands. We were heavily involved in the festival circuit and sponsored the fringe stages. We would set up a booth at the festivals with the purpose of finding new acts and artists. At the end of the various events, I would leave with a suitcase full of promo packs, CD's, phone numbers and business cards. But it wasn't the suitcase filled with promo packs that made the event special, it was interacting with artists, bands and festival goers. Talking, laughing and hanging out with some of the coolest people was the highlight of many a festival. Did we find great bands to launch? Absolutely - but what I thought would be scouting opportunities only, became something much more meaningful...deep networking, deep human interaction.
I believe that we need to get back to networking - and not NET-working. The internet should be a tool to connect people with each other, but only after initial human contact is made and relationships built. When I talk about this at the college, many of the students totally agree that the internet is isolating and cold. They agree that the rise of the internet and social media sites have caused people to withdraw from human interaction. This generation feels more alienated then ever, yet it is the most connected than any other. Technology isolates. As a human race, we are wired to interact with each other. When we stop interacting, and get absorbed into our technology we start to feel more like machines than humans.
A recent study showed that when a person is touched by another, the person's life can increase anywhere from 1 to 12 years! I am not saying we go up to a person, hand them a promo pack and start giving massages, but we need to start shaking more hands and giving more pats on the arm or back. If I am signing a band, I want to know that band or artist before I work with them - and not through a chat conversation or e-mail. I want to find out what they are about, what makes them "tick" and their passions. Music is still about community, human emotion and interacting with each other - and community can be interchanged with networking. After all, it is through this amazing thing called a music community that we all get to network - and that is what makes the music scene so cool. Let's start networking again....coffee anyone?
Right now, the big name in the music industry is Skrillex. If you never heard of Skrillex prior to his three Grammy wins, you probably do now. His name is stamped all over albums, everywhere, and it seems like every major label is trying to get him to collaborate with them and their artists. Recently, I was listening to the new Korn album and you guessed it Skrillex with the signature "drop" was featured. I may be a bit of a pessimist here, but I am not really convinced that dubstep is going to be around forever. It will be around forever in the sense of the recording on a physical CD, and forever meaning until all copies are worn out, burnt and nuked. But can we claim that dubstep is a style that will be called a classic 10 - 25 years from now (like Nirvana), or will it go by the wayside like so many other fads? My guess would be it is going to fall by the wayside.
Now, before every Skrillex die hard fan sends me a million hate e-mails with the thousands of reasons why Skrillex will never go away, know that I am actually a Skrillex fan. I believe he was able to take a style birthed in the underground, and bring it to the main stream surface. He is an innovator and decent musician. I get all of the arguments validating SKrillex's style, but it doesn't mean that dubstep will be listed in the history books as a style that transformed the music industry. Dubstep is really just a hybrid of break beat, mixed with drum and bass, converted to 2 step and sprinkled with garage dub. In other words....a hybrid of styles that already exist.
The argument could be that all styles are a hybrid of something, and they all fade. Yes, that would be true all styles see a rise and then decline. I am not really talking about rise and declines, but more like classic styles and longevity. When I think about classic albums and longevity my mind never goes back to the 80's new wave music scene. Yes, there were many great songs back then, but to say they are "classic" would be a pretty big stretch. You can write a great song, with a great hook and have great air play on the radio, but does it make it a classic? No.
When I think about a classic album that defined a generation, U2's The Joshua Tree tops the list. Released in 1987, Joshua Tree continues to garner praise by musicians, producers and engineers worldwide. The album has sold a total of 25 million copies worldwide. The Joshua Tree is one example of an album, and style, that continues, to this day, to be timeless. In my class at Houghton College, I played a video about the making of The Joshua Tree. It was the first time that many of my students were introduced to U2, and this great album. After the class, I received many e-mails from students who went out and purchased the album. They thanked me for introducing them to great music and said they couldn't believe they never heard the album before.
When we look 25 years up the road from today, will dubstep, Skrillex, Mr. Worldwide or any other popular music or artist today be as endearing as U2 or Nirvana? How about The Rolling Stones or Led Zepplin? When we talk about classic music 25 years from now, what artists will come to mind? I believe it will be artists like Adele, Lana Del Ray, Green Day Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Radiohead, Muse, etc. Why do I believe this? I believe this because any music that is classic, or listed as being great, have a couple of things in common. The first, is that classic music speaks to and defines a generation. Second, is that timeless music, is music that has a message with real emotion and connects with the soul. When I listen to dubstep, while it is aggressive, has a bit of message and good beat, it lacks in emotional connection, speaking to a generation and connecting with the soul.
Music style trends will rise and fall, but great music that connects on multiple, emotional levels will always surface from the most unexpected places. Autotune, big reverb drums, flannel, teased hair, leg warmers, leisure suits and disco balls will come and go, but music that touches our souls will last forever. Let's redefine and make timeless music.
Everyday I see people who are miserable in their professions. For most individuals, it is truly a job and not a career. It is a place where they work, so they can pay the bills and nothing more. I can totally relate because I was that person too. I had dreams as a young high school student to be in the music industry, and do nothing more. There wasn't really a plan B, it was all or nothing in the music industry. After high school, I attended a college in Phoenixville, PA, where I would study both music and youth ministry. Looking back, I can see where both of those careers could intercept one another (music, youth...youth, music - they go hand in hand). In college, I got involved playing in, and for, many bands. I had a synthesizer in my dorm room, and wrote music constantly with friends. We would stay up to the very early hours of morning writing, creating and just having fun (not the best idea for grades, but terrific for creativity).
After college, I kept pursuing music where our band saw some regional and semi-national recognition. It was a lot of hard work, but the passion kept us fueled to keep going. Then something happened that changed the trajectory of my life. I found a woman who wanted me to settle down, start a family and pursue a "real" career. When you are young, stupid and in love - you will do anything, for the most part, to please the person you have given your heart. I always vowed that I would not wear a suit, Dockers or polo shirts, yet this is what I had to do so I could "look the part" when interviewing. I was definitely young and stupid. I was able to find employment as a retail manger trainee in the tire and car repair industry. Thus , started the most miserable years of my life.
I made a huge mistake back then thinking that money and prestige would make us happy. She was very happy because she had everything a young woman would want or need. On my end, I was the most miserable human being on planet earth. I had friend at the time tell me that I was the most miserable church goer that he had ever seen. It was true, I was tired, burnt out and angry at life. I knew I needed to make a change, and I knew that it had to be quick for sanity's sake.
Church involvement can put you in good contact with people who know people. Duh, right? It is very much like the six degrees of separation which states that everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person. I can tell you from experience, churches prove that theory...it is like a melting pot of who knows who. At the church I attended, the worship leader had a brother in law who owned a beautiful studio in Rochester, NY. The brother in law was looking for an assistant to help him with the running of the day to day business at the studio. I met with Dave (the studio owner) and we hit it off. Dave hired me which changed the trajectory of my life, once again. Working for Dave and the studio was the catalyst that would allow me to continue doing what I love....music.
When I am teaching at the college (Houghton College), I always tell the students to pursue their passions. I also tell them that in pursuing those passions they may need to work a job that they do not like, but if they pursue what they are passionate about it can and will work out. It seems like easy advice, kind of like, good things come to those who wait or any cliche. I truly believe that if your heart is set on something, and you are extremely passionate about it, then you can make a living doing what you love (as long as you have the talent for it - had to clarify that a little bit). I tell my students that life is too short to be doing something that you hate for your entire life.
Everything I am talking about boils down to this....risk taking. I have seen way too many people get stuck in their lives because they are afraid of failure, or, in other words, afraid to take the risk. Risk is scary, risk is crippling, but risk can be rewarding. If most people are afraid of taking risks, then a person taking risk is actually in a better position to succeed (it's all a numbers game). One of the great staples of being a great leader is that they are willing to take risks. Risk taking is not being reckless, risk taking is doing something that you wouldn't normally do, but doing it in a very calculated fashion.
When I think about risk taking, and being stuck, my father comes to mind. My father is a gifted musician, a gifted construction worker and a great person. From the time I was born, the only thing I can remember my dad ever doing for a living was construction work. He needed steady pay so he could provide for his wife and children. He is a great construction worker and went from working for others to starting his own business. It was a big risk, but he had built a good name for himself in the construction business. He is now semi-retired, and does little jobs for friends here and there. One day when we were camping, I looked over at my father and saw him lost in thought. All of a sudden it had hit me that I had never asked my own dad about his passions in life. I have done that year after year at the college with my students, but never with my own father. That day, while camping, I asked my dad, "What were your dreams and passions growing up? If you could have been anything in life, what would it have been? Would it have been a construction worker - or did you really want to do something else?" His answer almost broke my heart. He told me that his dream and passion in life was to be a musician.
He told me that growing up he and his sister had played at fairs, bars and various venues. They had played at a contest for a chance to win a recording contract with RCA records back in the day and won. When the chance came for them to sign the deal his parents said that no son or daughter of theirs would play music for a living. Their kids would work for a living and not be caught up in an easy life style like music. After that, my dad would continue to play music, but not pursue it as a career or living. I was very sad that day talking with my dad about his life and realizing that he never pursued his passion.
Life is a small journey we take from here to there. There are no guarantees on how many years we have - or have left. So why would we chose to waste away the very short amount of time we have on this earth? Why would we waste half our lives pursuing misery in professions that we can not stand? Life doesn't have to be that way. Life isn't suppose to be that way. And it is never too late to change the trajectory of our lives. I know of 80-somethings who have pursued a college degree and have finished. I know of 60-somethings who finally decided to pursue painting for a living - and have succeeded. It is never too late, nor early, to pursue our passions and dreams. All it takes is hard work and a little risk. Today is the day to start the journey and take the risk.
Good Ted Talk Video On Risk taking - "The Art of Living Dangerously"
There is a lot of opinion on this subject, and some slight exaggerations too. To answer the question, "Is piracy wrong?" then I think we need to dive into who came up with the term pirates. The term pirates is a label that the software, recording and movie industries have given to people who either host or illegally download and distribute intellectual property that hasn't been paid for. Pirates are the scum of the earth, bottom of the barrel individuals who are single-handedly ruining all of the entertainment industries. Well, at least that is what all the industries want us to think. I am not advocating piracy, of course I am not advocating the name pirate either. I think the name pirate is a bit harsh. The original definition of pirate (which was changed recently to include the digital age) is, "a person who robs or commits illegal violence at sea, or on the shores of the sea". So if a digital pirate has a ship, a drunk crew and is stealing the new Windows system by violence on the ocean (maybe in transport?) or on the shores of the sea, then they can legitimately be called pirates...ARGHHHHH!
The truth is that the software and entertainment industries wanted to label this activity in the most fearful low-handed way possible. I have met a few "pirates" in my time, not the ones dressed like Johnny Depp, but some of the people who "hack", and they were some of the nicest people. Like I said, I do not condone what they are doing, but I do not condone the way in which they have been labeled. Some of the hackers are doing it because they feel they are on a mission. A mission? Yes, a mission. A mission of justice and to "level the playing field" in the professional arena - and corporate profiteering. I am speaking more along the lines of creative ventures like music, graphic design and video creation -and not so much music or movies.
What a lot of these hackers feel is that, like most things, companies cater to the rich and forget about the poor or up and coming. How can they think that? I will use one company as an example here - Waves. Waves is a plug in company that makes plug in software for digital audio workstations (DAWs). As of a little over a year ago their software suite called Waves Mercury Bundle cost an individual $10,000. For those of use who are professionals, and use a DAW called Pro Tools, it is almost a necessity to own the Mercury bundle to stay competitive in the music production world. The problem is that most people can not afford the $10, 000 price tag. Waves justifies their position saying that it costs them that much to program and market their product (which is laughable). One of Waves competitors offers a very similar package with, what I believe to be, better plug ins for around $2,000. If you do your math, that is an $8,000 difference in price. I always have said that Waves had better be including a good used car for the amount I am paying for their plug ins.
Profiteering thinking is nothing new in an industry that is notorious for ripping of its customers (mostly studios and musicians). I have many examples of reverse piracy (that is manufacturers raping and pillaging its consumers) going on in this industry. The first example is that yesterday I needed to order cable ties for my studio. I have taken this summer to get my studio neatly organized from cords to rewiring- and everything in between. I went around and started checking prices through the usual music supply chains for my ties, and kept thinking, "Man, this a lot of money for twenty ties." - It was $30 for 20 ties. They are not made out of gold, they are Velcro for heaven's sake. I decided to think outside of the normal music mind set, and go to other industries to find my ties. I found the exact same ties, that I use, in another industry's listing, which would cost me $8.00 for (get this) 100 of them. That is quite the difference in price.
The second example, is that I purchased a sample CD from a very well known company. Let me clarify this one by saying it was a while ago (think late 90's), and the internet was still moving at snail pace. Back then the company did not have any audio samples to hear, but had a description on their site. When the sample CD arrived, I opened it up, popped it into my computer and it wasn't like anything described on their site. I called the company asking to exchange it for something that I actually needed, and their reply was, "Once it is opened, you own it. No refunds." I told the company that it would be a long time before I did business with them again. On their end, the representative said, "We can't cater to everyone like you who complains. If you feel that way, then go to another company, and do business with them." In the twelve plus years since that time, I have only purchased one sample CD from them, and that was because I needed the sounds for one particular project. Even then, I watched for promo codes and got a 40% off discount.
I believe that "pirates" actually keep companies honest and "on the ball". I liken them to a person who watches his neighbor mow his lawn with a new John Deere mower. The neighbor graciously allows the other neighbor to try out the mower to see if that neighbor wants to go and purchase a John Deere for himself. Pirates (in a way) do the exact same thing. They release cracked software for people to "try before they buy". All of the cracking groups have that motto and, to be honest, it really isn't a bad way of functioning or thinking. Software companies have responded by allowing consumers the option of trying before you buy with restrictions and time limits. The restrictions I have seen are absolutely ridiculous. The software companies limit the feature set, so yo can't even try out the software with every feature or fully. What good does that do? That is like test driving a new car with a flat tire. Some companies require you to purchase a $50 iLok key before you can try it. No wonder hackers want to crack the software.
On my end, I have had terrible luck with companies who claim that this piece of software will "revolutionize" your music making process. I get excited, buy the software or plug in, only to feel like I had just been ripped off. I have paid more than $500 for a plug in, only to find out that it crashes constantly, or that it isn't compatible with Windows Explorer blah blah version installed on your computer. Don't even think about trying to get your money back....it isn't going to happen. You open it, you own it - period. I am now a lot more cautious when purchasing any kind of software. This is a case where having hackers, pirates (add degrading name here) around is actually very good. Companies are quick to point the finger, and say that pirates are the cause of the decline in their businesses. The truth is, that they are the reason for their demise by releasing poor quality products then selling them at outrageous prices. The pirates have been very good for quality control (checks and balances).
There was another company recently that made these crazy claims as to why they couldn't be more consumer friendly. It had to do with hardware, and forcing consumers to purchase their hardware to run the software. A cracking group got a hold of the software, and was able to crack it without having to use any hardware. The cracking group released a statement that this company had been dishonest all along, and they had proof via the code that the software company had built into the program. Within the year, the software company released a version that no longer needed its hardware to function. The hackers became the industry "police" that kept the company honest. Since that time, the cracking group has not released a new version due to them feeling their job was accomplished by keeping the software company honest and "on the level".
So, is it wrong being a pirate? Yes, it is wrong to freely give away somebody's intellectual property, but it is also wrong for companies to be raping and pillaging consumers. It is also wrong for companies to be charging exuberant prices while providing sub par and buggy merchandise. Before a company or lawmaker decides to call other people (or persons) a pirate(s), they should look closely at themselves ridding their closet(s) of poet shirts and eye patches. ARGHHHH!
Kevin "Danger" Jackson is a New York-based producer, engineer, composer, performer, educator and Berklee College of Music alumnus. He writes, produces and engineers music for a wide range of artists in the pop, hip-hop, rock, R&B, classical and electronic genres. His work can be heard daily on a multitude of albums, radio and television stations worldwide.