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 TUNIS 2005

 GENEVA 2003



Please, Pirate My Songs!
By Ignacio Escolar

I’m a lucky musician. My group has just scraped sales of 15,000 copies of our first album. In a world where Enrique Iglesias can sell six million CDs singing as he does , this modest sum isn’t too much to write home about. If I put as much effort into football I’d be playing in the premiership, and if I dedicated myself to medicine with the same amount of success I’d be a neurosurgeon. For a couple of weeks during April 2000, one of our singles squeezed in at number seventeen in the Spanish charts; number three if you only count the Spanish artists. Every year 32,000 new records come out worldwide and only 250 convince more than 10,000 people to buy them. Scarcely 0.7% of the musicians who brought out a record last year (most don’t even get into a recording studio) are luckier than me.

People must think I have money coming out of my ears. Or that I at least make a decent living from my musical talents. How much does the lucky top 0.7% earn in their profession? I won’t bore you with figures but, after three years of hard work to get my album into the shops, I’ve earned just a little over 3,000 euros from record sales and copyright fees. Barely 85 euros a month is what my successful musical career has netted me. My share of the rent of a place to rehearse – what stops my neighbours having me turned out as a noisy tenant – comes out at 40 euros a month. Last Christmas I blew half my profits on a new keyboard , a total whim. If I had a manager with the power to veto my budgets I’d still be playing with the casiotone I got for Christmas in 1986.

I don’t blame piracy for my state of bankruptcy. Nor do I blame the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” of the advert – in really bad taste – with which the SGAE (General Society of Authors and Editors) tried to make music lovers aware of the need to pay them their dues. Like most of the other crackpots who waste their time in rehearsal places and their money on instruments and amps, I prefer the personal satisfaction of knowing that someone out there is taking the trouble to listen to my music so I can collect the thirty pesetas which is my share of each copy sold (a quarter of that if the record is on offer or is bought during a TV campaign).

If my manager, that make-believe guy I mentioned earlier, had any sense he would agree with me. For each gig I play, depending on the size of the house and the generosity of the promoter, I clear between 100 and 400 euros. I promise you that if you come to one of them I won’t ask you for a photocopy of my CD’s barcode to get in. Like all musicians who have done their sums, I know that 100,000 pirate fans coming to my shows are more profitable than 10,000 original ones.

So MP3, Kazaa or Gnutella aren’t about to kill off music. Not mine or anybody’s. I can assure you that, fortunately, I can do without the 85 euros a month from my copyright fees and royalties. For Metallica, and any other best selling bands, the same rule applies though the figures are higher. Concerts, T-shirt sales and the adverts a well known band may record all bring in more money than the royalties (between 8 and 15% of the wholesale price) which multinationals pay per record sold. It’s true that the record companies pay the musicians’ recording and promotion costs, but do you know any other business in which the share-out between those providing the idea and the labour and those putting up the money is so lopsided? I have to confess that I don’t know what prompted Metallica to side with their recording company and sue Napster. But the upshot was that their fans turned against them , God struck a deal with the Devil and Napster turned from pirate into privateer . It would have embarrassed the hell out of me.

Free distribution of songs over the Internet will not put an end to musical creation, but I hope it will put an end to the abusive practices of the recording industry. And we ‘notesmiths’ have been getting a better deal over the years. If the poor bluesmen of the forties – those who the RCA record label (now owned by Bertelsmann, Napster’s partner) used to pay six dollars and a bottle of bourbon for them to record their songs – could hear how Metallica’s drummer, Jan Ulrich, moans ... I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I signed a contract with Universal Music a year and a half ago. In that meeting a top executive of the company summed up the nine pages of the agreement in one sentence: “We record companies are a necessary evil”. I won’t argue with that. Without them my band would never have sold 15,000 records. Though I bet we could have given them away.

The full or partial reproduction of this article is permitted provided that a link is provided to the source, http://www.escolar.net, and the author is credited. The article was first published in Baquia (http://www.baquia.com) on 17 January 2001.

Ignacio Escolar is a journalist. He is the editor of Spanishpop.net, collaborates with
http://www.gsmbox.es and with the monthly magazine GEO, and is responsible for “El Navegante”, the section of Informativos Telecinco 1:30 (TV5’s News Programme) devoted to the Internet.

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