SXSW Wrapup Interview With @DavidCLowery and @theBlakeMorgan

We’re going to post two interviews with David Lowery and Blake Morgan about their impressions on SXSW from an artist rights advocacy point of view.  This is David’s and Blake’s will follow.

Chris Castle:  We did a panel together with Blake Morgan at SXSW about the artist rights movement. What was your assessment of how that went?

David Lowery:  I thought it went well.   It’s nice to see how far we have come,  a few years ago we would have had more pushback from the technology shills.<

Chris: I went to another panel with Panos Panay from Berklee ICE that was hosted by the lobbyist for the MIC Coalition (backed by Google). I’m paraphrasing now, but just a bit. The lobbyist asked Panos whether Berklee students complained as much as their older counterparts to which Panos replied that what was refreshing about students who grew up in the post Napster era is that they don’t have a sense of loss the same way that older musicians do. Which I would take to include you. What’s your thinking on that position?

David: Panos has a real gift for stating tautologies and passing them off as nuggets of wisdom.   His students haven’t started their careers yet.  How would they know? What do they have to compare it with?  Sure in the music business you HAVE always started out working for free.   But the difference  now is you rarely graduate from a sort of indentured servitude for YouTube to fair pay for your recorded works.

I’ll tell you what I’ve seen as a long time studio complex owner, when these young musicians get about 5 years into an actual career and they see that a million spins on YouTube is the equivalent of selling 100 albums, the lightbulb comes on…

Finally I don’t mean to be too catty about this, but according to the US Department of Education the average Berklee Graduate makes $30,100  a year.  59% earn less than what a high school graduate would be expected to earn.  For reference compare that to the 85k at UGA’s Terry College of Business where I work.

Although his students may not have a “sense of loss” at this point in their lives, I think Panos and Berklee have  moral, ethical and federal obligations to have this “sense of loss” for them.  It is their obligation to care how their students are compensated after graduation. When I hear sentiments like this I want to ask for my tax dollars back.  This is a perfect storm of everything that is wrong with the music business and higher education all at the same time.

Chris:  I think it’s fair to say that the lobbyist from MIC Coalition tried to make it about age, as in artists who have the “sense of loss” are older.  Sounds like that is just a coincidence like the rooster crowing at sunrise.

David:  That’s right.

Chris:  As you know, Austin has recently realized how endangered the music community is after the Austin Music Census really spelled it out in clear analysis. What’s your take on the census and do you think that the trends identified in the census would be replicated in Athens, Richmond or other cities you’re familiar with?

David: As you know, Athens like Austin has a thriving independent music scene.   The results of the Austin Music Census seems remarkably familiar to me.  Great economic activity is generated by live and recorded music in both of these cities, but I doubt much of the revenue is flowing back to artists.  I see plenty of indie artists with national and international profiles working part time service industry jobs when they aren’t on tour.  I think it’s very simple.   Touring supports you when you are on tour, recorded music revenues support you when you aren’t.  If you dramatically decrease the artist share of revenue from recorded music and give it to monopsonies like YouTube,  Spotify and Pandora this is what you get.

Chris: Did you have any particular experiences in Austin that especially resonated with you? 

David: Well this is completely anecdotal but walking into a popular local restaurant and getting a table  without a reservation on a friday night during SXSW Music  tells me the music industry has no money.  Most music business people, especially the indies can no longer afford the badges. Further without technology corporations backing labels can’t put on showcases or sponsor shows.   Music is a sideshow for the technology companies that dominate SXSW.   I played the first SXSW and played another dozen in the intervening years.  It breaks my heart.

Chris: My sense is that the era of lobbyists and insiders telling musicians, songwriters and artists to “shut up and sing” is now in the past. What’s your view on that? Is the era of “Big Daddy” lobbyists being overtaken by grassroots activism?

David: Well I was surprised that it ever worked in the first place.  It’s just so pro-corporate.  Fortunately we don’t have “right to be forgotten” laws in the US so the comments of these lobbyists live on for ever.  We get to beat them over the head with these comments for the rest of their careers. (That’s a promise we at the Trichordist tend to keep).However tempering that, I see that the “big daddy” lobbyists have to continued to generate new astroturf organizations and “pass through” non-profits to hide where they get funding and policy direction.

I feel this has disastrous consequences for democracy.   Just look at the automated comment bombing of the website by Google proxy Fight For The Future.   Exactly 86,000 identical comments?  And there were not bots involved?  Come on.   Where is the DOJ on this?