Local Musicians Unimpressed by Stars' Outcry Over Streaming

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In the September issue of Esquire, Gene Simmons declared that rock and roll was dead, slayed by file sharing and an entitled public ear. Then, in October, Iggy Pop criticized U2 for setting a standard that music should be free, not to mention forcing its latest release onto unsuspecting iPhone owners. And just last week, Taylor Swift removed almost her entire catalog of music from Spotify, only four months after penning an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal in which she stated that "piracy, file-sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically."

Most end-users would agree that file-sharing is the future, but the transition hasn't been as smooth for the artists who are trying to make a living. During the John Peel lecture at the Radio Festival, even the godfather of punk Iggy Pop admitted that he'd be bartending in between performances if he had to live off the proceeds from his record sales.

Local funk man Nick Greer, however, thinks that it's out with the old and in with the new. The only people he has heard complaining about file-sharing are the artists who had careers before file sharing existed.

"And they are all still rich," he adds. "They need to shut their mouths and focus on something that matters. Bottom line, it's an avenue that helps spread music around the world. If people are clever enough to create programs that give you access to whatever you want, then they deserve it. And if the artists are upset about it, tell them to sell one of their houses."

Vocalist Mikey Seals of hardcore local act Bury the Crown agrees that file sharing has altered things for musicians but feels that it's a bit dramatic to say that rock has died.

"Just because people aren't making millions doesn't mean people aren't making great music," he says. "Rock itself isn't dead, but the industry has definitely changed."

When Seals was younger, he and other fledgling artists believed that there was a clear path to success in the music industry: you make a record, get it heard by the right people, sign a record deal and be en route to rock stardom. The rise of file sharing and the Internet itself, Seals says, has changed all that.

"I suppose you could say, as far as the industry goes, [it has changed] for the worse, but this isn't so black and white with music," he says. "People will always make music. Now, it's less likely you'll become filthy rich by doing so, but that's OK. And that may be even better."

Seals believes that this might assist in weeding out those artists whose only interests are fortune and fame anyway. For local artists, though, he admits that it has been a mixed bag.

"Along with file-sharing, the Internet gave anyone and everyone the chance to put their music out there for anyone and everyone to hear," Seals says. "That in itself seems to have had good and bad effects. It's great to have my music more accessible to the masses but it seems to me that less people go to local shows."

When Seals was growing up, he remembers people just going to shows, oftentimes not even knowing who was scheduled to perform.

"I miss that," he says. "But the fact is, Rock is not dead. It has evolved. The music is the same but the business has changed, which happens in any industry when new inventions and technologies are introduced."

Local retro-rocker Chase Hamblin agrees with Simmons and Iggy on most counts, though he doesn't feel that file-sharing has had much of an effect on the Houston music scene specifically.

"There isn't really an industry here to be affected," Hamblin says. "Perhaps the record stores sell less CDs of major artists, but most people in Houston are not even familiar with the popular local bands, much less trying to steal their music. Conversely, those within the music scene here are very supportive, so they are happy to buy your CD and your shirt and come out to your shows.

"I do agree with Gene about the industry on the whole though," he continues. "While artists will always create art, they will be creating it purely out of passion and inspiration and not because they have the opportunities that once existed to become successful. There will be exceptions, but until a new business model arises to cover the costs of what it takes to push an artist to the top, it will continue to seem like an insurmountable peak for upcoming artists.

At this point, Hamblin says that an artist's album is oftentimes viewed as promotional material, as something to be given away.

"I haven't used file-sharing in years, because once I made a record, I realized exactly what Gene is saying: we are digging our own graves as far a way to make a living. I always purchase the albums of new bands I like either at the record stores or with iTunes."

But where Hamblin sees overwhelming odds stacked against artist, Kam Franklin of The Suffers sees potential.

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"I think it has forced artists to work harder," Franklin says. "Back in the day, you could start a band, work hard, and possibly get discovered. Nowadays, that's not enough. Thanks to file sharing, you have to go into this music game with the knowledge that you're always going to have those fans that love you, but prefer to download and or stream your music.

"As a musician, it's your job to make it harder for your brand to just be given away," she explains. "You can steal a song, but you can't steal a great live show, or a limited edition merch item. File-sharing is just a hurdle. Artists that are willing to take the leap by working harder and getting more imaginative with their brand as a whole will prevail.

Franklin admits that it's harder to sell music these days with the likes of Pandora and Spotify so readily available for the general public, but these seams services have also helped her band reach listeners whom her music might not have reached 20 years ago.

"It has given people that would have never gotten the chance to hear me an opportunity to do so," she adds. "I will say that it has forced me to come up with more creative ways to make money off my music career. Since people don't buy albums the way they used to, Artists have to step their game up in order to receive that income.

"For some artists, that means extensive touring. For others, it may mean more creative merchandise," continues Franklin. "Gene Simmons is right when he says that the music industry as he once knew it is gone, but I don't know if I completely believe that to be a bad thing."


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