February 9, 1964, The Beatles made television and music history. 73 million people tuned in to watch them perform live on the Ed Sullivan Show that night. It was their first American television appearance. This past Sunday night marked the 50th anniversary of that historic day and if you tuned in to watch the CBS special, it was plain to see that we’re still as awed by them now as we were then. Even if you weren’t here to witness The Beatles invasion, I’ll bet you can hum a few Beatles tunes. That’s how iconic their songbook is. These songs now belong to the world. If you’re old enough to have a few decades under your belt, you can probably recount your youth through the songs you listened to. Certain songs bring back special memories. Some happy. Some sad. These songs make up the soundtracks of our lives and become as precious as any possession could be. For many, music is their escape from whatever pains them. It motivates, soothes, and encourages. For some, music IS their life.
Not all that long ago, we waited for records to come out. Actual vinyl records. If there was a record you really wanted, you saved your allowance money, went to the record store, and bought it. If you were the first amongst your friends to have this treasure in your possession, a listening party ensued. One’s popularity often depended upon having a record player or stereo system that could play these magical discs. If you couldn’t afford to buy the record, you listened to it at a friend’s house or kept your ears glued to the radio. Those were the options. Stealing a record from the store was almost unheard of.
Enter the digital age. According to a study that was done at Columbia University in 2012, the majority of people no longer buy music. They steal it. The results of this study showed that 70% of 18 to 29 year olds pirate music online. Kids! But wait, 46% of all other adults are doing the same thing. Maybe it’s just me, but I find those numbers shocking. Apparently this activity is so prevalent in our society that it’s now considered the norm and an acceptable practice. What?! I had heard recently that record labels don’t make money off the records. They make their money off the merchandise and concert tickets. Ok. Let’s follow that gravy train for a minute. At a concert I attended recently, I happened across a guy in an RV outside the venue selling knock-off concert tshirts to young kids after the show. I reported this incident and was told that, unfortunately, this happens a lot and they try to keep up with it, but some of it still slips through. So there goes some of the profits from the merchandise sales. Going into the concert that night, I was approached by at least six different people trying to sell me concert tickets. What kind of tickets they had, where they got them, how much they wanted for them, and whether or not they were real, were all things I didn’t take the time to find out. Everyone knows there’s only one real ticket pimp – Ticketmaster! Everyone also knows that if you want to buy a ticket to a Luke Bryan concert, you don’t just call Luke up, pay him, and he drops off the ticket (as nice as that would be!). We get to wade through the shark-infested waters that await when trying to buy concert tickets from the many online vendors. The “services” they provide are not free to the artist. They get a bite out of those profits too! And let’s not forget distribution of that music for that small percentage of us who are still actually paying for the music we want. Retailers and everybody’s favorite digital music vending machine – iTunes – gets their cut too! I think those profits just became a deficit. Hey! I live near Washington DC! We invented the deficit!! Maybe I can help with this one!
For those of you who are not familiar with the term “deficit,” a deficit occurs when you spend more than you bring home. Yes, I know. For most of us, that’s called “The Only Way I Know.” (Jason Aldean, Night Train) So with all of this nonprofit from the music going on, how exactly is the music still being made? Obviously there’s some profit being made somewhere, but the question is for how long. Suddenly I’m beginning to understand why the price of concert tickets keeps going up. What’s bothersome about this whole issue is the cavalier attitude people seem to have on the subject of pirating music online. Young adults are of the opinion that if they’re buying the concert tickets, that should cover enough profit for the artists so they don’t feel the least bit guilty about stealing the songs. It seems to be a general consensus that all artists are filthy rich so what’s the big deal? Sigh. Let’s set aside that snapshot and look at the bigger picture.
Just for the sake of someone real to look at, let’s stick with Luke Bryan. He’s living the high life, right? Got everything he could possibly want! Living his dream! That may all be true, but contrary to popular belief, Luke is not a one-man operation. The making of a successful music career these days is no small task. The vast majority of hopeful singers, songwriters, and musicians who descend on Nashville every year will never make it. You’ll never hear of them. They may spend years singing and playing in smoky bars and still never earn a decent living. The ones who do generally have help somewhere along the way. Once they’re signed by a record label, then the fun really begins. It’s not like winning the lottery. Sign the contract and boom, sit back and watch the money roll in! If you’ve ever read the liner notes in a CD – oh wait, you don’t buy CDs. The names of all those people it took to make that record are listed in those liner notes, and everyone of them expects a paycheck. Then there’s the marketing team who has to promote this great record. They all get paid too! Now that the record’s been made, Luke gets to spend the vast majority of his life on a bus or an airplane or some mode of transportation delivering him from one event to another. If you followed Luke at all last year you should know that he was EVERYWHERE! I think he was even in two places at the same time frequently. Getting Luke to all these places takes a village as well. Look behind one of those concert venues sometime. It looks like a small traveling city has just relocated. Truck drivers, road crews, security teams, band members, tour managers, people for the people who need people, and Luke! Again, all these people expect a paycheck! Suddenly all those big profits aren’t sounding so profitable. Ever wonder why your favorite artists continually hawk their wares on twitter, email, and everywhere else they possibly can? Do you really think that Luke Bryan wanted to become a singer so he could sell tshirts and everything else they can think of to put his name and picture on? I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that Luke actually likes to sing and loves performing, otherwise he could have had a very lucrative career as an Abercrombie and Fitch model and been home a lot more. The less money the music makes, the more Luke gets to pound the pavement selling tshirts and appearing in seemingly every single city and town in this country. But no worries, I’m sure he gets at least two hours of sleep a night – on a moving bus.
Now that I’ve made you feel guilty about abusing Luke Bryan, let’s move on. Back to one of The Beatles for a moment. The song most closely associated with John Lennon is “Imagine.” One of the lines in that song says “imagine no possessions.” I can imagine no possessions. What I can’t imagine is no music. Imagine life without your ipod, your iphone, XM Radio, car radio, your computer, stereo equipment, television, concerts, and anywhere else you can hear music. You may not even realize how important music is in your life until it just isn’t there one day. Apparently most people think it’s important enough to steal. Music has become a necessity. The songs are life’s essential elements. We all have songs we like to call our own. They mean that much to us. Songwriters, singers, musicians and producers spend their lives creating the songs we love and the majority of us now thank them by stealing their life’s work. Buying an occasional concert ticket or tshirt (when it’s legit) does not fully compensate them for the music. If we go back to the subject of possessions, which would you rather have – the tshirts or the music? All that merchandise will someday end up in a landfill. The music won’t. Songs become a part of who we are. The music will stay with you long after that tshirt is worn through or too small. Go to the concerts and support your favorite artists as often as you can. But more importantly, BUY THE MUSIC! A value cannot be put on a great song. It would be different for every person. To those who make the music, it’s invaluable. Certainly a great song is worth $1.29. Think about how easily we spend money on things that are gone in an instant. The music will last. Records are the best bargain out there. What else can you buy for the price of a record that could possibly last as long and mean as much?
Don McLean is an American folk singer who wrote another iconic song back in 1971 called “American Pie.” It is ranked at #5 on the list of 365 Songs of the Century. The line most commonly recalled from this song is “the day the music died.” The lyric in this song refers to the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.). This was a big loss for the music industry at that time and many people felt this very personally. For Don McLean, he lyricized it as “the day the music died.” You can’t call yourself a fan of someone and then rip off their music. If you love the music – respect it enough to pay for it. If every future generation continues to steal the music, the next song written about the day the music died will be one you’ll never hear.
From WAY North Of Nashville………Bev Miskus
Note: It wasn’t until I finished writing this that I discovered “Imagine” and “American Pie” were both written in 1971. February 3rd of this year marked the 55th anniversary of that terrible plane crash. What country music fans may not know is that Buddy Holly’s bass player at that time was Waylon Jennings. At the last minute, he gave up his seat to The Big Bopper. To read the fateful words that were exchanged at that time, click on the link below to read the article. All these guys were on tour in the Midwest that winter and as the article will tell you, touring wasn’t always a glamorous thing.