Headbangers’ Brawl 2/4: What’s Francis Ford Coppola Know About The Music Industry?

Posted by on February 4, 2011

Headbangers’ Brawl is a weekly column where Metal Insider’sBram and Zach take a moment to debate and analyze two opposing sides of a topical issue occurring in the world of metal and/or the music industry.

Earlier this week, filmmaker and Sofia Coppola-maker Francis Ford Coppola gave an interview where he essentially spoke up in favor of illegal downloading. “You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money,” he said. “Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.”

This begs the question, and is the topic of our Brawl this week: Is Coppola right? Should artists expect to stay starving? Joining Bram and Zach this week in the discussion is Jason Lekberg, who works for Epic Records and has been interviewed here in the past.

Jason: I think that the discussion here is less about Coppola and more about the state of the industry at large.  It’s plain to anyone who takes 2 seconds to think that Coppola is in no place to make such a statement.  The simple fact is that owning a winery is a HUGE expense (watch Maynards “Blood Into Wine” for details) and Francis wouldn’t even have that money if not for his successful movie career.  So saying that art shouldn’t be paid for is hypocrisy coming from a guy living off of the money made from art.

There are several points we could discuss here but I’ll start with his description of the history of music.  He is correct that being wealthy from music is a “modern” occurrence, but so are microwaves and airplanes.  The last century has seen some of the greatest growth in humanity since the beginning of recorded time.  One of those important steps was the acknowledgement that some people have a talent that when shared enriches others lives and that said talent is valuable and worthy of reimbursement.  This was made law in 1909 with the passing of an amendment to the US’s Copyright act of 1790.  Prior to that time, musical works were not considered copyright-able by US law and our musicians suffered.  Prior to this, musicians either lived in abject poverty, only played as a hobby, or played for a church or military.  If that had continued, our choices for music would be relegated to hymns and patriotic songs.  Think about your favorite song.  I’ll bet 1 Million bucks it’s not “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” or “The Star Spangled Banner”.  Allowing artists to be paid for creating music that enriches our lives allows them to pay their bills and be creative.  Without that, there would have been no Beatles, Elvis, or in the case of the present company Metallica, Slayer, Lamb of God, and so on.  Music enriches our lives.  Many people would say they can’t live without music.  Most would say they can’t live without food.  Food isn’t free.  Why should music be any different.  If you can make music that enriches your life, make it for free, listen to it, and nothing else.  But if someone else’s art enriches your life, they deserve to be paid for their work, their art.

There is no question that the Business of music has made MAJOR missteps in the past 40 years.  As with most things humans touch, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  I personally think that the coming collapse of the modern music industry (and it’s coming) will be a great thing for art.  It’s just going to be very bad for those artists.  There are those who believe that artists can take control of their entire career but I offer one rebuttal for that: Kurt Cobain.  If you believe for one minute that he was capable of creating that art, and also handling physical production, marketing, promoting, and advertising, you are fooling yourself.  There is a need for an industry, for professional people who devote their lives to helping introduce music to the world.  Even the most savvy musician doesn’t have time, or a reason, to maintain a professional relationship with all of the other brands, business, and partners.  I work with some amazingly brilliant musicians who bring lots of great ideas to the table, but none of them have the ability to get them executed.  And that’s the bottom line.  A good idea is just that.  It only matters if you can get it done.  There is simply a need for a revolution of the music industry, not a destruction.  Eliminating money from the system is destruction.  We all have to eat and house ourselves.  I’m not talking about being rich.  I’m talking about fair prices and comparable salaries.   If you think independent artists don’t need labels then why doesn’t everyone know about the band that plays your local bar every weekend?  Maybe their songs could be better if they could devote all their time to writing them.  Maybe I would know about them if someone else was able to devote 40 hours a week to promoting them.  Without money, neither of those things happen.

Zach: While I can’t say I disagree with your points, what about the argument that the business side of the industry sometimes taints the music/art? I agree that even the popular artists that are currently going the DIY root wouldn’t be where they are without a label’s support (for example, Nine Inch Nails), but you said yourself that the industry is known to make major mistakes. Granted, I’m sure you were referring to more business based decisions, but many fans (especially metal fans) shrug when artists go to major labels because they feel that they are jeopardizing “creativity” for mainstream success. As someone who works for a major label, is this a legit argument?

J: Can business taint art?  Absolutely.  I feel like the fear some fans have is a bit exaggerated but it’s the very reason that I am calling for a revolution.  When a label gets to a certain size, business people come in who not only have no concern for art, they have no understanding of it.  I’ve had more than one conversation where the person I was talking to didn’t understand the concept of letting music grow on people, or establishing a bands brand instead of turning a quick profit.  I think there was a time when those two worked together fine but once the monster got so big, it began requiring a lot of food (money) and now that the money is drying up, it’s all about the quick profit.  As much as people don’t like it, paying for your music give labels the ability to take more chances and let their artists grow naturally.  These two evils are feeding each other.  It’s a bad cycle.

In regard to jeopardizing creativity, it depends on the artist.  Remember, no one ever holds a gun to an artist’s head to get them to sign.  It’s important to note that for the artist, their deal is their job.  If you work for McDonalds mopping floors and you get the opportunity to be promoted to working the register, 99% of the world would take it.  With that new job and increased salary comes new requirements.  You have to be friendly and talk to customers now.  The same can be said for the music industry.  Can you really be mad at a musician who says, I don’t want to live in a van any longer.  I want to write music that appeals to more people and have a nice car.  You have every right to decide that you no longer like that artist or their music but you can’t be mad at them.  They are just trying to live better.  Make no mistake, with the exception of artists who don’t pay attention to what they sign, they all know what they are getting into.  However, it can be done successfully.  Look at Lamb of God or Tool.

Bram: The music biz is constantly shifting. It’s hard to believe that only 11 years ago, N’Sync sold 2.1 million albums in their first week. That might have been the last generation of consumers that actually bought music. Kids are being brought up in the age of downloading, or quite possibly, just listening to the music they want to hear on YouTube until they get sick of it. I don’t really know what the answer is, but I don’t really agree with Coppola. It’s great to have made enough money from art to say that money doesn’t matter, and the “starving artist” stereotype sounds romantic, but not so much in real life. There will always be artists that become rich, but selling records might only be a part of that, and Coppola’s right in saying that it might not hurt to have some sort of employment as a backup. Jason, both you and I are in bands, and have been able to make it work, but if something went to the next level, we’d have some decisions to make.

J: Absolutely, and I’m prepared to make that sacrifice if I need to.  You’re right that this generation doesn’t buy music.  That’s one of the failings of the Industry.  Instead of embracing digital technology and introducing it to the world the way we did the CD, we ran from it and therefore created a generation of kids who’s learned behavior is that music is free.  The reality is that it’s not, and if people don’t start respecting that, they’re going to wake up in 10 years with a great void of quality music.  I don’t want to see us get back to having fabricated pop superstars, but I want to see us respect the art that is created by others and enriches our lives.  Rich celebrities are the last person we should be taking advice from on the subject.

Last week, we asked readers to start submitting suggestions for future Headbangers’ Brawl topics. We received a few submissions and were planning to choose and discuss one this week, but then this topic and opportunity arrived. However, we still want to get you, the reader, involved with Headbangers’ Brawl. So submit your questions and/or topics to tips [at] metalinsider.net with the header “Headbangers’ Brawl Suggestion.” Not only will your suggestion be featured in Headbangers’ Brawl, but you may get a cool prize as well.

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