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September 10, 2001

Music 'after Napster' debated at Glenn

By Eric Rangus


Near the end of the question-and-answer period of the panel discussion “After Napster,” held Sept. 5 in Glenn Auditorium, musician, record executive and Emory alumna Amy Ray summed up the viewpoint of a lot of artists concerning the online trading of music.

“We want you to have free access, but we also want to make a living,” said the dark-haired half of the Indigo Girls. “Maybe we can’t have it both ways.”

For 90 minutes, in front of a crowd of about 150 the subjects of online music, artists’ compensation for their work, and the tangled web of the music industry in general were good-naturedly discussed by a panel that included Ray (who, in addition her singing and songwriting, is the owner of the Atlanta-based independent label Daemon Records); Regina Davenport, art and repertoire director of Aquemni Records, which is owned by the Atlanta-based hip-hop group Outkast; and music industry attorney Bobby Rosenbloom.

Assistant Professor of Sociology Timothy Dowd moderated the panel, which was sponsored by the Center for Ethics.

More a conversation than a debate—very rarely did any of the panelists’ opinions clash—the trio on stage addressed not only the specific issue of downloading and trading music online but devoted much of the evening to a dissection of the music industry in general.

“When you are a listener of music, a consumer of music and a fan of music, you don’t think about the business of music,” said Rosenbloom, whose firm represents both musicians and record labels. “The core of the music business is not about distributing music, it’s about creating stars. They may not be the best or the most important, but it’s what’s being marketed. The business is about selling to mass markets. Keeping that in mind should help frame this whole discussion.”

In that sort of atmosphere, the artists who most often lose out are the independent ones. And it’s those musicians that Ray is most concerned about. Independent artists, she said, need to learn about what is happening and ensure they have a seat in the table.

“As an independent artist and a major label artist that is sometimes disenfranchised, I just don’t want the major labels in charge of the debate,” Ray said.

Davenport, who kept a lower profile on stage than Rosenbloom and Ray, said the Internet was a good thing in how it widens the available audience, but the drawback is that artists have no way to track who is listening, which impedes their development.

It was a subject Ray touched on as well. “When you’re running an indie label, it would be good to know who is getting the music,” she said. “I mean, ‘Should we play in Des Moines, Iowa, because people like us there?’ You don’t know.”

Other subjects brought up included costs (Ray: “CDs are way more expensive than they should be.”), the law (Rosen-bloom: “Does copyright law [properly] apply old standards to new technology that is not necessarily good?) and radio (Ray: “No one is listening anymore. A lot needs to be fixed.”).

Dowd, who opened the evening with a brief but enlightening story about the advent of free music on the radio in the 1920s and how record companies tried to shut it down, saved the biggest question for last: What is a responsible and moral use of online music?

“Generally, it’s not a good thing,” Rosenbloom said. “A responsible Internet user should be getting music by more legitimate means. Ultimately you’re hurting yourself in the long run. There may not be a way to stop this, and it’s probably not as bad as it’s going to get. Record sales are strong. But as technology develops and the need to go out and buy a CD diminishes, this will certainly turn into a big problem.”

“The best thing,” said Ray, who played in clubs for years before landing a record deal, “is to download a song, then go see a band live.”


Back to Emory Report September 10, 2001