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Cooler Than School

Listen up now. If you’re a musician, if you work with musicians, or if you fantasize about maybe one day considering the possibility of becoming a musician, get out your calendar and mark off April 30. If you’re supposed to work or be in school that day, call in sick. Call in drunk. Call in personal. On April 30 the Future of Music Coalition is coming to town for an all-day series of presentations about making a living as a musician in the 2000s, and it could be the most important day of your musical career since the first time you picked up your axe.

There have been a bunch of these “how to make a living in the music business” seminars in the area recently; I’ve been involved with some of them, and some of them were quite good (and some I’ve heard weren’t so good). This one will be brilliant. I have attended the last two annual Future of Music Coalition Policy Summits and can vouch for the organization and its goals without the slightest reservation.

Titled “The Future for Musicians,” the seminar is part of a four-stop tour across Upstate New York and is co-sponsored by the American Federation of Musicians and funded by the New York State Music Fund—that big pile of money that Eliot Spitzer cranked out of the music industry after he caught the major labels and Big Radio with their pants down a few years ago. The Fund has been responsible for a lot of very cool things over the past couple of years, and, yes, we have Eliot Spitzer to thank. Seriously.

The seminars will feature real live international serious experts and will cover such topics as the use of new technologies for distributing and promoting music; navigating ASCAP, BMI, and SoundExchange; online music marketing; podcasting/ webcasting; state and Federal policies affecting musicians; governmental funding opportunities; and health-insurance options for working musicians.

And it’s free! Go to www.futureof music.org to find out more and reserve your spot. And tell every musician you care about about this. See you there.

Moving on. The antitrust unit of the U.S. Department of Justice this week approved the merger of the Sirius and XM satellite-radio networks, saying that the merger would not be anti-competitive. How could this be, you say, since these are the only two satellite-radio networks, they competed against each other, and if they merge there will be no competition? Like, huh?

Well, the DOJ, following a trend in what’s left of antitrust jurisprudence in this neocon “the market will provide” age we live in, takes a broad view of “competition.” In the DOJ’s view, XM and Sirius aren’t just competing with each other, they are also competing with terrestrial radio, with Internet radio, with iPods—and apparently, with singing in the shower, daydreaming, meditating in absolute silence, and doing cartwheels naked down State Street whilst screaming “Lindy’s landed!” This being the case, the merger sailed through, with the added benefit that it will be good for the shareholders of the two huge, and heretofore money-losing, corporations.

Of course, this theoretical view ignores what some of us here on earth call reality. XM and Sirius competed mightily with each other, and this competition yielded the following benefits: reasonable prices for both the receiving equipment and the monthly subscriptions; aggressive innovations in technology; and an amazing array of diverse programming, as the two competitors beat the bushes to attract mass-market and niche listeners alike. For every 24-hour Howard Stern channel, there are a dozen interesting and specialized programs. Just a few months ago I wandered into the Monterey General Store to see the wonderful Pete and Maura Kennedy perform; between sets Pete was telling me about their weekly Sirius radio show. David Johannson’s got a satellite show, too. So does Vin Scelsa, Christine Lavin, Martha Quinn, Lisa Lisa, Bob Dylan, etc. etc. etc.

Now, imagine that Sirius and XM aren’t competing anymore, and there’s only one satellite network. No longer are there two entities clawing and scratching for your attention and your money. There’s just one. What do you think is going to happen to the prices? What do you think is going to happen to the cutting-edge technology? And maybe most importantly, what’s going to happen to the fringe music, the special live performances, all the extravagant things these networks have been doing to get you to sign up?

Uh-huh, stagnation, cost-cutting, no more risky innovation, and a beeline to the lowest common denominator. If you’re a satellite-radio fan, you’re captive.

Until it gets so bad that you decide that maybe your iPod is a worthy alternative, just like the DOJ says it is. Except that the DOJ’s anti-competitive ruling caused your migration, limited your choices, and killed off a true haven of diversity.

A-O, way to go.

—Paul Rapp

 

Paul Rapp is an intellectual-property lawyer with offices in Albany and Housatonic, Mass. He teaches art-and-entertainment law at Albany Law School, and regularly appears as part of the Copyright Forum on WAMC’s Vox Pop. Contact info can be found at www.paul rapp.com. Comments about this article can be posted at rapponthis .blogspot.com.


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