White Collar Criminals

SUMERIAN RECORDS’ ASH AVILDSEN: “ARRRGH, DON’T BE A PIRATE!”

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Sumerian Records co-founder Ash Avildsen published a ballsy video yesterday in which he presents some facts and his own opinions on the issue of music piracy. Since Ash instructs listeners at the very beginning to “take 3 minutes of your day to listen to this message with an open mind, and then decide for yourself how you feel about the subject at hand,” I figured I’d do just that.

So… first, watch the above video.

OK, ready? Now let’s dive in.

What Ash gets right:

  • He admits that spreading music for unsigned bands can be a great tool for them.

What Ash get wrong:

  • Simply distinguishing between “signed band sharing = bad” and “unsigned band sharing = good” leaves too much gray area. What about bedroom indie labels? What about labels that are slightly bigger than bedroom indie labels? And labels that are slightly bigger than those? In increments all the way up to major labels? Or what about brand new bands on bigger labels who release singles / EPs for free? In order for Ash’s argument to carry any weight, I think he definitively needs to say “all sharing is bad” (or conversely “all sharing is good”), otherwise he’ll become trapped by his own argument when a band that doesn’t fit his mold for sharing or not-sharing comes along.

What Ash gets right:

  • He does a great job of striking down the widely-believed fallacy that bands aren’t hurt by music piracy and concisely explains the concept of recoupment. He also does a good job of explaining why record labels are important in today’s music industry ecosystem by enumerating the many ways in which they spend money on promoting bands and bringing their music, videos, tours, etc to the masses.

What Ash gets wrong:

  • That argument assumes record labels can and will always be the only source of financial backing for a band. As an owner of booking powerhouse The Pantheon Agency (they do Summer Slaughter, Thrash and Burn, and 100 metal bands you’ve heard of), and seeing as Sumerian Records is co-owned by a partner in Outerloop Management, Ash should know this better than anyone. The reason all three companies have been so successful recently is because the synergy between all three keeps all bases covered and money flowing in from all angles.
  • That argument also assumes that the sale of recorded music is the only way a record label or any financial backer can make money. I may be wrong on this, but I’m pretty sure Sumerian issues at least a few merch items for every release they put out (and surely shares in the profit of those), and via Pantheon and Outerloop they’ve got direct or indirect back-door revenue coming in from both live shows and, via management, every stream of income a band has.

What Ash gets right:

  • He makes a really good point about the corporate ads on music piracy (rapidshare, megaupload, etc) and torrent sites that have nothing to do with music, from which bands never see any money. Honestly, I never even thought about this and it does make me angry.

What Ash gets wrong:

  • This point is severely undermined by the fact that this video is basically a giant ad for Born of Osiris’ new record, released the same day as this video. I think it would’ve held more weight if he simply stuck to numbers and charts and released it on any random day. If he’s railing against those site owners for masking their true intentions, he’s got to be consistent with his own message for his argument to carry any weight. If this is about music piracy, have it be solely about music piracy without bombarding the viewer with images of BoO’s album art. That I’m helping promote said ad with this post is not lost on me, but the tone of Ash’s statement and what I’ve heard of his opinions on the matter in the past strike me as way too earnest for this to simply be a promotional ploy.

Additional comments: I’m not arguing that music piracy is “right.” It isn’t. It is definitely stealing. But it simply “is”… it exists, it’s here, it’s not going to change, and the Internet has made it such that the way we consume and view music has been altered forever. The belief that CDs, or even legal digital file ownership, are going to make a magical comeback is akin to thinking the horse and buggy will soon become the preferred mode of transportation in America. In a perfect world musicians, artists and all creative types would be millionaires while politicians, bankers and lawyers would have to scrap for pennies.

But this is not the case. You know why? Because music was never supposed to get anyone rich or even earn them anything more than a very modest living. The period lasting roughly from 1930 through 2000 was the apex of a bell curve in the history of music due to the happy collision of humankind’s technological ability to reproduce audio recordings and our inability to do so efficiently; now that we can do so more efficiently, things go back to normal. Never before has it been possible to earn so much money on art, and it never will again. It was good while it lasted, but it’s over.

The silver lining here is that because of said efficiency it’s easier than ever to produce music and get it out to the masses. It drives me CRAZY when people say art will suffer without the monolithic industry behind it… art will be just fine, just as it was for the hundreds and thousands of years before it was possible to put music on a physical product and carry it around. Only it’s even better now — recording technology is so cheap and Internet access so widespread, it’s easier than it’s ever been to record and get your music out there. Just look at all that Periphery — now a Sumerian act — was able to accomplish before ever being signed, without the benefit of hundreds of thousands of dollars in studio equipment and without a marketing campaign or publicist. Misha Mansoor’s drive and ambition and, most of all, talent, got that band where they are.

End rant. Now it’s back in your court, Ash. Go! (srsly… I’ll run a response if you write one up.)

-VN

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