Music Industry 101; or why the Xmas Factor Rage matters

Right I’m frankly surprised at some of the responses to the whole Rage Against The Machine for Xmas #1 campaign (803,000 members and counting!) – they seem to be unaware of the current state of the music industry and why stuff like this matters.

1) “It’s Simon Cowell’s record company” – not strictly true. Syco is a subsidiary of Sony Music UK, but RATM’s label is another subsidiary in the states. Doubtful Simon will profit from RATM, possible if he’s got shares, but he could have shares in all companies for all we know. It will profit Sony but also Rage who are one of the most politically active groups. I’m happy to give them money, cos it’ll probably go to some good use. EDIT: they’ve announced that some of the proceeds are going to UK charity Youth Music and Shelter. I knew RATM would do that; great charities also.

Also may I remind you there are only 4 main record companies now, at least ones that have infrastructure to get a Xmas #1 or mass recognition. So you only have 1/4 chance of hitting a Sony product anyways. Sure you have some hits and novelty hits from the few smaller companies but they are rare – you’d think this might have changed in the digital age, but it hasn’t. Even the likes of XL had to band together with other labels to negotiate with iTunes et al and STILL got stiffed. Also many of the smaller hits when they rise up the charts get distribution deals with those big 4, so back to them again.

Also Sony is one of the less evil corporations – EMI and Warners give people hell over remixes and mashups, UMG via Interscope just got my videos pulled on YouTube and Myspace. Sony BMG I know encourage people to remix their stuff, at least in the R’n’B arena, and they’ve been like that since disco days I think. Certainly never got a DMCA or C&D from them. They see whitelabels and DJ remixes quite rightly as free promotion of their acts, although I’m sure if you start selling CDs in mass quantities like all record companies they would be down on you like a ton of bricked iPhones.

2) “It’s silly” or “It won’t change anything” – This is a funny one, especially as people tend to decry apathy in this day and age. You don’t get to choose what people power is used for, I’d prefer (and would fight) for it not to be used to lynch immigrants, but usually it’s for good purposes. What’s good in this? you might think.

Well it’s a symptom of an interesting shift where Facebook and Twitter are being used for real and not so real political action from MP expenses to Trafigura and Iran and yes Xmas single campaigns. The good is that people are actively doing something and being passionate, those groundswells could be used for great good (and evil) but if the original motivator is something other than self-interest and oil – from music lovers hating X-Factor’s damaging hold on their chart to climate change and making sure MPs are not hypocritical. It’s all part of the same movement.

So no, it’s not ‘silly’ – it’s a bit of fun. As Eric Kleptone said about this in Facebook:

“Anyone that thinks it’s about the cash is really missing the point, in my opinion. Ever bought anything from a joke shop? Something from a pound shop you really didn’t really want but looked daft? It’s a fun thing to do, a wheeze! a jape! it’s like sticking drawing pins on your teacher’s chair and then sitting in the back of the class sniggering, waiting for him to come in. It won’t *do* anything other than cock a snook at someone that has more power and influence than you’ll ever have, but if there are cocks to be snooked, my god, I’ll be right there helping out.”

The other response he had that maybe people should think about where they spend money always rather than just this time was also totally on the money, too.

But being able to send that message, even a silly one, may or may not worry the likes of Simon Cowell (I think it might) but if it succeeds it will make a lot of people feel warm and fuzzy about campaigning online so maybe next time when it’s more serious, they’ll take part. And make certain people higher up nervous or aware of the power of such campaigns widening from being a bunch of geeks with too much time on their hands to mass democracy.That for me is what it’s about.

Oh and blowing a raspberry to Simon Cowell, that too 😉

EDIT: 3) ‘It’s not appropriate’ ‘it has the word fuck in it’ – well unlike BBC Radio 5 Live who should have guessed they’d swear live on air, the band seem to have more grasp of the allure of the song, it’s central message ‘Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me’. In these sanitised photoshopped times, where bland yet hypocritically faintly shocking is king; there is a need to shake things up – not just for controversy but for wider reasons. The power of the media corporates which is now mostly the same as the record labels, the government clamping down on protest and even 3strikes, privacy online, CCTV and ‘terrorist’ monitoring (you can tell I’ve been reading Cory Doctorow’s ‘Little Brother’ can’t you?) is an undercurrent that is boiling under all this jovial seasonal ‘fun’ unrest. It’s a wider issue of censorship and taking back culture. ‘Take it back’, taking back ownership from the spoon-feeding media giants.

So remember to go buy RATM’s Killing in the Name Of before Saturday midnight; the X-Factor Joe Elderwotsit’s CD *boo hiss* goes on sale today.

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