John Mellencamp says you’re stealing from him, so Google should give him money

John Mellencamp wrote an article for Huffington Post. I wouldn’t have noticed either except that Bob Lefsetz happened to mention it in a recent newsletter. Mr. Mellencamp says, essentially, that you’re stealing from him and that ISPs and Google should pony up and give him some money.

I posted this as a comment to the article:

The real problem is not illegal downloads. That ship has sailed, sorry Mr. Mellencamp. People turned to free downloads because the industry refused to evolve.

The real problem is the system of tracking, collecting and distributing royalties in the US is fundamentally broken – not necessarily by design but in practice. The system, as implemented, benefits the top 10% of artists at the expense of the bottom 90% and massive amounts of money is donated to politicians to keep the system broken. Sound familiar?

Every other country in the the world has a single Performing Rights Organization (PRO). Music sales, plays and performances are properly tracked and the artists get paid. It’s not rocket science. The US is the only country in the world with more than one PRO. The PROs shake down small clubs and coffeehouses for thousands of dollars per year yet there’s almost a 100% chance that the artists who perform in those clubs will never see a dime of that money. Lady Gaga will. Probably John Mellencamp will. Or used to.

The solution: 1) a single PRO entity; 2) proper tracking of radio airplay and other performances, not “sampling”; 3) a fair method of establishing and enforcing royalty collections; 4) pro-rata distribution of royalties to all rights-holders. Other countries do this. We can too.

If you really want to help the artists – all of them – insist we have a single PRO in the US.

Spotify Needs to Free Itself From Facebook


I’m a big fan of Spotify.  I’ve fully bought in to the subscription model for music (with a couple caveats: album art/liner notes and completeness of library).  As long as the catalog is overwhelming and has the music I want to hear then I’m 100% in.  I’d much rather pay $5-10/mo. to have everything than $12-18 a CD, no question about it.  This is the way music is going, accept it, enjoy it.

That’s why when I first heard of Spotify I started getting interested.  Yeah, I had tried Pandora and Slacker and Rdio but they didn’t connect.  I could see blog posts about and screenshots of Spotify and read what the CEO said.  I wanted it.  But I couldn’t have it.  No licensing for the US.  I knew some folks had gotten early US access but I didn’t know how.  I read where a few resourceful people had done some “things” to get access.  Ironically I knew that our CD The Border Blasters “Blast From The Past” was available on Spotify (through our distribution deal with CDBaby).  I knew this because I’ve gotten paid for people who stream or download our music via Spotify.  It’s pennies, to be sure, but those are folks who are probably fans now and they weren’t before.  I call that a win.  And that’s another rant for another time.

When the service launched in the US I was stoked.  Finally!  I got an early invitation and signed up.  Yup, it’s good.  Damn good.  Yup, their Americana and Roots catalog is a little thin but there is a lot they *do* have.  Some stuff I’d never seen before.  For the last month or so of doing the Border Blast Revue on KRTS I was programming the show about 75% via Spotify.  It was wonderful to have access to some of the new major label releases that never serviced our small station and some super small stuff that somehow made it into their library.

Then Spotify announced the partnership with Facebook.  “Uh oh…”  Now you *have* to have a Facebook account to get a Spotify account.  I guess Spotify needed the cash infusion.  I’ve heard they are hemorrhaging cash and that the major labels structured ridiculous and horrible deals to get access to their catalogs.  A chunk of ownership by Facebook bought them some life for their US launch.

But unless they get out of the deal with Facebook, or at least give the option of having an account without Facebook, I believe that relationship might also create serious long term problems for Spotify.

I think the bloom is off the rose for Facebook.  I’m on there but I rarely post anything.  I just don’t like the fact that I’m not the customer – I’m the product.  Sure it’s great to see what everyone is doing and find old friends and stuff.  Everyone is there.  But people are getting hip to the constant invasions of privacy and the commoditization of our personal lives for the big corporations.  I don’t think anyone thinks Zuckerberg or the Facebook behemoth has our interests at heart.  They sure don’t have a motto like “Don’t Be Evil.” (Of course, whether or not Google lives up to that motto is certainly open for debate…)

It’s really too bad that Google didn’t make the deal with Spotify instead.  Maybe they tried and couldn’t work the deal I don’t know.  Maybe they were too invested already in their own Google Music service.  But I really think that was a missed opportunity for Google.  It could have been exactly the shot in the arm that Google+ needed.

I’ve tried to talk several of my friends into getting Spotify.  They would love it; I know they would.  But they say “No way!” to Facebook.  Spotify may be tapping into the masses on Facebook but by doing so they are shutting the door on probably an equal number of potential customers who will never, ever sign up on Facebook.  And unless Spotify can make their service available to anyone, not just Facebook members, it’s going to decline along with Facebook.

I guess the positive spin on this is that there is still a void, an opportunity.  I thought Spotify was going to be the holy grail of music subscription: Everything ever recorded available any time to anyone for an affordable monthly fee. That’s the goal.  That’s what Spotify said it wanted to be.  They aren’t there yet.  And the Facebook deal hobbles getting there perhaps as much as it helped them.  But I know if someone builds that they’ll own the music world.

Adios, Amigos

It’s been a tough fall losing friends.  Each time it happens I try to remind myself that every day is a gift and to use it wisely, to try and progress ever so slightly towards a better world and to help others, too.  The reminder is easy.  Doing it isn’t.  But let’s take a minute and remember some of our friends who’ve left this earth.

Doyle Bramhall, Sr.

We had the great pleasure of getting to know Doyle Bramhall over the last few years after he moved to Alpine.  What stood out for me about Doyle was his genuine graciousness and camaraderie.  We had the honor of playing with him at Padre’s.  There was no ego, it was as if everyone on stage was old friends – he was totally at ease musically and personally with those around him, and that came through in the music and the performance.  He was an amazing musician and I wish I would have the pleasure of playing music with and just being around him more often.


Tim Henderson

It’s true that Townes Van Zandt used to call Tim Henderson for advice when a song he was writing wasn’t coming together like he wanted.  Tim approached songwriting with the same precision and detail as his day job writing technical manuals for Tracor and Texas Instruments.  He could tell you the difference between a “refrain,” a “bridge” and a “chorus” and where you would want to use one or the other and why.  Not only that but he was damn funny.  I could sit and listen to his stories for hours – and did.  J.C. was right when he said he was loved by all who knew him.


Drew Castaneda

Drew Castenada was the banjo player on our bluegrass version of Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder The Come” from The Border Blasters’ “Blast From The Past” CD, and my friend since Country Day School kindergarten in Austin in the early 1960s and he was in all our bands through the 1980s.  Drew was probably the most technical musician in our bunch – if he heard a banjo break he wanted to emulate he would sit down and figure it out note by note and practice it until he could play it perfectly.   It saddens me greatly say but Drew fell on hard times, mainly due to troubles with addiction.  Booze mostly.  It took a hard toll on him personally and professionally.  But the Drew I’ll remember, always, is the one we had so goddam many good times with.  Not just playing music but fishing (we’d go down to Town Lake with a pole and a six pack of Pearl beer, find snails in the brush and pull perch out all afternoon; “light perchin'” we called it), driving around as kids, talking about philosophy and girls) – I’ve missed that Drew for a long time.

Joe Gracey mixing “Blast From The Past” at Lone Star Studios, Austin, Texas

What can you say about Joe Gracey that hasn’t already been said?  Joe was the engineer and co-producer for “Blast From The Past” and was also a friend.  JR built him a wine cellar at this place in Spicewood to pay off his fees from the session.  I corresponded with Joe fairly regularly and kinda became better friends with him via email once that became common.  I helped him and Kimmie with some of their technical web stuff (and still host their web sites).  Joe once sent an email or blog post where he mentioned “the best liquor I ever had was a bottle of bootleg ‘sotol’ Todd Jagger brought back from Big Bend.”  I remember that bottle and it was good.  Bought at the Park Bar in Boquillas Mexico – they would put the booze in whatever containers they had, this one in a Wesson bottle.  Joe was one of the undisputed founders of the Austin music scene.  I fondly remember his rapid-fire insight, jokes, rants and cussing on whatever brand of  ‘magic slate’ he could find – Barbie, X-Men, Care Bears, My Little Pony…  and can still hear his long-lost voice signing off KOKE-FM (“Super Roper Radio”): “Drink plenty of water, stay off yer feet and come when you can.”  Thanks Joe.

Clockwise from top left: Todd, TJ McFarland, JR, Joe Gracey, Phil Johnson

Are you telling your customers (or fans) to go away?

When the phone rings at your store do you just let it ring? When a customer walks through your door do you ignore them? Probably not. But that’s exactly what you’re doing when you don’t reply to business (or fan!) emails. It’s mind-boggling how many companies simply ignore their emails. Over the last week I’ve sent email inquiries to two companies I would like to hand some cash to and neither have replied. Both of these email inquiries were from their “Contact Us” page.  Sadly this response, or lack thereof actually, is more the norm than the exception.

Customers, or potential customers, don’t necessarily expect super-quick responses to emails (although doing so demonstrates your respect for your customers and a high level of customer service), but they *do* expect a response. When you let email inquiries go into the black hole you are telling people, “Go Away!” – a) I’m too busy for you; b) I don’t care about your business; or c) Somebody told me I need a web page but I have no idea how to use it. None of these are great for your business or building your fanbase.

Either use your business email or get rid of it. It’s that simple.

Music has changed

Over the end credits on “Dexter” tonight (yes, I’m about a month behind) they played “I’m Your Vehicle” by Blood Sweat & Tears. I asked Anjela if she remember that song and she said it was a little before her time… I was listening to the horns on the TV speakers and was taken back to Jr. High listening to that album. Really loud on the “good stereo” in my parents’ living room. Where the analog notes would reverberate through your spine. The horns! That bari sax! A true wall of sound!

And then I thought how different our interaction with music is today. Digitized. Shrunk into little ear pods that cannot possibly reproduce sound properly. I realized I don’t even have a good stereo in my house any more. Me! The guy with 10 feet of vinyl and a few hundred CDs, not to mention about 15,000 songs on my hard drive. That’s just not right. Gonna have to fix that. I still have the gear, just no good speakers any more.

We used to sit down and listen to music. Now music is either a soundtrack to our daily lives (if we are lucky) or an event we participate in at great expense (a concert). Or if we’re lucky an experience where you get to be in the same room with one or more talented musicians and hear them make good, handmade music on fine instruments in a good setting.

That’s what we like to do with the Border Blasters. It’s what we do best, really.