A note to the “Spotify Grinch” in this “Bloodshot” landscape

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In today’s fiery think-piece I have for you all, we’re going to explore what I’d describe as my Festivus moment from the TV show Seinfeld. Its currently the Airing of Grievances part of the episode, and as the late great actor on the program Jerry Stiller would say, I’ve got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!

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Specifically, you’re going to hear about my grievances with country-folk label Bloodshot Records, as well as what digital streaming services are doing to harm the only reason they have money in the first place! Remember that point specifically: the ONLY REASON these companies even exist. 

But first up, batter up Bloodshot. There are several publications readers interested should research about this topic, as multiple writers have done some excellent reporting on the heavily problematic, years-long issues with this label. I myself had been drawn back into the organization’s orbit following 2019 allegations of inappropriate behavior leveled at the partner of Bloodshot co-owner Nan Warshaw (who later resigned). But, I hadn’t become aware of shady financial impropriety until Bloodshot co-owner Rob Miller recently departed his post as well.

I can’t pretend to say I’m a fly on the wall inside the label’s operations knowing what goes on, but leaving yourself allegedly thousands of dollars in debt to your unpaid artists who have been dealt a highly-uncertain future through your own sketchy actions is wildly questionable behavior. Leaving those creators in the dark about when or how they might get their master recordings back if the shit hits the fan might be even worse, especially when those in charge start to go and jump ship. And you know why that is?

Because in music, so much remains cyclical. Pick an era and odds are you can fit these same scenarios into some other past creator’s nightmare. I love music don’t get me wrong, but the business is a hellscape that can deny those in its path money, opportunity, and property of their own art for generations no matter how good, “big” or influential they might happen to be. Even those few hypotheticals are just the tip of the iceberg; I know we probably all have our own favorite infuriating “musician getting screwed over” story. The nature of the system never seems to improve for the better. 

Via Google Images

The overarching point is this: Bloodshot Records, pay your fucking artists who helped you even get a seat at the table of notoriety. Give them the rights and publishing to their music they well-deserve. This week the label was acquired by Exceleration Music, a collective put together by various industry notables. We can only hope that the move means deeply overdue compensation is coming for those that have earned it. Singer-songwriter Cory Branan comes to mind especially (who was quoted as allegedly being owed $10,000 by Bloodshot).

On that note, lets jump over to my complaint for digital streamers Spotify, Amazon, and Pandora. You can read more details here, but suffice to say the three biggest giants on that market would like to propose giving the artists whose work they constantly use an even lower cut of the money generated off their own songs through each stream. Do these decision-makers think we can’t read or understand what these actions mean? It’s like so many other industries in the free market economy, how much more can you push down the smallest person on the totem pole until they push back because they’ve got nothing left to give to you and your greed?

I’ve known and spoken with countless musicians who’ve continuously derided the streaming system as a complete joke that generated them fractions of pennies on the dollar. It reminds me of trying to monetize old Youtube videos I made that qualified for the status, only to eventually realize the site’e monetary program with Google was exclusively designed toward the benefit of a fortunate few. It’s great if you wind up becoming one, but unless the stars are aligned for you odds are video and/or streaming services won’t provide much more than joke checks worth roughly half the paper they’re printed on. 

Via Google Images

And yet, here we are with these belt-tightened proposals sitting before the US Copyright Royalty Board trying to create an even more skewed deal for 2023-2027. I’m just one lowly writer and I don’t profess to quitting my day job anytime soon, but as a hypothetical musician if I could avoid digital streaming I’d walk over broken glass to do it. Having an online outlet like Bandcamp for those to BUY your work outright is one (problematic) thing, but streamers like Spotify start to feel more like the plain, two-bit prize at the bottom of a Crackerjack box by the day. Like pornographers ready to rob exposure in exchange for a few suspiciously wet dollars while they sit there slicked back in gold Gucci slides.  

But that all-seeing hand with its fee-seeking fingers out causes pain in both digital streaming as well as physical releases, where artists often get saddled for the costs to make merchandise, vinyl and CD’s. Inevitably, everyone in the chain wants a piece of the profits, and the pie never equitably spreads out. It’s hard to say when or even if that wobbling table will ever be fixed; there’s just a lot of work that needs to be done. 

I wish I could wrap up this rant with a neat, bow-wrapped solution for this entire unwinding set of dilemmas. Unfortunately, its not made for fixing in a single blog post. Its made for plenty of grievances as I wished to demonstrate here, but with any luck over time we’ll also see bigger pushes in the right direction leading to greater industry independence. 

Until then, I’ve got my eye on you Bloodshot, Amazon, Pandora and Spotify! We need solutions!

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Reading from the lines of a postcard of recollections…

My own personal birthday banner

I recently had several of my loved ones throw a small celebration in honor of my 30th birthday. It’s the first significant occasion I’ve had take place in a world now altered by COVID-19 and the subsequent quarantine, and one that occurred (safely online) despite those circumstances. 

Since the festivities and the official start to my 30’s, I’ve found myself in the mood to reminisce and glance back at the road I’ve traveled so far. Particularly after the many difficult events that have occurred in just the first few months of 2020.

Specifically, I’ve found myself focusing on the relationship between the life miles I’ve traveled and the music that’s been there with its thumb in the wind waiting for me, eager to hitch a ride on the trek. And where better to start, as most stories do, than with the beginning?

Photo source: NPR.org

I remember so many different bands and artists being played around my house when I was growing up.  

Billy Joel (that “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” piano solo!), Neil Young, Ray Charles, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles (so much good Beatles), James Taylor (the first musician I saw live in concert) and Dave Matthews Band. There was also plenty of support from the likes of Nirvana, The Eagles, Alanis Morissette, Nanci Griffith, Collective Soul, Oasis, Tracy Chapman (whose work still haunts me in the most beautiful way), the Crash Test Dummies, Soul Asylum… it was a feast fit to keep many a cassette and CD player well-fed.

It was also just the sort of early flavor palate any music hobbyist aspires to begin learning on. After all, every healthy garden has to start with just a few strong seeds, and the gene pool I developed from had plenty to share.

Photo via greenbaypressgazette.com

Eventually, that initial versatility led to my own musical choices, which included some lasting hits (U2, the Bee Gees), as well as a few that didn’t make the long-term cut (the boy band years for instance). However, regardless of their ultimate status, each artistic contribution remains important because much like the flap of a butterfly’s wings causing a hurricane, the smallest change might mean I’d be a different person today.

And that’s not something I’d be willing to compromise on or accept, virus or no virus.

Image via Genius.com

I like to say Warren Zevon was the jumping on point where listening to music became more than just a passing habit of mine. The now-sadly-deceased singer-songwriter was a master of macabre wit, wistful heartbreak, and a trademark, slicked back Mr. Bad Example personality. For me, Zevon was like finding the Holy Grail in another run-of-the-mill junk sale, and nothing would again be the same. 

(Knowing you could use the word “brucellosis” in a song… game-changer).

As gifted as he was, Zevon’s talent was held back by varying factors, including a lack of commercial success, subsequently being mislabeled as a one hit wonder with 1978’s “Werewolves of London”, and many years of erratic battles with personal demons. Still, I’ve never heard his kind before or since, and the initial discovery gave my ears their first taste of just how wide and variable the world of melody could truly be outside my small-town knowledge.

I just needed the patience to mine for it. 

Photo courtesy of NPR.org

From there, I was drawn into further revelations later on via the likes of Wilco’s folk-rock experimentalism, Ryan Adams’ sad bastard songwriting sensibility, and Ben Folds’ proficiency for mouthy piano-slinging. Almost like relationships, each connection for better or for worse has paved the way for more progress in my musical paint set the older I’ve become. 

Progress though… can be a tough word to reckon with when it comes to the double-edged sword that is the steady forward march of age. 

On one hand, the expansion of my horizons in this medium have without question been some of the greatest blessings of my existence. The teenage version of myself holding his first iPod classic would never have been able to imagine the artists I’ve heard and loved up to now, the friends I’ve made through music, and the way its made me a better version of myself.

Cbc.ca is the source for this image

Yet… I feel an almost imperceptible sense of the blues standing here now, officially 30 years old. Songs like Joni’s “The Circle Game” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” used to make me suffocatingly sad as a kid knowing that those innocent moments I was in when I heard these tracks couldn’t last. That eventually, time comes between the fun and games to take us off to the tasks of adulthood. And at this stage of my days (and in these current times), I can confirm to my youthful past that innocence doesn’t last, and there is a part of me wishing I’d used all that early time for something more than I did.

But that’s part of growing up (and learning to be well-versed in the art of 20/20 hindsight). The good and bad things in this existence are about as adept at escaping their connection as we are at dodging inevitable time or age or death. What matters more is coming to terms with and accepting the ups and downs, and still making the most of them. It’s not easy, but we only get so long to learn and grow and do, and I for one plan to waste no time in carving more musical stories into my next decade.

I just hope to get to take you all on the trip.

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