Most political arguments can actually be broken down into two categories: those who want government fixes for everything, and those who want organic, private fixes.
A lot of people believe that if the government isn’t doing something, it isn’t getting done.
The minute the government tries to shut down a program, there are those who wail and fret and think something is getting taken away from them. I always think something better might be on the verge of getting created in its place …by the private sector. And it’ll probably be something more affordable and efficient; cooler and more creative in design.
I guess it’s all in how you look at it.
The government has never made a piano. And yet pianos get made. I play one every day. The government tries to fund art (which has always been weird to me). But it has never funded a Bruce Springsteen record. Yet Born To Run got made. Amazing.
The government didn’t design or build the smart phone. And yet it continues to change the world.
The government DID build the American interstate (and I love it). But it did NOT build the gas stations, hotels and restaurants along the routes from New York to LA. You can get in your car and drive the length of the country and never worry about not having enough places to sleep, eat or get gas. Why? Because humans, left unfettered, will find answers. The government should keep everyone safe and do what private companies can’t do for the greater good. But the free market has an ingenious way of taking care of a lot of things …if we let it.
Governments – even great ones (which I believe ours IS) – are passionless, bureaucratic machines. They have no inherent incentive to do the right thing or the wrong thing. There is no good or bad in government. There just IS. For this reason, I get nervous when I hear people trying to make government aspirational. I prefer it pragmatic and slow …and the last resort. Why? Well …
I work in a trade (the songwriting trade) that is becoming extinct. Of the three ways songwriters get paid, two of them are completely and totally regulated and controlled by the government. And the regulations and rates have NOT gotten close to the general vicinity of keeping up with technology and how people currently consume music.
The one place the government DOES NOT oversee our rates is the one place we absolutely compete dollar-for-dollar with all other aspects of the business. In THIS area, the MARKET has deemed songwriters as equals. And it’s about the last place where we can still earn a decent living. That place is in licenses for film and TV.
That’s why you hear artists and records (you never thought you’d hear) selling soap and grills and cars and banks. Rock stars used to be precious about “not selling out.” But watch one full week of network television and you’ll hear actual master recordings from everyone from the Rolling Stones to James Brown pitching you a product. Give any hot, pop song a year …and it will be a major TV commercial. Why? Because from a copyright perspective, advertising is the Alamo for getting paid for a song.
Trust me …if and when I can do it …I will, too. One day you’ll hear Time Of My Life selling lovely, beach vacations or spiffy, assisted-living centers. It will be sappy and pathetic …and I won’t be sorry! I’ve got kids to feed!
As a songwriter, I live and breathe with the government in my business every second of every hour of every day. I can multiply anything by 9.1 cents. Why? That’s how much the “mechanical” royalty rate is for a song. Every time someone buys a record, each song on that record earns 9.1 cents. Same with digital singles. But these rates apply to a price-per-unit sold.
The mechanical rate was started as a protection for songwriters, back in 1909. You see, player pianos were all the rage. People were buying rolls of sheet music to play on those fancy, new contraptions. And someone needed to step in and create a uniform pay structure for those sweet, lovable songwriters. Thanks, government. Women couldn’t vote then, either …just an FYI. And antibiotics were only a few decades away. But I digress …
That rate – for player piano rolls – was then arbitrarily used for the sale of vinyl recordings …then 8-tracks …then cassettes …then CDs …then mp3s. And it would only go up when some songwriter would show up before congress and yell and scream until congress, in their austere magnanimity, agreed to to raise the rate (thank you, Hoyt Axton).
Now …nobody buys one unit of music anymore. They buy it in bulk. It’s called streaming. But the government, according to its own laws, is stuck in the last decade …which means I, (as a songwriter) have to be stuck there as well. But my family isn’t. My mortgage isn’t. My car payments aren’t. Hey, don’t sweat it, congress. You only control my entire existence.
At no point has anyone in government ever said, “Hey …maybe we’re valuing the wrong things when it comes to the sale of music and the use of music technology? Maybe the people who write songs should be the billionaires and the people who invent Google should have THEIR rates strictly governed AND CAPPED by US.”
Which one leaves you humming a tune? Again, I digress …
When I was a teenager my dad brought home some government surplus cheese. They were giving it away someplace he happened to be. It was actually pretty good cheese. And we made all kinds of sandwiches with it.
I still don’t know why the government had cheese or why it was giving it away. But it was a thing for a while. A lot of people would go get free cheese as long as they were handing it out. And why wouldn’t they? Free cheese.
But the truth is we didn’t really need the government involved in the getting and giving of cheese. That’s just not what the government is supposed to be doing.
As I write this, I have five different kinds of cheese in my home (six, if you count my songs).
I’m a smoked gouda man. My wife likes sharp cheddar and my daughter is a mozzarella stick girl. My son likes some fancy, high-brow coastal something or other. And we keep a shredded blend on hand for omelets and chili and such.
I’m sure there are governing bodies that monitor and regulate the creation, packaging and transport of cheese. But there is no governing body PROVIDING it or telling one sector of the cheese industry what it can charge for this or that. The market decides all those things. And it does a pretty damn good job. Instead of one standard, block cheese, all kinds of delicious, creative cheeses get made and consumed. And we’re all happy about it. Because everybody loves cheese! And they should …because cheese is awesome!
Cheese seems to be better when cheese MAKERS are free …than it is when CHEESE is free.
The government doesn’t need to be in the music business anymore than it needs to be in the cheese business. The biggest favor congress could do songwriters, at this moment in history, is to pass a two-line law that simply says, “you guys go figure it out …we’ll enforce the contracts.”
We might not do a better job of managing our rates and careers than the government has done. But I’ll guarantee you we won’t do a worse job.
We make pretty damn good cheese. And if we’re going to keep making it, the government either needs to keep up …or get out of the way.