OnlineRock: Empowering Musicians  

The Crossroads

WARNING: This article may contain language that is inappropriate for children.

The Internet music revolution is over. Or, the Internet music revolution is just beginning. Which of these statements ring true to you? Both? Neither? It's hard to tell just which way to turn when you are standing at the crossroads, isn't it? This is where we find ourselves today, ladies and gentlemen, at the crossroads of the Internet music revolution. Which way will it go?

The story of Robert Johnson is a telling one, and one which corresponds eerily to the recent travails of Internet music. If you recall the tale, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads for fame, fortune and an otherworldly ability to play his guitar. It worked great at first, as any deal with the Prince of Darkness always does. He did achieve a degree of fame, as far as the bars, brothels and juke joints of the rural south were concerned. But as we now know, a wider knowledge and acceptance of his music eluded him during his lifetime. Maybe it was one of those highly ironic bad jokes that Lucifer enjoys at our expense. He did become a world renowned Bluesman, only it was long after his death that he attained his fame. He definitely was given the "otherworldly" ability to play his guitar, as any cursory listen to his surviving recordings will attest. To this day, guitar geniuses are still madly trying to figure out what he did, and how he did it. His technique was extraordinary, even by today's standards. I guess it was just another bad joke that his incomparable guitar skills never got him the fortune he sought during his lifetime, either. He was nothing but a scuffling, raggedy, itinerant troubadour at the time of his mysterious demise, with no money and nothing to show for all the years of hard gigs in lowdown dives. But if he had lived long enough, he would have seen his dedication to his axe and his music pay off big. The re-release of his recordings on CD, all digitally remastered and beautifully packaged, would have put a hefty sum in his worn out pants pocket indeed. I bet 'ol Scratch is down there telling our hero about how he kept all his promises. "Look up there Robert, I gave you everything I ever promised you, didn't I? You got it all, baby! Fame, fortune, and you're still playing like a motherfucker every time they play your records! It aint my fault you never lived to see it, I didn't tell you to go fuck that bitch and get killed for it by some jealous husband now, did I?" I imagine our Mr. Johnson sitting down there by the fire, still playing the "hell" out of his axe, crying a river of tears over his own sorrowful fate; the fate that he caused himself by selling his soul to the devil.

That is the risk we all take whenever we find ourselves at the crossroads. One way can lead you down a dead end; another to the Promised Land. And if all you do is stand there waiting, you might just be lured into a deal with some scary guy wearing a flashy suit, gold teeth glinting in the moonlight, and promising you everything under heaven and earth! "If you'll only just sign on the dotted line,no,no,no don't read all that fine print, it's all pretty boilerplate, just our standard agreement you understand, I'll make sure that everything is taken care of, trust me baby, just trust me!" Hey, don't record industry executives wear flashy suits? Don't they ask you to sign away the rights to your music? Don't they tell you the sky's the limit until you hit rock bottom?

I don't use this Robert Johnson analogy lightly, friends. Look what happened to the Internet music companies that took a bunch of VC money and spent millions on flashy web sites, aligned themselves with some of the big record labels, bought historic night club venues (Remember Riffage and their highly publicized purchase of San Francisco's historic music venue, The Great American Music Hall?) and promised to break "The Next Big Thing" via the Internet? So, where did all the websites go, long time passing?

Well, Riffage is long gone; blown up in the smoke of their own largesse. MP3.Com is now a record label shill. They have continued to do absolutely nothing for the aspiring musician, and their entire existence is dependent on a specific technology that will not be around much longer, in my opinion, anyway. And Napster was a total joke from the get go, with absolutely no prospects of making money, ever. Their entire existence is based solely on free access; free software and free music. Where is the profit model there, sports fans? How does any enterprise keep its doors open when all it does is bleed money? (Hello, Amazon.Com!) The other aspect of Napster that I find particularly galling is their repeated claim that their file-sharing technology was great at getting publicity for up and coming, unsigned artists. If any of you believe that one, I would like to offer you a great opportunity on some prime beachfront property I have for sale in Florida. (And the voting machines work, too!)

Napster never made anyone popular; the only reason for anyone to go up on their website was to steal music, period. It's still amazing to me that so many people, who would never feel comfortable going down to the local record store and walking out with a CD under their shirt, had absolutely no qualms about going on to Napster's site and downloading hundreds of songs illegally! Now, their only future, if they have one at all, is as an outlet for the big, bad record conglomerates.

So, where does that leave all of us? It leaves us right where we left off, still in the process of attempting to construct an alternative model for making music that bears no resemblance to the way it's been done for the last eighty years. The focus should be on the artist, not the record industry. The artist should get the bulk of the money he generates from his work, not the record company. The artist should own all his copyrights, and derive all the money he makes from music publishing and licensing agreements. The person who sweats over his work should be the one who profits from it, he shouldn't have to do it at his own expense. The RIAA should go take a fucking flying leap!

Now that we are at the crossroads of the Internet music revolution, let's not make the same mistakes that our Mr. Johnson did. Let's not wait 'til the devil drives up and offers to take our souls away, and let's not be in a hurry to be "Rock Stars"! We should instead concentrate on making great music, and let the audience decide what they like. Let's try instead to opt out of the hellish nightmare that constitutes the Music Business and just be musicians instead. At OnlineRock we have formulated some new ideas that we feel are designed to create an entirely new system of music production and distribution and focus it all squarely where it should have been focused all along, on the ARTIST! In the next few months we will be rolling these ideas out to you, and we want, no, need, your input. Tell us what you want, what you really, really want. We're listening!

Stay Tuned,

The Virtual Musician

AboutOnlineRock RecordsPress RoomContactAdvertisePrivacyShop