MUSIC HISTORY: Little Known Facts

LITTLE KNOWN FACTS: or why listeners think musicians don't deserve payment for their work.


The debate rages on. Is downloading music free really stealing, or not? Indie Musicians in all genres have to give their music away for nothing these days. Only those who perform live are able to receive any kind of monetary benefit from their work. Indies can sell murch (merchandise) : tickets, albums, T-shirts, caps, buttons, refrigerator magnets, mugs, and on and on, but their murch doesn't come to them free. They have to pay for it. They need to buy the items in bulk and then pay to have the band's branding images applied. There's no guarantee that they will sell, either. If the products don't sell, they end up in a box in a garage. Nevertheless, music lovers seem to appreciate these physical items over the music they download. To quote one Indie Musician's mutterings, while downing his sixth beer, "It's like a $5 cap gives them more pleasure than the feeling they get when they listen to my song. They must like it; they download it all over the place but they won't pay $1 for it."

Many people are debating the morality of this situation. The actual legal fact is that if the music has a copyright, which usually forbids duplicating and/or use without permission then it is, in fact, illegal.

However, those who download free music feel that it's okay. They believe that if they can stream it, it must be legal; after all, everybody is doing it. Finally, confusing legalities set in when you start comparing radio music, provided for listening-only, to filling your personal music collection that you keep in your personal player.

Yet, the bottom line, as far as streaming companies are concerned, is that they do pay the musician so they are legal. However, it's the amount they pay and when they pay, that are suspect. A musician needs thousands, maybe millions, of downloads to reach the number of dollars that the streaming companies require before they pay out. For many Indie Musicians it takes years to reach the specified levels of downloads and so the company retains their money for the duration. They could stockpile all those indie's earnings, put them in an interest bearing account, and be earning money for all those years. That's pure speculation, of course, but in any case, the question becomes not one of legality, but one of fair play. The Little Known Facts.

Historically musicians have had an unsavory position, in all of our human societies, as far back as history goes. Dr. Jacqueline Boles' book, Life Upon the Wicked Stage, A sociologist's look at people in show business, makes it clear that musicians and entertainers in general, have never been accepted as part of mainstream society. In a comment about the raw beginnings of music she quotes: Cave paintings which portray huntsmen blowing antler "horns" suggest that some early hunters also made music…(Harwood 1984). At this beginning point in the evolution of the status of music-makers, there may have been some inherent human instinct that made a connection between music and magic, since hunting was so crucial to the magical mystery of survival.

About 5,000 BCE (Before Common Era) studies of the beginnings of civilization indicate that shamans were probably the first individuals to provide music for healing and ceremonies of various types. In these agricultural societies, which gave birth to established villages, towns, and eventually cities, the organization of humans living together began to develop. Concepts of individual status grew as a fundamental part of human society. There were landowners, merchants, priests (shaman), soldiers, craftsmen, and workers (slaves). Here is a quote about the position of musicians in tribal life.

Many of the reports about performers in tribal societies document their reputation for deviant behavior, in his ethnography of the Trobriand Islanders, Malinowski (1925) reported that a well known singer was said to be engaging in sexual relations with his sister, a violation of the incest taboo, punishable by death. However, the villagers excused his behavior saying, in effect, "You know how musicians are".

Human societies everywhere had well developed notions about musicians; none o which were very respectful. Dr. Boles writes that in Germany during the Middle Ages a hierarchy among musicians was well established. Trumpet players held the top position because they were usually in the service of a nobleman and provided grand entrances and other fanfares. Musicians who traveled to various courts, or who served a particular royal court, enjoyed more prestige than the wandering street musicians. Unattached indie musicians were considered to be outside society altogether. In India, those who played wind instruments were thought to be the dregs of society, "...only a Sudra, a low caste, and outcastes may play wind instruments as the act of blowing on the instrument makes a high caste individual impure, and therefore, defiled." It's apparent, from these two variations alone, that the status of musicians was not left up to chance. Social leaders gave considerable thought the matter.

In the 19th Century, things began to change. The public developed interest in going to fairs, circuses, plays, and tossing coins to street performers. As the Century progressed, more and more entertainers came from middle class families; were not abandoned as children, were not alcoholics, handicapped or born to impoverished families, as was common in earlier times. By mid-century, Stars emerged in the entertainment business. We still support the star-system. Celebrities are paid well, supported, and loved with blind devotion. However, we are not concerned with celebrities here. They are the people who, in the past, would have had a connection to royalty and that association significantly enhanced their station in the social order, which it still does. Moreover, this change did not seem to apply to indie musicians as much as it did other subdivisions of the entertainment world. It seems no one expected anything from musicians except that they ‘ keep their place’ and make music.


Because of the historical attitude toward musicians generally, it's no wonder that the bad-boy/girl mystique has come to be a standard image for musicians. It is also easy to see why musicians have deliberately donned bad-boy/girl personas. Some have defiantly rationalized, "If that's what they think of me, I'll show 'em!" We admire the bad-boy or the bad-girl; they are worshiped because they are not conventional people. They are exotic, unpredictable, surprising, and deviant. It's true that people involved in the arts are often headstrong, individualistic and non-conformist but these qualities are not abnormal, deviant or despicable. These qualities are often admired in other professions.

Ultimately, the bad-boy/girl guise is a marketing trick. It is so popular and immediately accepted that when it's done in tune with the current culture,
it can bring fame and fortune. A good example is Madonna performing on stage in her underwear. The marketing-mask is all we see. For those indie musicians who do not want to cultivate that mystique, who are inherently shy, who just want to do what they love, or who want recognition for their music and not an assumed identity, then it's a long hard climb. Being a working musician is not an easy life. Any form of entertainment is challenging to individuals as well as their families. In addition, most Indie Musicians have to earn their money in some other occupation so they have to work twice as hard as everyone else.

In the end Indie Musicians have to live with the social rank that was assigned to them at the beginning of our civilization. Consequently, they sense society's attitude. Fans and consumers alike say, "We'll just toss you a tenth of a half-of-a-percent of a penny; you're just a musician and you know how musicians are; worthless".


In view of the results of the studies in Life Upon the Wicked Stage it seems that human beings are still at Mid-19th Century and not giving any real consideration to what they are doing but simply following an eons-long prejudice that has no reality in modern life. Possibly, it's about not giving it any thought at all. Musicians are not shamans, magic, or mysterious. Sometimes they spend their last dime to put an album together. It's not likely that this is news to anyone who downloads music, but still, those independent musicians who are not connected to the royal court of a music-industry-corporation are tossed less than pennies and not acknowledged for being the creative, devoted people they are.

Isn't it time to stop acting from an ancient unconscious belief pattern? Do modern people really believe that musicians are all deviants? Do we still believe they are worthless and that they don't deserve consideration? It would seem so. Do you think about the musician who created the music as you download free music? The work it took to get it there is costly and time consuming. In the end, the critical technological stage of getting an album ready for the Internet, or for any other avenue of distribution, can take a year or more. There is much to consider and Indie Musicians pay for it all; recording, mastering, graphics, printing, and distribution. Often the next step is finding it being downloaded from Spotify. It's heartening to know that people like it and will download it but the sense of being cheated, disregarded, never goes away.

Record labels, managers, agents, PR people, and even entertainment laws, are guilty of discounting the musician behind the song. And with the recent EMI merger: ( universal-emi-merger_n_1897901 .html) It's going to get worse. It might be the end of popular music, as we know it.

Here is a Charles Darwin Quote to think about: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change."

Let's adapt to the Internet. We probably can't change the corporations right now but we can change ourselves. It's good that the music industry has changed. It has always been about the money provided for music industry companies. Now is a good time to change that. We have Occupy Wallstreet, MoveOn, and all kinds of petitions to expose inequities, deceptions, greed, and corruption. Many people with high ideals are proposing changes for the better. Why don't we, as individuals, offer to pay musicians for their work, just as we pay any other working person? Buy music from sites that give the musician the lion's share of the cost.


NOTE:This article was written and posted on Chuck's earlier website, in 2009.

Now today, Paul Williams, CEO of ASCAP, is actually confronting this inequity. Please support his efforts to make significant changes. The official title is SONGWRITER EQUITY ACT OF 2015. Let musicians know that finally, after 80 years of discrimination, we appreciate them. We now believe they should be paid like any other respectable working individual.