Transcripts: Mike Mills and Bertis Downs Speak at the Future of Music Policy Summit 2005

Transcribed by Robert Andrews

NOTE: Mike Mills, a vocal opponent of media consolidation, participated in the Future of Music Policy Summit panel discussion (11 September 2005, Washington D.C.). Joining industry representatives and artists’ advocates in a discussion on how to influence policymakers, Mike said that “it would be best if you could completely reregulate radio and limit any company to owning 10 stations across the country”.

R.E.M. manager Bertis Downs spoke at another panel and said that the array of new music distribution media that have arisen since R.E.M. started presents a huge challenge to the industry.

Mike Mills transcript

“When you start out as a musician, for the most part, you don’t really think about anything, technologically-speaking, other than how to get the chord from the guitar to the amp. As you go along, you learn that there is so much more to it and then you start getting these things called pay cheques that tend to make you want to look in the darkest corners of where they come from.

“As a kid, I grew up listening to the radio, and it really annoyed me to see what happened to it. It started with Lee Abrahams at the formatting back in the ’70s deciding that, if you play all Led Zeppelin all day, you’ll get a certain number of listeners guaranteed and you can sell them advertising. And it went from there to companies seeing that there was all that money there and buying up all they could and being deregulated and getting more.

“My personal belief would be that it would be best if you could completely reregulate radio and limit any company to owning 10 stations across the country. I think the number of bands would explode, the amount of music that would come out would just be expontentially huge because stations would have the opportunity and, indeed, it would be incumbent upon them to pay attention to what’s going on locally, and they would play local music because they would want to; people listening to that music would want them to.

“Going after that, you find that there are ways to make a difference when you see that people like Jenny and Michael Bracy and the Future of Music Coalition providing ways to talk to people who care like Jonathan Adlestein; it’s a wonderful thing to find out.

“And then to find that you can, with the help of people like Jenny and the Future of Music Coalition, put together something like the Tell Us The Truth tour, that actually spoke to people and was a way to make these desires known, to find that there is a way to actually get the word out to people who can do something about it. The system is flawed but it can work.”

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“It seems obvious to me that, unless it’s federally mandated, the people that own the radio stations on the existing spectrum are not going to concern themselves with local issues or best use of it. For Congress to be worried about whether it’s revenue-positive to use something that, theoretically, belongs to each and every one of us rather than some private enterprise, I think it’s a misguided beginning if you’re looking at it that way.

“So, whatever you’re going to do with it, I think you’re going to have to mandate it, you’re going to have to force private enterprise to turn it to the communities, otherwise it’s just not going to happen.”

Bertis Downs transcript

[Asked how he can keep R.E.M. going for another 20 years] – “They may but I’m not sure I will! Well, 20 more years; I guess that may be within the realm of possibility.

“All I would say is, I’m glad we’re not starting now. It’s a little bit different world. I remember the years when we were trying to decide whether to get a fax machine or not, because that seemed so really, really cutting edge to be getting a fax machine – does anybody even use fax anymore?

“There are just so many more choices now. The way when R.E.M. started – you worked hard, you work hard, you write good songs, you play, you hope that there’s some word of mouth and that people get excited about your career and tell their friends about it. But the days of getting signed to a label and then the label takes care of everything and you go on and become a big band – that seems less and less the model that’s playing out right now for musicians.

“There are a lot more choices, new things down the pipe, I think we’re podcasting this right now, which wouldn’t have been possible a few months ago, nobody would have even thought to do that, but now it soon becomes sort of de rigeur. How you monetise that, how you turn a lot of these new opportunities, new chances for exposure into revenue for your artist, for them to get their fair share – that’s a real challenge and I think that’s what we’re all here to address.”

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“I’m struck by a couple of the things you said… that the followings byt he artists you mentioned make that niche marketing, mailing lists of 100,000 people… that kind of niche marketing… that’s a start. What about somebody just starting out? How do you break that?

“But when you just talking about filesharing, hometaping isn’t killing music, filesharing isn’t killing music, we’ve just got to work out the revenue streams – what economic transaction produces any revenue when… the industry’s really thrilled that Apple has passed a half-a-billion legal, downloads, pay-for, presumably 99-cents-a-song downloads… when we all know there are billions of songs being traded quote-unquote ‘illegally’… well not quote-unquote ‘illegally’… – after Grokster, illegally; after Kazaa, illegally?

“So when you say we have to get the revenue streams going, what revenue? There’s no revenue there. True filesharing on the illegal services doesn’t produce any revenue. The record company is everybody’s favourite punching bag, mine included, there are many problems with the current model; I certainly understand that. But you say ‘work out the revenue streams to pay the artist’ but, when there is no revenue from that pure transaction, what the heck are you talking about?”

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“You also hit on something, you all know this… music provides so much of what makes the internet hum right now and so many people are selling iPods, signing people up for their ISPs, there are a lot of people making money off music. The record companies got into this bad game a lot time ago by only participating in the selling of plastic and now they’re trying to make this big tectonic shift into something different from that.

“The artist… music’s going to become devalued. It’s more around us than ever; there are more people consuming it than ever, more people listening and discovering it, emailing it, social networks and all that sort of stuff. But, it seems like, fundamentally, it’s gotten less and less valuable to people.”

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“I don’t recall who had this quote but it’s a great one, you can Google it. But the answer to your question is… ‘if we were starting in the music industry today, of course that would work. The problem is, we’re not. We’re dealing with an industry that’s like Kafka designed it with Rube Goldberg as his architect.’ It’s a great quote; it’s not original to me, but I read it somewhere. But the trip wires and the contracts, which you just brought up, seem arcane but the status quo is so entrenched i n a certain sense; we’re not starting today, we’re not starting from a standing start. But the problem is, the current model, which overlaps… we’re going to the celestial jukebox… when we’re all old and grey – and not just some of us! – that’s where we’ll be; meanwhile, we’ve got the current model.”

Source: Murmurs News Archive
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