The corporate control of music has been disastrous for musicians and for the political vibrancy of our music culture. But now we can end it. Filesharing and CD burning has pushed the corporate record labels to the brink of extinction, and if anti-corporate activists join the fight, we can make sure they die.|
As part of a broad-spectrum attack involving activists, independent musicians, and programmers, Downhill Battle (downhillbattle.org) has begun guerrilla labeling actions in "big box" music retailers like as Walmart, Best Buy, and Target.
The Music Activism group has created 1" x 3" CD labels, designed to be stuck on manufactured, mass-marketed CDs during the Christmas shopping rush. One says "WARNING: Buying this CD Funds Lawsuits Against Families and Children." The other: "WARNING: This Record Label Pays Radio Stations to Keep Independent Music Off the Air."
"We thought those were the two biggest reasons why nobody should be buying major label CDs this Christmas," said Downhill Battle cofounder Nicholas Reville, "When the major labels pay radio stations to play their music, it means independent musicians get locked out of radio--and for new musicians this means you either sign a terrible major label contract, or you'll never get mainstream airplay." The other sticker refers to the major labels' attempts to stop filesharing by suing working families for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
While in human rights terms this industry is not nearly as bad as others, its harmful effects on our culture are enormous. The youth culture revolves around popular music, and corporate influence has sucked out all political content replacing it with dumb lines and abject materialism. Punk rock becomes Blink 182, Public Enemy gives way to Nelly and Chingy. The major labels are also inter-woven with the military-industrial complex, as illustrated in this scrawled and artsy but generally factual diagram from the album artwork of the Montreal collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
"Till now, the story of the major label (RIAA) lawsuits against people sharing music on the internet has been an issue for internet libertarians," said Holmes Wilson of Downhill Battle, "But we have a chance to completely decorporatize the music industry within 2-3 years! This issue needs to be on activists' radar screens."
The day after Thanksgiving, the pair stickered major-label CDs at several "big box" stores in their local area. A photo-log of the guerrilla labeling campaign is now posted on the Downhill Battle site. Anyone who wants to hit stores in their area can get stickers here. Downhill Battle has already sent over 2,000 stickers to activists across the U.S. and Canada.
Over the years, many musicians have spoken out against the major labels, but until now there was nothing we could do about it. The Big 5 corporate record labels (EMI, BMG, Warner, Sony, and Universal) exploit musicians and pay radio stations to play their music, keeping independent music off the air. This peice by producer Steve Albini from the June, 1994 issue of MAXIMUMROCKNROLL describes the major label system from a musician's perspective. Back in 1994, nobody thought the system could change, but now it can. Major label sales are down 30% in the past three years, Time Warner just shed its music division, and the other labels are desperately trying to merge. Targeted activism could make sure the music cartel can't pull out of this nosedive.
And the alternative is already in place. Independent labels like Saddle Creek, K Records, Def Jux, Warp, Coup D'Etat, GoKart, and Dischord put out great music while staying true to principles. Once the major label payola system falls, these bands will have a much easier time getting their music heard.
What's the first step to taking down corporate music? Stop buying major label CDs, and support independent music! RIAA Radar is a search engine that lets check to see if an album is on an RIAA label (the RIAA, or Recording Industry Association of America, is the trade organization and lobbying group for the corporate labels). Downhill Battle has info on what's wrong with the music industry and how you can organize to change it.
The battle against corporate music is important, and it's winnable. Sick of banging your head against a brick wall? Want to take down Clear Channel and Fox News? Music is where you start.