SOME OF THE BEST
10 October, 2000
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A Thought for Today
Life takes its hues from the colors your
mind and heart provide it.
Today’s Flight Plan deals with
a single letter and a subject I’ve unintentionally been avoiding for much
too long. Am I in total agreement with what Mike Stoller has to say? Not
exactly, but it is a very important viewpoint.
AN OLD FRIEND’S THOUGHTS ABOUT NAPSTER
I sent this
earlier to "rodsfriends" and then I found your website. I would never have
recognized you with that Talmudic beard you have sprouted. It is nice to
see you are still active.
Rod, I wanted to check on how you are and what you are doing. If you
remember, I was general counsel at Liberty records from 1965 to 1970. We
made a deal with you to put out one of your recordings. Also, in looking
at your biography, I see we were born in the same year. At this age,
Seasons in the Sun has particular meaning to me.
Anyway, I have several of your albums, but nothing on CD. I really love
your music and the Jacque Brel adaptations.
I just downloaded Seasons in the Sun from the Internet. It is such a fine
work, and at our age (I was born in 1934) we all have thoughts of our
mortality. I got the song from Napster, which well may be on the way out
if the record industry has their way. The nice thing about Napster is you
find virtually every song. The MP3 files are huge, and I can't see anybody
using this to download a complete album or make it their music collection.
For me it was much faster than searching through my large collection of
now obsolete 33 1/3 albums
As far as piracy is concerned I tend to agree with Napster that a single
song for an old fan or a potential one, would make them go to the store
and buy the CD.
I would love to talk to you again. I have always admired your songwriting
talent. I don't know if you have broadband Internet, but I will send you
separately the digital version of Seasons in the Sun. MP3 files are quite
large, so if it is too big, or Yahoo will not allow such a large file to
be sent, you at least will have this letter.
Dear Bob, A nice and very unexpected pleasure to hear from you. It has
been a long time and I remember that you were very helpful to me at
Liberty. We’re close on birthdays, I was born a year earlier than you.
My feelings are really mixed about Napster. I haven’t downloaded anything
yet, frankly I'm not sure about the ethics of it. Your file didn’t come
through, so perhaps it was too big. A friend, Eric Yaeger turned all my
CD’s into MP3 files for me, but so far we haven’t offered any from the
As a record collector, It certainly is nice to have so much music
available for downloading, but I worry a lot about the songwriters and
artists not being paid anything for their creations. My songs are like my
kids and I want them treated right. They also continue to support me.
Songwriting is what I do to make a living.
In Saturday’s New York Times my friend and one of the great contemporary
songwriters, Mike Stoller, who with his writing partner, Jerry Leiber, has
given us all so much pleasure wrote an op-ed piece that’s very much worth
reading. It just might give you another point of view. I urge you to read
“SONGS THAT WON’T BE WRITTEN"
The Missing Voice in the Napster Courtroom
By Mike Stoller
Much of the
discussion in this week’s hearing in federal appeals court over whether
Napster violates federal copyright law focused on how online music service
affects big record companies and recording artists. But they are not the
only ones being hurt by Napster, which helps people share music over the
Internet, and companies like it. Songwriters like me, who depend on
royalties they earn from the sale of their songs, are also being injured.
In 1950, when I was 17, Jerry Leiber and I had our first song recorded,
“Real Ugly Woman,” by Jimmy Witherspoon. Over the next 50 years, Jerry and
I composed many now-familiar songs, like “Hound Dog,” Jailhouse Rock” and
“Love Potion #9” in many different musical styles, from rhythm and blues
to jazz and rock. Our songs were recorded by many great artists, including
Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Peggy Lee,
Jimi Hendrix and “The Coasters.”
But whatever the style and whoever the artist, there has been one
constant: the songs that I have written have been my bread and butter.
Writing a song – the music and the lyrics – can take anywhere from 10
minutes (as in the case of “Hound Dog”) to five years. But no matter how
long it takes, it is always a gamble. A songwriter makes nothing until a
song is marketed in the form of a recording for sale tom the public, and
unless that record of the song sells, a songwriter gets nothing for it.
Each time a Napster user downloads a copy of a song I have composed, I am
deprived of the royalty that my work should have earned me.
Some of those in favor of Napster say that making music available free of
charge on the Web “frees” artists from the control of the recording
industry. Many say that since making music is an art, artists like me
should do it simply for the love of it. But how free can artists be if we
must spend most of our days doing something else to make a living?
Where would I be today if anyone could have recorded “Hound Dog,” and
anyone else could have copied that recording, without paying Jerry Leiber
and me? I might have occasionally written some music for fun, but I would
not have had the luxury to compose full time. Who knows what songs I might
not have written?
I fear for the 17 year old songwriters looking forward to a career in the
music business today. Napster and companies like it are threatening not
only my retirement, but the future of music itself. If fact, by taking the
incentive out of songwriting, may be pushing itself closer to a time when
won’t be any songs for its users to swap.”
©Copyright 2000 by Mike
Stoller & The New York Times. Used by permission.
In all honesty, Bob, I find
the Napster argument you mentioned “As far as piracy is concerned I tend
to agree with Napster that a single song for an old fan or a potential
one, would make them go to the store and buy the CD” bogus and a bit too
It surely wouldn’t apply to most of my recordings, since about 80 % of my
albums are thematic in nature. That means downloading the whole album
would be the norm for my work.
Songwriters, with the help of ASCAP, BMI and The Songwriters Protective
Association have had to fight year by year, congressional bill by bill to
get the rates we’re paid by record companies increased, the terms of
copywriter ownership extended on behalf of our estates and fees public
establishments pay for the use of our works to performing societies, more
The Net is a wonderful invention and a big part of my life, but this site
for instance, generates no income. I could not afford the cost of its
upkeep and the personal time it takes away from my writing without dipping
into those royalty checks, generated by my songs, for funding.
Like Mike, I wish the court debate placed more emphasis on the artists
responsible for recorded music than the recording conglomerates. It might
have given the argument a more human face.
Record companies should have seen this coming and by now worked out
something with Napster that would have benefited everyone; the artists,
the companies and the fans. Alas the record industry has been notorious
for ignoring change and even attempting to thwart some (the DAT format is
a good example and those of us in the business of recording know how in
the early days they tried to dismiss the Compact Disc.)
The main reason I bought back my masters from various companies, including
Liberty, Bob, is that I felt the bigger the companies got the less they
cared about the individual artist.
(Notice I use the words bought back.) If I fail and when I fail, I like to
be in charge of that failure.
I hope all of this works out because The Net isn’t going to go away, but
as Mike pointed out the songwriter just might.
While I’m surprised that as an attorney once involved with intellectual
property, you no longer recognize it. Of course you’re entitled to your
viewpoint, but I’d be awfully curious to know what caused you to change
The bottom line is still this: It’s theft to download or steal something
that doesn’t belong to you or that you don’t have permission to take. In
PS: What’s “rod’s friends?” It must be a site I haven’t discovered yet.
RM 10/9/00 First published
Details of Rod's next
appearance can be obtained by following the link below.
Your Troubles Away" - the music of Jerry Herman