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Todd Rundgren on the Music Business

From an interview with Todd Rundgren for Linux Magazine (July 2004)
I believe in the free software movement, open source, and all that other stuff, because basically I'd like to live in a world where everyone was rich to the point that they could just give away everything to anyone else: you see someone with a lack, and you have what they need, so you just give it to them, and that's life.

That's not real, I understand, because as brilliant as we all are, we're still dominated by an animal [instinct] that causes us to reflexively protect what's ours. It's as if we're saying, "If you steal my television, I will die, so therefore I have the right to shoot you." Now, if I catch you stealing my television, my attitude is "I feel a little creeped out that you snuck into my house, but if you need the television so freakin' badly, take the damn thing. I can get another TV."

I sort of have the same attitude about the file swapping and things like that. As a matter of fact, it's different for music than for almost everything else. Most musicians and most people who work in the music business have already forgotten what they felt the first time that music touched them.

And in that sense, I consider music a human sacrament. Music was intended to bring you closer to the mind; it was intended to heal, not only physically, but mentally; it was intended to express things that cannot be expressed in any other medium.

What we've done over the past 100 or 150 years is essentially profane this sacrament by saying that you can't listen to it unless you pay for it. And I have a problem with that.

I think musicians were better off when you first of all proved your skill as a musician by pleasing some people with your output, then by pleasing someone with money, enough so that they'd support you so that you could create music. And yes, there was "commercial pressure" (laughs) to please your patron, you know, to write music to please your patron. But, of course, once you did that, you were free to do write anything else you wanted.

Unfortunately, that's gone. And now the bollocks at the RIAA -- who to me are just a bunch of evil thugs -- are trying to intimidate listeners to convince them that music has no sacramental value, that music is simply a product that they own, and that their way is the only way that music can possibly be transferred.

I strongly believe that musicians will always make more money performing their music live for people than they will ever make selling records. Records started out merely as a promotion for a musician's live performance and, in only a very few exceptional circumstances, that's still true. Musicians, if they want a healthy income, must face that fact that they have to go out and play. If they play well enough, people will continue to come hear them play.

Record labels make very poor patrons. Audiences make better patrons, because you can deliver a song at the right time and change their lives, something that makes them loyal to you for a lifetime. It's up to the audience to directly find the musicians they want to support and give them that support directly.

And, essentially, I've been setting up the mechanisms for that. Patronet is my online subscription service that allows audiences to find the artist that they want to directly support.

In exchange, a patron receives what a patron always receives: a first look at whatever the artist is creating and some sort of interaction that an audience-at-large may not have or may not even desire.

With a system like that, why the hell would an artist care about selling records? Artists would just want people to hear what they do, which has always been the objective.

So the troubles the music business has now, I say, it deserves them. It deserves to just die and disappear. And I hope it does. I hope every single label, one after another, just goes right out of business. I pray for it, nearly (laughs).

Because what'll happen after that is that the music business will be back in the control of musicians.

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