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Hip-Hop Fridays: Will artists embrace or reject the Internet?


Hip-Hop artists are going to have to make a decision. Either they are going to decide to make the Internet their friend or they are going to decide to continue to be indentured servants to those who distribute their music. For years, while in the music industry, all I heard was that artists had no power because they didn't control distribution. And that argument was true, for the most part. The exception to this were the artists like Luke, Wu-Tang, E-40, Cash Money, Creators Way etc… who literally sold their music out of car trunks in regional areas before eventually signing to a major label. But these artists realized the benefits to efficiency that the distribution networks of record labels could provide and they cashed-in realizing that selling out of the trunk was profitable but very inconvenient and arduous work.

Then came the Internet. Via the Internet artists could conceivably and actually have (The Artist and Chuck D.) sold their music to consumers online and bypass the major distributors (Sony, Universal, BMG) in the process. But this would put them at odds with those who are currently paying their bills and because of that artists are not only moving away from the Internet but are actually allowing themselves to be enlisted in a war against the technology that makes selling music over the net possible.

For the first time in recent memory the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and artists are uniting. This time the common "enemy" is Napster Online, the creation of 19-year old Shawn Fanning that allows users to find MP3 music files from strangers over the Internet and copy them - for free. The MP3 compresses music files at near-CD quality for easy transmission over the Internet. Record labels hate the MP3 and Napster and call their function a form of piracy while Internet surfers love the MP3 and Napster because it allows them to obtain new music and arrange their own music files at a high level of quality and convenience. Currently, it is possible for an individual to download music that they did not pay for and thus, take money out of the pocket of an artist, but much more from the record labels. That is why the record labels are so against it. But the loss is short-term; artists and even record labels could, make money, if they tried, from the same technology.

By siding with the record labels and distributors in this battle, artists are selling themselves short. The Internet, MP3 and Napster give artists the technology to bypass the distributors that pay them only pennies for their music creativity. Via the Internet an artist could make as much as $14 profit on the sale of a CD as opposed to the current paltry 65 cents. But out of fear and a fair amount of ignorance, artists are willingly walking away from a goldmine.

The recent Napster - Dr. Dre dispute is an example of an artist being placed out front to do the dirty work of the record label. Dre could benefit so much if one day he decided to sell his music over the Net. Maybe that day will come once he and other artists recognize the full potential of the Internet to put more and more cash into their pockets. Until that day comes my eyes will roll in the back of my head when I hear an artist complain about how much "we" need control over distribution. The means to that control is staring them dead in the face. But they are being manipulated into not claiming it. So much for "control".


Cedric Muhammad

Friday, April 21, 2000

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