David Lowery’s Fair Fight

The New York Times has an interesting piece today on David Lowery and his fight against the low-wage economics of being a musician in the age of Spotify and Pandora.  It references Lowery’s evisceration of that NPR intern who boasted last year that, while she loves music, she couldn’t imagine actually paying for all the songs on her hard drive, and reports on his lonely battle to get greater equity for musicians and songwriters who get paid fractions of a penny every time a song of theirs is played on Internet radio services.

In a wonderfully clueless and haughty dismissal of Lowery’s importance as an artist — “As the leader of the bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, Mr. Lowery had a modicum of fame in the ’80s and ’90s” — Ben Sisario reveals the mindset of those who would view Lowery as merely a cranky old man (54) telling the kids not only to get off his lawn, but to pay up for apples they took while on his property.  Sisario does report fairly on the lonely battle Lowery is waging as a recording artist with the quaint belief that he ought to be paid for the music he’s produced — which just might happen to reside as a file on, well, some 20-year old NPR intern’s computer.  He accurately paints the portrait of his isolation.  But the tone of the piece is to look at Lowery like he’s some museum piece, an old coot, complaining about how he’s been ripped off.  We’ll remember this editorial stance the next time a New York Times editor whines about the Huffington Post.

What Lowery is attempting to do is bring facts, borne of his personal experience, so that people understand the low-wage serfdom to which Internet radio subjects recording artists.  As between outright stealing of music and services like Spotify, which at least pay artists a wage, however meager, obviously the latter is preferable.  The right way to think of Lowery’s campaign is as a fact-based effort to raise the wages of songwriters and recording artists.  One can dismiss him as a grumpy old man complaining about the post-Internet economy for musicians.  Or you can see him for what he is: one of the most enduring recording and live artists of our time who has the balls to mount a thankless fight seeking equity for artists currently subject to being paid in crumbs, if at all.

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