Lily Allen Steps Up

The following appears courtesy of The Music Void. See all of Ted Cohen’s Digital Diatribe columns for The Music Void at

Hooray for Lily Allen, she had the guts to stand up and say enough is enough, “File-sharing’s not OK for British music. I want to get people working together to use new digital opportunities to encourage new artists.” Not since Metallica’s stance against Napster ten years ago has an artist so boldly stood up to protect their rights. And, not since Metallica, has an artist been so pilloried for taking that stance.

This, and the rest of her remarks made her extremely unpopular with both the artist community and many of her fans, not to mention the fodder she provided for journalists and pundits. The nerve of her, expecting to be paid for her artistry! She should be happy to give her music away for free, sit there, look pretty, don’t rock the boat! If she plays her cards right, doesn’t upset her fans by asking them to pay for her music and goes along with the “new paradigm,” she’ll be rewarded with phenomenal t-shirt sales on her next global tour.

Bob Lefsetz really put her in her place last week, “And, oh right, she’s never made it here [in the U.S.]! Because we just don’t get it. How a not beautiful enough girl with a thin voice sings material she isn’t completely responsible for and wants to be on the pop chart.” That’s it, Bob, devalue her as an artist to minimize the worth of her words. He went on to say, “Lily Allen is clueless when it comes to both the music business and the Internet. Then again, no one knew who she was over here, maybe this Web brouhaha will help her career, maybe it’s all premeditated!” If true, Ms. Allen should be applauded for such a bold, byzantine scheme.

While mocked at first, she is now getting some support from the British artist community. The Featured Artist Coalition issued a statement on the 24th, “We the undersigned wish to express our support for Lily Allen in her campaign to alert music lovers to the threat that illegal downloading presents to our industry and to condemn the vitriol that has been directed at her in recent days.” This is a good start, but more kind words are needed. Lily Allen’s angst is real, the problem is real. She certainly doesn’t deserve the bollocking she’s received.

This is why artists are afraid to say what they really feel about piracy. While it’s acceptable and even advisable to attack your label, publisher, manager and others, it’s admittedly career suicide to say anything negative about your fans, even if they are taking away a large part of your income. I am not naïve, I don’t believe that every unauthorized download is a lost sale, but the totality of that behavior has led us to where we are today. Artists have lost the right to decide if their music is free, there is something very wrong with that. You can blame it on digital technology, greedy labels and a bad economy, but the reality is, it’s a moral decision, ‘I can probably get away with it, so, why not?’ In response, artists have remained almost uniformly silent. That isn’t super serving their fans, it’s throwing in the towel.

Over the past year, legacy artists like Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Coldplay, recently, Smashing Pumpkins have made grand gestures, announcing to the world that payment for their music is now optional. For them, this is probably a logical next step, for each has made deluxe versions available to their fans and they are gobbling them up. But this isn’t the norm and shouldn’t be the yardstick. Artists deserve to get paid, by their labels, publishers, promoters AND their fans. If they want to give their music away, fine, that’s their choice. If they don’t, that should also be respected. I know it isn’t, but it should be.

For legacy artists, file sharing is a minor annoyance. For new artists, whether indie or on a major label, it’s a badge of valor to say, “100,000 fans downloaded my song!” But, for the artists in the middle, earning a real living from their music could depend getting paid for those downloads.

Whether it’s Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, MySpace Music or iMeem, there are myriad sanctioned ways for fans to access the music they want whenever and wherever they are, while these services are all compensating artists and others. The excuses are off the table, our digital future is all about access, choice and availability, it is not necessarily predicated on free, with all apologies to Chris Anderson.

Posted by Ted • Tuesday, September 29, 2009 .