Nine Inch Nails/A Perfect Circle drummer Josh Freese may have grabbed headlines for his unusual promotional tool for promoting and covering the costs for his new album, Since 1972. For a certain price, you could get anything from a digital download of the album ($7) straight to a weekend with the man himself, mini golf with members of Tool and Devo, and a couple of songs about yourself for a measly $20,000, which one 19 year old was more than happy to pony-up for. Call it the Radiohead/NIN/whatever model on speed.
Well, Freese certainly isn’t the only one of trying to figure out how to make ends meet in the new age of music. Freese made the idea to focus on connecting music directly with the fans, but hand it to an emo artist to make it truly accessible. Always focused on connecting with fans, Say Anything‘s Max Bemis has opened his guitar case to his legions of fans with a little cash in hand.
All you need is $150 and it’s all you’ve got a song all to yourself. Well, sort of…
Max’s heart is in the right place, but his contract isn’t. The concepts that drove bands like Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and even Jimmy Eat World (post-Clarity posting of demos on Napster and recently with Clarity Live) were/are about challenging the way music is heard and consumed in our society. But therein lies the problem with the Say Anything song-about-yourself query. Just take a look at the terms and conditions:
“All songs are written by Max for you. Max and his record label retain all rights to the songs and you do not have permission to sell MP3’s, CDs or any other format known or unknown in this universe or any other. This is strictly for personal use by you and your dead dog.
Max didn’t want his team of lawyers to feel left out so we have asked them to further explain some rules and regulations, if you want your song you will need to agree to the following:
For good and valuable consideration, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, you agree that Max and his successors and assigns will own all right, title and interest to the songs delivered to you, and RCA Music Group and their successors and assigns will own all right, title and interest to the master recordings delivered to you as a work for hire (such songs and master recordings are referred to below as the “Works”). These retained rights to the Works include the worldwide copyright and any and all renewal and extension rights, and the unrestricted right to use and exploit the Works by any and all means through any and all media now known or hereafter devised, either alone or coupled with other materials, without any payment to you. You agree that you will use the Works only for your personal listening pleasure, and you will not copy, sell, distribute, publicly perform or exploit the Works in any manner whatsoever. Without limiting the foregoing, you will not make CDs or MP3s of the Works, you will not put the Works up on any website, and you will not allow the Works to be used in any manner that would allow any peer-to-peer access.”
Really, even though the song may be about you, if that’s what you want it to be about. But it won’t be your song. You’ll get a copy sent straight to you, with all the thoughtfulness that Max can no doubt squeeze out. But “your song” will belong solely to the RCA Music Group, not you. Even though it’s yours, you cannot burn it or share it with friends… technically when you own something, you should therefore have the right to do whatever you want with it, especially if you paid top dollar for said product. And sure, it makes sense to not sell or otherwise distribute the song for money, but to allow RCA to have the power over the song and to be able to distribute it themselves in whatever manner they please is a bit disconcerting.
It’s with something like an RCA contract agreement hidden in the terms of service that really makes the entire concept kind of a moot point. What happens when fifteen friends decide to chip in $10 each and buy a song? Do they have to choose which friend gets the song, or risk breaking the contract by copying it for one another?
Still, I’m quite torn about the entire thing… the terms of agreement would invalidate the entire concept. But, Say Anything certainly has grown into one of the better bands today, amassing a fan base it certainly deserves. That said, $150 is perfectly reasonable for the man behind the band to cook up a song for you. Hell, I’m even considering it, despite the objections I’m posing. No, I wouldn’t want a song about me, though I appreciate the idea wholeheartedly; it reminds me a lot of the role of the griots, who were musicians in West Africa that served under the royal families and memorized elaborate royal histories and recited them through song. Except this is much more democratized. And the small fee for a band that still holds a special place in my heart and who’s …Is A Real Boy remains one of my favorite albums to this day. I’d be willing to swing that much, even with the massive chunk it would take out of the small amount of money I have. But if I can’t burn it on a mix for friends, what the hell would I do with a $150 song? I’m all about sharing the joy of music – that’s one of the reasons this blog exists!
Perhaps I could go with The Cocker Spaniels for my personal-music fix: for as low as $25, the band will write a song that incorporates an idea you have. Pay a little more, and you’ll get a little more (including a percentage of royalties made off the song’s sales), and all the proceeds go to sustaining the musicians themselves, which is what the entire concept behind all of these new experiments with setting-your-music-prices is supposed to be about – sustaining the artists without ripping off the listeners!
It all feels a little too much like self-referential window shopping, though, there’s not much interest in injecting my personal life into anyone else’s work. Though, unless Max Bemis would want to write a song about America Is Just A Word. Now that’s just meta. Max, if you’re interested and want to use the potential song for some YouTube clip or whatever the hell you want, just drop me a line! Otherwise, I’ll find some way of gathering $150 to get Max to make a song about the plot of Infinite Jest (and there’s a nice way of getting around the 2 paragraph maximum description they ask for… and the book would operate as a footnote to the description… making David Foster Wallace proud as ever!)