There is a romance between politicians and musicians that occurs every election cycle. Whether it be the mid-term elections or the Presidential Election, musicians flock to support their favorite politicians. The interesting thing is that the artists really care about the country and all the politician seems to care about is getting re-elected. Big business can make backroom deals with Presidential candidates and be fairly sure that they will get “help” from them when they get into office. A perfect example of this is the Telecommunications Act of 1996. But do the musicians that put in their time and their money to these events, really get anything in return. Many get ignored.
In 1996 a law was passed that among other things eased restrictions of radio station ownership in markets. Previously there was a limit as to how many stations a broadcast company could own in a particular market. In 1996 those laws were relaxed. This action set in motion a number of events that has brought the radio industry to its knees. Major broadcast companies bought up their competition in markets across the country. Immediately the public’s ability to hear differing opinions on many things got cut in half. As radio stations were taken over, thousands of radio station employees lost their jobs. From a musical standpoint, the idea of having competing radio stations of a particular format all but disappeared. A big broadcast company would come in, buy up their competition and immediately change the format of one of the conflicting stations. This hurt artists because their records automatically got less airplay in many markets. Ticket sales dropped, album sales dropped and the hope of discovering new acts got more remote because the radio stations were allowed to be more conservative, because they had no competition.
It didn’t benefit the broadcasters all that much as it turns out. The changes in the media landscape drove advertising rates down and despite cutting thousands of heads, large radio corporations are finding it hard to survive. They are looking to other outlets for revenue sources. Also, since many radio stations now had no competition within their own format, their necessity to be “great” and consistently interesting was reduced. Broadcasters would refute this claim, but since the halcyon days of WNEW, WBCN, KSAN, KMET, and other iconic radio stations of old, are there many stations left that you would refer to as great. The real answer is they don’t have to be. They just have to be able to pay the bills. Why take chances, when playing it safe will assure that the PD and GM will keep their jobs for another year. It is human nature.
I had a chance to ask President Clinton once, why he supported that legislature. Now keep in mind, Clinton is an incredibly intelligent guy. I haven’t always agreed with his politics and certainly his conduct in office, but he is the smartest person I ever met. His response to my questions was that “we thought it would spur competition”. That is a load of bullshit. What he thought it would do would put money in his war chest and those of other Democrats running for office. Major broadcasters were eager to get this legislation passed. I am sure they did what they felt necessary to insure that this would happen. This is the way our political system works. The Supreme Court’s decision on political contributions a couple of years back will only make thing more corrupt. Super Pac ads will have a tremendous impact on the election of 2012. They are not really governed by anybody. You no longer hear “I approve of this message” at the end of many political advertisements. That is because, no one needs to approve what these ads say. It is open season on the politician and damn the truth.
We are in the midst of another Presidential Election cycle. You will see many artists doing benefits for the candidate of their choice. Since most artists seem to be a bit left of center (in more ways than one) Obama and the Democrats will reap most of the benefits.
But artists have been under fire for the last ten or twelve years. Where were their “friends” the politicians when they needed them most. When piracy was literally stealing money from their pockets. The politicians looked the other way. Nothing was done to stem the tide. I am not talking about Itunes, but about the many torrent sites that still exist. It has become easy to find a copy of your favorite artist’s new album on one of these sites, available for free download. I understand that this has become part of the marketing plan for many artists. The labels don’t appreciate it much, but since most of an act’s revenue comes from live performances as opposed to CD and digital sales, they don’t have a big problem in letting their fans get to hear their album early. It helps ticket sales. In the old days of the record industry this was done, but it was done in a controlled environment. It was called “lubing” the market. Getting some product, usually urban product into the market by giving it to the retailers for free. They would be eager to sell it, because it was pure profit and the music penetrated the market place quicker. But in the digital age it is out of anyone’s control. All the efforts to try to restrict these torrent sites seem to come from the labels. They handled it poorly. But the government never lifted a finger to stop the copyright infringements endured by the artist. Why was the government allowed to look the other way? Was the music business just to inconsequential to go to battle for?
This years election should prove very interesting. Many Democrats, are not at all happy with the work the current administration has done. Yes we can blame Congress to an extent, but The President made a lot of promises that he has not come remotely close to fulfilling. There are many artists that are not at all happy about the current state of the country. Bruce Springsteen is due to release his most “political” album to date. I doubt it will be complimentary to the administration. Yet musician after musician will continue to do benefit concerts for various candidates. Their honest hope is that their “guy” will get the country back on the right track. I don’t have a problem with benefit concerts. What I have a problem with is that the candidates take and take and take and don’t give anything back. They love to hang with rockstars, because it makes them feel like one. Famous people like the company of other famous people. But all they care about is getting in power. Putting their mark on history and finding ways to set themselves up for life financially. I wish that music was not being used to feed their greed.