Virgil Dickerson had always suspected that people were stealing his music. Now he has proof. But when we spoke last month (Beatdown, March 8), the Suburban Home Records head had no quantifiable evidence to support his claims that illegal downloads were taking a toll on the label's bottom line -- just suspicions. Those suspicions were confirmed a few weeks ago, however, when a friend tipped him off to a blog that had been linking to free downloads of Love Me Destroyer's latest effort, The Things Around Us Burn. In its entirety.
Understandably exasperated, Dickerson expressed his frustration in a recent post on IndieHQ.com. But his online musings inadvertently directed even more unscrupulous netizens to the offending site that was hosting the files. Since then, the tracker, which had logged only eighty downloads at the time of Dickerson's post, has registered triple the number of hits. With the disc retailing for between $9.98 and $10.98, the digital shrinkage -- assuming that Dickerson had been compensated for each of those downloads -- equates to several thousand dollars in lost revenue. And while that may be chump change to a major, it's a substantial sum for a small indie like Suburban Home.
Last Thursday, that same blog was taken to task by Marc Debiak of Eyeball Records, who'd also discovered that music from his imprint was being distributed for free. Debiak promptly fired off the following sarcasm-laced missive to the owner of the blog:
Suburban Home Records
We recently looked at your blog and found you've been distributing our record to your readers for free. How nice of you!
The Streets, The Sounds and The Love
Accessed: 632 Times
New London Fire
I Sing The Body Holographic
The Number Twelve Looks Like You
Nuclear Sad Nuclear
An Inch of Gold for an Inch of Time
Since we have access to the numbers for New Atlantic, I assume you'll be sending us the wholesale amount for the copies you distributed? 632 Copies at $9.16 Wholesale = $5,789.12
The check can be made out to Eyeball Records and sent to the address below. The band will be so excited when they find out about the huge royalty check coming their way! They're starving on the road right now, so the extra money will really help!
Please also send a check for $9,160.00 for the New London Fire downloads. 1000 downloads sounds about right. They will be so excited! The singer has a wife and two kids. The money you're sending will put food in those kids' mouths! You're a great customer.
Number Twelve is really popular. Go ahead and send us a check for $18,320.00 for that one. 2000 downloads sounds about right. The staff here can all use raises since we work damn near close to free to help these bands out. A raise will really bring morale up around here!
Just in case you choose not to send the checks, we'll have the lawsuit ready and waiting. Look forward to your prompt response, and thanks for your business!
-- Eyeball Records
In response to Debiak's letter, the blogster -- who turned out to be "a terrified sixteen-year-old girl," he says -- promptly apologized and took down the links. In his most recent post on IndieHQ, Dickerson lauded Debiak's gesture: "Good work, Marc. Now if you can get to work on Limewire and all of the other peer to peer sites, the industry might have a chance yet." But he and Debiak both know that ultimately, the move was like shoveling the walk while it's still snowing.
Because the bottom line is this: An entire generation of music fans just don't consider what they're doing as stealing. To them, the music has always been free for the taking. And while I'm not about to get all sanctimonious here, especially since I enjoyed my fair share of ill-gotten songs during the Napster era, it's hard to argue that downloading is thievery. On a message board somewhere (I forget exactly where), a poster made a pretty salient point, something along the lines of: What do you think would happen if you walked into a Best Buy, filled your pockets with CDs and walked out?
Now that you put it that way...
Thing is, resolving the matter isn't that simple. Until somebody proposes a viable solution, folks will continue to download and the issue will continue to polarize music fans the world over. Although many IndieHQ posters agreed with Debiak's approach, just as many were incensed by his letter, which they felt was unduly heavy-handed.
As it turns out, even Dickerson -- who spent last weekend moving out of his Colfax warehouse after having to dramatically scale back his operations -- has mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand, he's stoked that the blogs are buzzing about his bands. On the other, he's keenly aware that if people keep giving his music away for free, sooner or later he's going to end up without a Home.
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Upbeats and beatdowns: Heartfelt condolences go out to the friends and family of Brian Circle, who took his own life two weeks ago. A longtime benefactor of the local punk scene, Circle helmed Black Plastic Records, which issued seminal releases by Crestfallen, Cavity, Random Victim and Pinhead Circus. "I probably wouldn't still be doing this shit at all, much less as long as I have, if it weren't for him," noted Love Me Destroyer/ex-Pinhead Circus frontman James "Scooter" Wellensiek, who was understandably somber when he called me last Friday to report the tragic news.
This past weekend was absolutely kick-ass for music in the Mile High City. Started things off on Friday night at the Marquis Theater for the Brotherhood of Dae Han's CD-release party. The members took the stage, each clad in colonial costume and reading facts about the state of Virginia. The makeshift skit was obviously in honor of the new disc, which is titled The Glory of Olde Virginia. Upon shedding the outfits, the quartet commenced to deliver a flawless, face-melting set.
Saturday night, I headed to Bender's Tavern for Slim Cessna's Auto Club. I missed Machine Gun Blues but made it in time to watch Magic Cyclops tangle with a belligerent heckler. Slim and Munly closed out the night in top form with spine-tingling renditions of "Magalina Hagalina" and "This Is How We Do Things in the Country." (Click here for more coverage and pics of both nights.)
On a semi-related note: I ran into the infamous Bob Ferbrache at the show. He informed me that while he dug the piece I wrote about him in this space a few weeks ago, there was a factual error on my part, in the section about him being chums with David Eugene Edwards and company when they were known as Pavilion Steps. Turns out Ferbrache was a member of the Soul Merchants at the time, not Blood Axis, as I reported.