12.02.2005

RIAA to Byrne: Don't work it

The RIAA doesn't need any help when it comes to fodder for demonization. The group, whose mission is "to foster a business and legal climate that supports and promotes our members' creative and financial vitality," often goes to extremes to carry that out. When they seem to go against those very artists, things seem to be really out of whack.

That's the case with latest windmill tilt from the RIAA. The group took time away from filing lawsuits against music downloaders to slap musician David Byrne. Why? Because Byrne, a tremendous music fan, took steps to promote the music he loves on a streaming online radio show. The former Talking Head puts together an elaborate playlist each month that can be streamed from his web site. The feature, Radio David Byrne, has featured psychedelic tunes, Italian music, and other, more eclectic and less thematic song cycles. Byrne popped onto the RIAA's radar last month when his entire playlist was made up of songs from Missy Elliott. The set of 30 songs offering nearly two hours of music, was an aural loveletter to Elliott, who Byrne called "one of my role models."

The RIAA sent a warning, saying online playlists can only feature four songs by the same artist every three hours. Talk about fuzzy math. Byrne explains all of this better than I can, but suffice to say that the entire episode is a sign that the RIAA just doesn't get it. Downloading pristine copies of popular songs for free? That seems a reasonable thing to investigate. Streaming songs that most people can hear on the radio 24-7 anyway? Not a big deal. Anyone who takes the time to record these sound files as the stream has a) enough money that they probably wouldn't bother anyway or b) such an axe to grind against the RIAA or the music industry in general that any attempt to stop them is fruitless.

What the RIAA has essentially done is tell Byrne, an influential artist who has helped to uncover and promote a number of other artists who all sell records, not to use that influence. Were I Missy Elliott, I would complain. Why? Because I'm not Missy Elliott; I'm a music fan who appreciates her more than he has a desire to listen to her, but who might just be swayed by Byrne's impassioned advocacy (and the chance to hear several cuts without wading through endless, assaulting radio commercials to do so) to spend money on her work. So much for that.

The only silver lining here is that the entire ridiculous situation will clue people in to Byrne's project, which continues this month with the set "Rednecks, Racists and Reactionaries: Country Classics." Some nice, subtle commentary there, and a chance to hear Ray Price, Merle Haggard and Webb Pierce.

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