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Just A Wild Idea...


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More innovation… There’s a trio of folks in Portland who have created a mobile recording studio, with which they’re going to travel the country for a year or so, recording completely unknown independent writer-musicians and submitting the results to the Library of Congress. The goal of this “American Music Preservation Project,” I understand, is to give these writers something that’ll live on after they’re gone. So many never get that. When Jeff Tanzer, lead guitarist for the Dodson Drifters, died, almost all of his music died with him; nothing had ever been recorded, and his widow destroyed all his papers. I had acquired—earlier—the lyrics to just one of Jeff’s dozens of songs, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” the song that prompted “Leavin’ It to Beaver.” I wish I’d collected more.

Would I—or could I—be part of the American Music Preservation Project? Oh, I don’t think so: as this is written, the mobile studio has already left, headed somewhere back East; I doubt I’ll ever see it, or it me. Besides, I have already done a little legacy-building myself. I have two albums out, and I perform—I even went “on tour,” after a fashion, down in southern Oregon last weekend. I know a bit about how the music business works, and have tried a few things, a lot of independents don’t and haven’t (not that knowing or trying does any good—but that’s a subject for another rant).

It’d be nice to take this, or something like it, one step further. It’s good to preserve these guys’ material, but why should it stay locked up in a vault somewhere? Wouldn’t it be nice to give it airplay? I doubt most independents were writing in or for a vacuum; we had something to communicate, and it follows that it should be communicated to as large an audience as possible. Most of us were just never able to reach much of an audience.

I wasn’t thinking of commercial radio—most commercial radio stations won’t play anything except the Top 20 or Top 40 they’re ordered to (another rant, like I said)—but what about that plethora of Internet “stations”? Most of them are hungry for material, and a lot of them were set up deliberately to play stuff the commercial radio stations wouldn’t. In addition, an increasing number of commercial radio stations have gone back to live DJs (there’s more money in it, I’ve heard), who have control over their own playlists; get a record into their hands, and they’ll play it if they think it’s any good, just like in the good old days.

I wonder if one could take it a step further, and have those writers actually get paid for their songs getting played? (That would be a surprise to a lot of those writers—but the Bible does say the laborer is worth his hire.) It might be too much to ask, but I could see how it could be done. One would have to create a performing rights organization along the same lines as ASCAP and BMI, but one that dealt exclusively with the Ignored People. Internet and other stations could pay a fee (a small one, since we’re not talking about outlets that reach a huge market), and each station’s fee would get split up based on what that station played, and how frequently. Complicated? Of course; in fact, the big PROs say it’s too complicated, and that’s why they don’t split up their fees that way (yes, that’s in that rant, too). I could make a computer do it—and if I could, lots of people can.

Just getting songs into the hands of people who’d play them would be challenge enough. As a country boy, I feel it necessary to know the parties—both the station owner/operators and the writers—personally. Just my opinion, but I think the personal connection is important (and lacking in so much business dealings these days). A CD that came blindly in the mail might be nothing more than a new drink coaster, but if it came from Joe—and you know who ”Joe” is—it might be worth a listen.

So… Somebody should do this. Should that somebody be me? Doubtful—I don’t think I know enough people. Yet. I’m working on it.

Joe

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