Music and the Internet Panel Discussion
November 10, 2000
We had seen in the paper that Don was going to be appearing at a day of discussion about the music industry and the Internet sponsored by NARAS (the Grammy people). When we discovered that the event was open to the public (for a small fee) we were very excited. It's always a pleasure to hear Don speak and this was a topic that we were interested in.
The event was in a small ballroom at the Hyatt downtown. It was set up like so many education in-services we have attended: long tables with pitchers ofwater on them with a raised platform at the front of the room. Everyone got
a Grammy nametag. There were lots of different type people there. Biz folks dressed in black. Funky Austin people in boots and hats. Barbara K. MacDonald formerly of Timbuk 3 was wandering around.
The morning session was designed to help musicians understand what they could use the Internet for in the way of marketing. The consensus among all of the panelists was that web sites don't really sell CDs, they create name
recognition and build community among fans. They also showed us the new technology devices that are being developed to bring music to your home. They blew our mind.
Then it was time for lunch. We went to Jamba Juice and got back to the ballroom. As Lisa was looking the other way, Don breezed into the room. He was wearing a long dark green colored coat, not unlike the one he wore for
the Clinton inaugural. He had an armload of papers and notes under his arm and he walked right past us and up to the dais.
An entertainment lawyer from Austin introduced the panel (the official title of the discussion was: "Music and the Internet: Where are We Now"). The lawyer introduced Jay L Cooper (entertainment lawyer who is doing work for
Don's artist coalition pro bono), John Simpson (from the RIAA), Richard Reimer (VP of legal services from ASCAP), Paul Stark (VP of LiquidAudio) and Leslie Ann Jones (a bigwig with the Grammys and director of music and
recording and scoring at Skywalker Sound). When it came time to introduce Don, she became visibly flustered and couldn't even remember Don's name. Don offered up that his name was "Billy Bob". The woman still couldn't talk
right and admitted that she was blown away to be on the same stage as Don. Don laughed and smiled at all of this. Finally she got the introductions finished and the panel started discussing. For a while, the lawyers talked about ways to protect rights. Jay Cooper detailed some of the details in record contracts that related to digital media. As he was detailing percentages and royalty rates Don nodded knowingly.
Then Don got to talk. The moderator asked him how he felt as an artist with a large catalog to protect from piracy. Don grabbed the mic in two hands, took a deep breath, chuckled slightly and said, "I'm very depressed. The
more you know, the harder gets". Don said he was most concerned about intellectual property rights. He said that artists were caught in the middle between the large record companies and the large dot com companies and that recording artists tend to be a bit naive.
Then Don told the audience that he was going to tell them a book to read and that they should be sure to write down the title. Almost everyone in the audience grabbed a pen. We sort of chuckled because we knew what book Don was going to mention. He noticed us chuckling, but sure enough, he told everyone to read: Rich Media Poor Democracy.
Don said that people need to realize how much of the entertainment industry is controlled by a small elite group of corporations. That's why he and Sheryl Crow formed the artists coalition. Don said that he was pleased with
how many people were joining. Recently, Eric Clapton has signed on as has Fred Durst from Limp Bizcuit. Don said "Bizzzzcit" in a mocking way. He said that Fred had seen the light. Don also mentioned that struggling new artists
need to be compensated and that artists need their own trade groups in Washington to give them a voice.
Discussion then went on to the role of the record company in all of this. Don reiterated a point that had been made earlier that record companies are the only ones who really have the tools and know-how to market music to the
Someone from the audience asked if Don would be comfortable with an organization like the RIAA collecting royalties from online music providers. Don said he wouldn't mind that if the fees were paid directly to the
artists. When the fees get paid to the record company first, they put them in their banks and get interest on them before delivering a small amount to the artists.
This was a bit cloudy, but the RIAA is setting up some sort of board that Don has been invited to sit on.
The discussion then turned to the fact that BMG (who is going to work w/Napster) is planning on charging 16.99 or so to download an album. The panel thought that was ridiculous and typical because they also overcharge for
CDs. Don said that CDs cost a "buck to make", the guy from LiquidAudio who seemed to be annoying Don all through the discussion corrected Don and said they cost less than a buck to make. Don didn't look like he enjoyed being corrected.
Don said that besides, music sounds better in analog form. "I like the noise. I like the hiss"
The moderator then asked Don an interesting question. She asked him if he were just an artist starting out, how he would use the Internet. Don said that he would try to be independent. He mentioned singer Ani DiFranco as an
example of someone who was doing a good job marketing herself. Don said that he wanted to do that in the future after his 2 album deal was over. He said, "I'd like nothing better than to get out from under the thumb of the big
Then it was over. Don commented that they had asked representatives from napster and mp3.com to come join the discussion but they "chickened out".
Then the panel broke up. A few people approached Don and asked him to sign CDs or albums. We just kind of sat there and got our stuff together and tried to decide if we were going to stay for the third session. Then Don
started down the aisle to leave. Tony walked past us and kind of looked like "I should know these people" Lisa said Hi and then the light went on. Tony said "Hi and smiled and waved. Then Don looked over and got this very big
smile and said "Hi Girls". We said Hi and then Mel said "By the way, thanks for the free downloads." Don got another huge smile and said, "You're very welcome". Then they left. We decided to leave too and walked out to the
lobby. Mel went to the restroom. When she came out, she practically walked right into Don and Tony. Don was signing something grudgingly for this woman who wouldn't leave him alone. Tony was in "bodyguard" mode. Don and Tony went up into the hotel and we left and went to the grocery store. It's cool doing stuff like this in the town you live in.
Some general notes on Don: He was very friendly and full of smiles. He smiled and laughed at jokes made on the dais, but he seemed to avoid chuckling at any joke made about the recent election crisis. He thought
deeply and listened intently. There were many times when his eyebrows made that V shape. As we mentioned, he was wearing that khaki coat over his "old man pants" blue ones) and a black sweatshirt. He looked healthy (not
blotchy like he was in Phoenix). His hair seemed clean of any goop and was parted on the side...not spiky. And!!!! He had a stubbly goatee! Very nice!