Bang to Hype

At SXSW, it's all about the buzz, not the Buzz Band

Rosen was invited to speak at the conference, as was Michael Greene, the head of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences--who failed to show for his panel, "The Case for Recording Contract Reform," when he discovered he would be surrounded by musicians, attorneys, journalists and not a single representative from a major label. The man who had balls enough to ditch his original, safe speech and go on the Grammys last month to proclaim piracy a "life or death" issue for the music industry chickened out.

Rosen, who spoke after Robertson on Thursday morning, had no reason to stay away: Tamara Conniff, music editor for the Hollywood Reporter, served up soft snowballs, and Rosen smashed them to powder. Conniff let Rosen slide through her panel like a kid at a water park; when Rosen insisted consumers "never" complain about the price of CDs--68 cents to make, $19 to buy--Conniff should have taken her on, Paula Jones-Tonya Harding style. Instead, she let Rosen get away with her multinational-sponsored gibberjabber about how the RIAA really does care about the musicians, though there's never been any proof of that.

"There are no victims," she insisted, this woman Courtney Love likes to call "the devil." "Everybody has been willing participants." What she's saying to musicians is this: Lie back and enjoy it.

Robbie Robertson's Thursday-morning keynote address didn't last until Friday night. It just felt like it.
John Anderson
Robbie Robertson's Thursday-morning keynote address didn't last until Friday night. It just felt like it.
The devil in disguise: Hilary Rosen claimed record sales slumped because consumers couldn't find the music. And then she was struck by lightning.
John Anderson
The devil in disguise: Hilary Rosen claimed record sales slumped because consumers couldn't find the music. And then she was struck by lightning.

Two days later, Love was to deliver her counterpunch, and conference attendees--some 6,500, down 15 percent from last year's attendance--wanted to listen and love Love; they even endured security checks, a first at SXSW, to cram into the standing-room-only Austin Convention Center ballroom. But instead of a thoughtful, rational discussion, with moderator Los Angeles Times Pulitzer Prize-winning music-biz reporter Chuck Phillips, the room was instead treated to a rambling, incoherent, self-absorbed diatribe from the Hole. Pardon, that should read "from the Hole front woman." It was like attending a one-woman show--Courtney!--during which she strayed so far from the point she rendered herself, sadly, pointless. She's the RIAA's ideal enemy, the millionaire with full pockets, a seemingly empty head and a big mouth. C. Lo does all of H. Ro's heavy lifting, gratis.

Love, who's been entangled in a three-year legal dispute with multinational Vivendi Universal, to whom she's signed, fired the "first shot in artists rights' battle," Phillips said by way of introduction. Too bad she brought with her only a musket full of blanks: Every time she sniffed an interesting subject--she promised to divulge secrets behind the Dixie Chicks' lawsuit with Sony Music, in which they accuse the label of illegal accounting practices--she seemed to be snorting something else. Love preferred instead to talk about her 221-page deposition in which she apparently divulges everything from which record exec chopped an eightball on the new Limp Bizkit record to who buys whores to who wears a hairpiece--as though the presence of drugs, frugs and rugs in rock and roll is a revelation.

"It's a stinky-ass business...the most Machiavellian business that's also the most disorganized," she proclaimed, before going on about hanging out on a yacht at Cannes, almost getting into a fistfight with Christina Aguilera a few days earlier, recounting her days as a "sexual degenerate" with an "injectable" problem and insisting "I'm not gonna be a house nigger anymore." The widow Cobain and self-proclaimed "Dragonlady Yoko" dropped names (Bono, Mike Mills, Sheryl Crow, Gwen Stefani, Cameron Crowe) and dropped the ball, which was unfortunate, because Love does make some excellent points.

She suggests that musicians forgo big advances for free agency, meaning a band would no longer sign to a label for six albums (OK, maybe two before you're dropped). She reminds that payola is alive and well at your local radio station. She talks eloquently about how the music business has a 97 percent rate of failure. She's passionate, open and able to look like she's out not for herself, but for the kid and comer just about to make it. Problem is, she's a millionaire wanting to re-sign to yet another major label once she gets out of her deal with Vivendi, which renders her a moot point. The real rebel--a Jenny Toomey, say, who heads up the Future of Music Coalition and both performed and spoke at SXSW--would do it all herself, without the funding of the "gangsters" of whom Love so derisively (or facetiously?) spoke.

There was one small nugget of brand-new info to be gleaned from Love's speech: She noted, almost off-handedly, that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban once offered to purchase Napster, which Cuban confirmed in an e-mail Monday. "I told them if they did the deal they ended up with, it was like doing a deal with the devil and they would never recover, which they haven't and won't," he wrote. "I also told them I would move it off-shore, where there is no DMCA," he added, referring to the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it a crime to circumvent technologies that protect copyrighted material. Had Cuban been successful in his bid, it likely would have reshaped the entire legal landscape. But the file-sharing system, at the center of so much discussion and litigation, has been rendered moot, buried by a long line of successors and so much paperwork in federal court.

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