Is Tim Westergren (Pandora) Really Just A Beard For Clear Channel?

Let me state this up front.  I have no problem with any broadcaster making a profit whether it’s Pandora, Sirius or Clear Channel. Even a lot of profit.  They have their financial interests and duty to their shareholders.  They have a financial interest in the IRFA bill. And I have my own financial interest in stopping this bill as it is written. In this case our interests are opposed.   On some level you can see this as a labor dispute or even a complex negotiation between buyers and suppliers. This is not my objection.

My objection is to how this is being done.  I object to Pandora’s attempt to “opt out” of the free market and instead ask Congress to step in and fix its financial model.  This is an abuse of the legislative process and deserves the description “crony capitalism”.  I  also strongly object to the campaign of disinformation which has accompanied this bill.

But if that was all there was to this bill this would be one blog post. 500 words max.  But it’s not.  This bill being pushed by Pandora Founder Tim Westergren must be seen in its historical and financial context. Further it helps to understand why an artist like me decides to do battle with this bill and the individuals and institutions that will profit from passage of this bill.

(I approach this with some trepidation as any one of these companies that I criticize could choose to be vindictive and harm me and either of my two ensembles by reducing airplay.  But I feel I must.)

As an artist that benefitted from a system which valued content and artists’ contributions, I feel obliged to make sure the next generation of artists (which include my  sons) have the same opportunities that I had. Many of my musician friends in the business fail to understand this.  We often see quotes from some of our older legacy artists endorsing illegal file sharing as “the new radio”.

Or they praise semi-legitimate tech schemes that suck value from artists’ songs or recordings while sharing the tiniest bit of revenue with artists.  I don’t think they are bad people but  they fail to see what is really happening here. And what will happen to the next generation.  They are severely limiting the next generation of musicians’ financial options.  And dooming them to exploitation at the hands of large corporations.

For even free music is not “free”.  Plenty of people are profiting off “free” music. Illegal sites run by sketchy (or worse) groups profit by selling ads.  Online advertising networks owned by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others profit by serving ads to these sites. Madison Avenue advertising firms profit by designing these online campaigns.  Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Paypal profit by providing payment processing to these illegal sites.  And the bittorrent ecosystem is not any different.  uTorrent™  insiders report  they make millions just from the advertising on their conduit toolbar.

Music is not free in the digital age.  It’s just that artists are too often not getting any  of the revenue that their music generates.

These legacy artists had the choice to decide how to monetize their music.  For example, the Grateful Dead chose to sell their recorded studio albums but chose to freely share their live performances as long as no one made any money off of sharing activities.  Indeed I have done exactly this my entire career with Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker.  We have over 4 thousand tracks on the internet music archive.  But I am fully aware that it is our duty as successful artists to protect the rights of the next generation of musicians. We should do our part to protect their ability to monetize their music if they so chose. Successful musicians need to understand that it is hypocritical to let the door close on the next generation of musicians.

The big picture here is that since the dawn of the digital age there has been unrelenting pressure from the tech industry and its lobbyists to devalue, even demonetize, recorded music (-ed note: and all intellectual property. Your job is next!).  This Pandora bill is just one battle in a long running war.

The reason I am criticizing Tim Westergren personally is because he has chosen to be the public face of this bill.  Further  as a musician he understands that this is the battle.  Indeed he was once  firmly on the side of musicians, advocating that Congress force terrestrial broadcasters  to pay a royalty to performers.  Here in 2009 he states that clearly!  He advocates that AM and FM radio do the right  thing and pay royalties to performers and support HR848 the Performance Rights Act. Now as Tim Westergren emerges from his IPO cocoon we see not a beautiful artist friendly butterfly but an ugly Wall Street moth advocating a race to the bottom. Fuck it, other people aren’t paying artists fairly, why should we? 

Nice. A beautiful display of Silicon Valley iEthics.™

But it’s much worse than that. Much of this bill appears to be written by or at the behest of Sirius XM and the National Association of Broadcasters. That would be  Clear Channel and other non-cool broadcasters.  The clauses in this bill that advocated firing of judges; what evidence the judges could consider; attempts to stand The Sherman Act on its head (and use it to muzzle PROs and artist groups) seemed bizarre coming from Tim “I’m a musician too” Westergren.

At least it seemed bizarre until I considered this horrible possibility:

Tim Westergren is a beard for Clear Channel, Sirius and The NAB!  

Indeed much of this bill does what  another similarly named bill does.  Flash back to the 2007 and the  National Association of Broadcasters sponsored Internet Radio Equality Act This act often shares similar concepts.  This bill of course fell flat on it’s face because consumers are not gonna write their congressmen on behalf of Clear Channel!

It looks to me as if someone somewhere just reheated this 2007 bill and got Tim Westergren to lead the charge.  After the Anti-SOPA Silicon Valley corporate counterrevolution of 2012 many people learned that if you just stick “freedom”,”fair” and “internet” on the front of your cause most people won’t bother to read  the ugly Orwellian details.  The tl/dr generation happily click, like, share and tweet the corporate agenda all the while (incorrectly) thinking that they are doing something vaguely revolutionary. Sad.

But the real Orwellian touch is falsely framing the debate as the cool internet broadcaster Pandora vs the uncool traditional broadcasters.  While not-so-secretly larding the bill with all kinds of goodies that help those uncool traditional broadcasters.

If my analysis is correct I just have to say “Touché, Tim,  you’ve actually harnessed the consumers dislike of traditional broadcasters to financially benefit those same broadcasters.”

And I also have to say, as I’ve done all week  “Screw You.”

Cause in reality this is Wall Street,  Silicon Valley and National Association of Broadcaster teaming up to screw over artists.   This is not hip internet radio broadcaster vs The Man.  It’s Pandora selling out to The Man.

“Screw You” cause you’re participating in the devaluing of the labor of your fellow musicians.  And not this generation but the generations to come.

Finally “Screw You Tim” cause you’re directly profiting from this  little charade.  By dangling the shiny object of lower royalty rates in front of investors it appears that investors see Pandora’s stock as potentially more valuable. Look at the headline on the  financial website after this bill was misrepresented to the public:

“Pandora’s Value Could Double If The Internet Radio Fairness Act Passes

Meanwhile Tim Westergren continues to sell an average of  a million dollars of Pandora stock a month.

3 thoughts on “Is Tim Westergren (Pandora) Really Just A Beard For Clear Channel?

  1. David, you are one of the few clear thinkers when it comes to our “new music business,” and I thank you for speaking out continually, and so articulately.

    You said “Music is not free in the digital age. It’s just that artists are too often not getting any of the revenue that their music generates.” This is an essential truth that the general public does not grasp, unfortunately. Maybe between you & Faza & the growing number of artists that are coming to see the sense in what you say, we will see some change. Keep fighting the good fight.

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