@DavidCLowery: Address on Acceptance of the American Eagle Award from the National Music Council

June 2nd 2022 Anaheim California

Hello and thank you. Thanks to the board for this award. President James Weaver. Chair Charlie Sanders. Thanks to David Sanders for help with logistics.

And while I have him here, special thanks to Rick Carnes for his help a few years ago with the University of Georgia Artists Rights Symposium.

I wanted to start out today, by saying it is a great honor to receive this award.

When I look at past recipients and see names like Odetta, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Lena Horne, Hal David, Phil Ramon and Kris Kristofferson, I feel like the protagonist in the Talking Heads song:

“How did I get here?”

You see, my original claim to fame is the song Take The Skinheads Bowling. How did the guy that wrote that song end up amongst such musical luminaries?

By way of introduction and explanation:

The song Take the Skinheads Bowling is the first single from a band I started in 1983 in Santa Cruz California.

The band is called Camper Van Beethoven. And it’s still around after 39 years.

I would describe that band as a psychedelic folk-rock garage band but we didn’t have a garage. We actually rehearsed in an attic.

Three flights of stairs… SVT.

Go figure.

Around the same time I started an indie record label to promote and distribute the records of Camper Van Beethoven. We later signed to Virgin Records.

I then started another band called Cracker. This band went on to have platinum hits. You’ve probably heard a few.

I produced albums by groups like Counting Crows.

I ran a recording studio complex for many years.

And in 2012 I began to speak out on behalf of artists at various technology conferences.

In particular I wrote a rather long essay, quite controversial at the time, “Meet the New Boss, Worse Than the Old Boss?”

In this essay I argued that the emerging digital landscape for music was one in which the new bosses (mostly tech companies) would pay nothing up front for our work, and very little on the back-end. I predicted this would shift most of the financial burden and risk onto those who could least afford it, the working class artist.

Unfortunately, my predictions were correct.

Now, It is important to note I am not hostile to technology and technology companies per se. Indeed I graduated with a degree in mathematics from UC Santa Cruz, and before Camper Van Beethoven became my full time job I worked as a computer programmer.

In addition I have had some success as a seed investor in technology startups. Since we are at NAMM I assume you all have heard of Reverb.com?

Technology is important in my life. It’s important to how I make music. Most other artists I know feel the same way. I don’t think technology companies and artists should always be at odds.

So let’s rewind for a second…

“I started a band in my attic (not garage) and later a record label.”

The foundational myth of Silicon Valley is the garage startup that becomes a global brand.
(Think Apple).

Look at my own startup: Camper Van Beethoven. A few kids in a faded beach town start a band. With a small personal loan from a singing cowboy-true story- we made a record and went from the attic to competing on a global scale in a few short years.

In the 80’s and 90s, this story was replicated, to different degrees, by hundreds of indie rock bands all across The United States.

And this story is not unique to the US or rock music. In1990 while traveling around Morocco I met many musicians who sold their recordings on cassettes in souks all across North Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe.

In 2014 I toured China as a cultural and Intellectual property ambassador for the US State Department. I met a Mongolian folk-rock ensemble that was doing essentially the same thing across central Asia.

If Silicon Valley is widely hailed for its entrepreneurial energy and innovation shouldn’t artists and bands also be praised and seen in the same light? We are certainly as creative.

We generate jobs and substantial economic activity. Some political scientists even think it was really American Pop Music that ended the cold war.

It has always seemed like something worth protecting to me.

Turning our attention back to this room, I see a similar entrepreneurial spirit in the boutique amp, instrument, and music software makers represented here by the National Music Council.

Conversely the big manufacturers and major rights holders represented here have problems that will feel familiar to artists:

The unlicensed use of their intellectual property and designs.

We have a lot in common.

Now this award is ostensibly given to me for my work as an artists rights activist. But I want to put that in a bigger context.

Many of you may have first heard of my efforts on behalf of artists when I filed a class action lawsuit against Spotify for failing to pay self published songwriters.

This, indeed, was a milestone as it gave songwriters the first opportunity in the digital age to extract some concessions from digital services.

Also the 2018 Music Modernization Act may be understood as an unintended consequence of this lawsuit.

But in the big picture, this lawsuit was a minor skirmish in what I call “the long war” to protect the rights of the creators.

And In this long war, I submit, I am just a foot soldier.

I look at the members of the National Music Council, whether music creators, unions, manufacturers, music associations, labels, educators or performing rights organizations and I can think of many many times when I have been aided in my efforts by the good folks from these organizations.

Because ultimately, we have this in common:

We are all fighting to protect our intellectual property

our copyrights,
our neighboring rights,
our patents,
our trademarks
and our designs

We fight to protect them from freeloaders that too often convince policymakers and courts that in the name of “innovation” they should have access to our Intellectual Property without permission or payment.

Sadly this is nothing new. There have always been and there will always be unscrupulous schemers that claim their exploitative business model is somehow “the future.”

The problem is, that in their vision of “the future” they get rich while little of that money trickles down to us. Those that create the intellectual property.

To paraphrase Led Zeppelin: The scam remains the same.

But it is here that the National Music Council has always been helpful. The council and its members provide the long lasting intellectual infrastructure that allows individual artists like myself, to fight.

To fight Today.

To fight 5 years from now

and to fight into the foreseeable future.

I humbly accept this award as someone who has simply followed in the footsteps of other council members and award recipients.

Keep up the good fight my friends,

You are truly on the right side of history.