you know it's hard out here for a record producer

That's not exactly the line from the improbably awesome film Hustle & Flow - a somewhat disneyfied story about a pimp and his, um, girls - but it's what came to mind when reading about the building battle between record producers and AM and FM radio stations.

After years of playing songs royalty-free, radio may have to start paying for the privilege - if the music makers can push their bill through Congress (which looks likely - if not this year then next).

There's a lot of silly talk about "fairness" and "closing loopholes" - but to this simple girl, it seems pretty obvious what's going on.

Once upon a time the music industry made their dough selling records - and advertising their songs over the radio. Rather than charge stations for playing their tunes, they often paid FM and AM to put their records on the air to boost sales (citation: Hustle & Flow and Ray, another darned good flic).

With YouTube, MySpace, iTunes, etc., that revenue model has long slipped through the industry's fingers. Radio has lost its value as a marketing tool for songs - but is looking peachier as a source of cash.

What I love about this story is that it represents - in miniature form - what politics is really about: competing interests negotiating for a better deal - or advantage - in the market or in life. That's generally not a bad thing - depending upon how high the stakes are for either side, they'll battle it out until each side is satisfied. Whether it's a tug of war between radio stations and record labels - or between middle class families and the health care industry - somehow, through jolts and shifts, it all works out in the end. That's politics.

What's bothersome - again, as with all politics - is how this power play is turned into a morality play with talk about "fairness" and righting wrongs. In the case of the music industry, all that's going on is that the old system used to work - but now that they're straining for cash, they need a new system to stay ahead. As the lead in Hustle & Flow would say:

You know it's hard out here for a pimp

When he tryin to get this money for the rent

Straight, simple - no bad guys, no good guys, just folks trying to pay the rent - even if it means having to push a bill through Congress.

Good Point

We're so used to seeing one side as the "bad guy" depending on who's side you're on.  But good point: "just folks trying to pay the rent."  It doesn't excuse any unfairness, but it does make it understandable.  It's almost an inevitable thing for an old business model to figure out how outdated it really is at the expense of others.  The music industry is going for the fight or flight approach.


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OliviaB. (not verified) | March 13, 2009 - 2:46pm