Thursday, October 09, 2014

Rosanne Cash Says Music Streaming Is 'Just Dressed-Up Piracy,' Shitstorm Ensues

Regular readers know that I'm the unofficial president of the Rosanne Cash Fan Club, as well as being her (semi)official biographer. But this isn't really about that. As a result of a recent social-media post she made in which she called music streaming "just dressed-up piracy," the singer/songwriter has come under attack from various people, including Bruce Houghton of Hyperbot, which describes itself as the leading music industry and technology news blog..

I'm old, so have never understood the allure of streaming music. (I still buy multiple copies of the same CD from different outlets to ensure I get every bonus track!) But reading what Ms. Cash has to say about it should be a real eyeopener to everybody, not just creative types. Ironically, many of the people going after her are her own fans, and I think I know why. I believe some felt attacked -- I can't find it, but I remember her saying streaming and stealing off the Internet were the "same" thing, which obviously they are not -- and because they're probably paying for Spotify or Pandora some felt she was acting like they were just as bad as people who are illegally downloading music off the Internet. (I was even a little taken aback and I don't even stream music.) I think she was being deliberately hyperbolic because it REALLY is criminal what's going on -- it's just not the fans' fault.

Read what Mr. Houghton had to say HERE and then check out Rosanne's response below and you'll see what I mean. (BTW: I stole this from her Facebook page, which you can "like" for yourself HERE!)

An Open Letter to Bruce Houghton at Hypebot:

Dear Mr. Houghton,

I will refrain from addressing you as a ‘little boy’ even though you referred to me as a ‘little girl’ in your recent column (
I understood that we disagreed on issues concerning streaming and fair compensation for musicians and songwriters, but I must say you lost all credibility with me when you stooped to that breathtakingly sexist insult. (You also misspelled my name in the subtitle of your article, which doesn’t inspire confidence in your research skills.)

Setting your lapses of courtesy and spelling aside, I welcome the opportunity to respond and to state my position on artists’ rights for your readers. I first want to clarify that I am not unhappy with my audience, nor do I criticize them in any way. I treasure them. I criticize the corporations that profit from the music without paying for it properly—and improper payment runs the gamut from ridiculous underpayment to downright theft.

I have no problem with technology. My issues are with businesses that use my work—and the work of all musicians and songwriters—and don’t pay for it. The CEO of Pandora took home more in stock options in 2013—$29,167,388—than it paid in that year to all American songwriters combined (

Total revenues from the US record industry have fallen from $14.6 to 7 billion in the last fifteen years, which is a decline of 52 per cent ( Amidst this economic Depression for an industry that provides the primary investment and promotion for new talent, music is being treated as a ‘loss leader’ to attract advertising, venture capital funding, and speculative stock sales for the likes of Pandora, Spotify and Google/ YouTube (and even terrestrial radio—in no other profession or industry in America can you make free use of a person’s copyright as bait for your own financial gain.)

Of course, I do receive compensation for sales of my albums on iTunes and from brick-and-mortar stores, as one reader commented, but artists are entitled to be paid fairly on all platforms, not just iTunes and record stores. This isn’t about artists deserving huge riches, but the principle of getting a fair cut when our work is being used for obviously commercial purposes. Many musicians are struggling desperately to stay afloat. This is particularly true for non-performing songwriters, who cannot compensate for the loss of income in royalties by touring.

The fact that the major labels are complicit in profiting from streaming outlets, as also mentioned in the comments section, is indeed true. Perhaps the $104 I received for 600,000 streams in an 18-month period might have been more if I were on an indie label instead of a major—perhaps even ten times more. But you must see that even the higher (in theory) indie rate is still unsustainable, and the major/indie discussion is a red herring—it does not address the most basic problem, which is that the tech companies are making billions by using our music and musicians are being forced out of the business.

I ask the fans directly to think about this: the next time you download music, ask yourself who is getting paid: the tech corporation, or the artist? Who is liable for infringement: the corporation, or you, the consumer? How is it that multi-billion dollar corporations have managed to pull off this sleight of hand for so long, to indemnify themselves against the artist and the consumer by creating a system that rakes in billions for themselves and mocks and manipulates both artist and user?

I’m not worried about me. I’m worried about the entire next generation of songwriters and musicians who are dispirited and feel completely devalued and who give up their dreams in order to earn a decent paycheck. For every Mick Jagger, there are 10,000 in the trenches who feel they are no longer valued members of society because people who will pay ten bucks for a cappuccino and a muffin will not pay the same amount to buy an album of original music that an artist may have put years of heart and sweat into making.

Many members of Congress are aware of the potentially catastrophic situation for creators and are studying the landscape to better understand the situation and make it work for artists. Bills have already been introduced to remedy some of the most egregious injustices (

The music business, that not-so-long ago sustained the careers of artists at all levels, is in danger of collapse. I have faith that at some point, the current models will be revised so that the streaming and tech companies which profit from our work realize that they will put themselves out of business if they don’t fairly compensate the creators they use for their gain. Then again, I may be giving them too much credit. As in the case of the CEO of Pandora, an unprofitable company, they might be more interested in cashing out millions in future stock options than in building sustainable businesses that benefit artists on the ground.

In the meantime, legions of songwriters and musicians will divert or abandon their creative work in order to find better ways to feed their families, and that is a ‘loss leader’ that history will never replace.


Rosanne Cash
New York City
October 9, 2014


Anonymous said...

smack! way to go, rosanne.

yes, i occasionally listen to pandora for convenience, but my primary means for obtaining music has returned to cd.

i have purchased too many downloads, only later to be told my "purchase rights" were no longer spent, music gone, and where... in a cloud somewhere?

never again for me, and go get 'em ms. cash.

Blobby said...

I'm old too and don't stream. Besides getting filled w a ton a crap music I don't want to hear, I do feel for the artists who are cheated. She is the right person to take up this cause.