Monday, August 31, 2015

Wading in the Water

So, I got baptized 8/30/15.

Yep. Washed in the Blood of the Lamb. Dead to the flesh and risen again in the spirit. Something like that. I’m neither a poet or a wordsmith. Definitely not a theologian or religious studies scholar. (My Masters degree is in Music Theory. Not exactly Divinity. Wait… Does Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” count?)

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read the Bible. Piecemeal, admittedly, and don’t ask me to quote chapters and verses. (For real… I’m doing good to remember song lyrics.) I can confidently say I’ve seen everything in there at least once. Hey… At 38 years old, I like to think I’m BEGINNING to make progress. This recent “go through”, I started at Revelations and have been going backwards, book by book.( I’m at First Thessalonians, now. Yeah, I’m slow like that.) I’ve been using the St. Joseph Edition, because while I’m reading it, I can jump down and read the footnotes. (I’m somewhat disappointed the NIV Bible App I have on my tablet doesn’t have footnotes. What can I say? Some things you read take on a different life when you get a little more background on it.) Sometimes, I really look at it and say “Okay… I gotcha…” Then, there have been times I said “REALLY, Paul?”

For anyone curious, one of my bookmarks is one of the “bad” letters from the church that says “We consider you part of our church family. So when we haven’t seen you at our weekend celebrations for the last few weeks…” (Hey… I was there most of the time! I just refuse to sign the attendance packet. Quit scowling at me.)

Okay… I’ve digressed.

SO… Why did I get baptized?

No, I didn’t get baptized as a child. My siblings did. I didn’t. Don’t ask. It’s like my first name; I’m not discussing it on the internet.

I could say “Jesus is doing such wonderful things in my life that I felt I owed it to Him.” Nope. Not true. That isn’t to say he isn’t doing wonderful things in my life. I just don’t believe that’s why you go to Jesus. Okay… Yes, you owe Jesus, but that’s not some debt you can repay. Ever. That’s the point. It doesn’t matter if he tells you next week’s Powerball numbers in a dream. Getting washed in his blood doesn’t make things even. Don’t get me wrong; next week’s Powerball numbers would be nice…

I could also say “I’ve decided it was PAST time to make a commitment to Jesus.” It wouldn’t be accurate, though. I served on and off in churches for years. There are accompaniment editions of hymnals on my shelves. The filing cabinet has evidence from past music ministry positions and pieces I’ve arranged for choir that have never seen the light of day. I’ve got MORE ideas in my head and on scraps that have percolated for years. Yes, I know that none of this is the same as “committing to Jesus.” I see it as indications that I’ve been guided and led for much longer than I’ve known. My past experience – much of it which borders on unbelievable – has been such that I never really questioned that I was a Child of God.

By getting baptized, I was just making it official.” I mean… my sins have already been forgiven, so this was just an outward gesture. At least that was what I told myself. And yet… I still hemmed and hawed for years…

I saw it as one of those things – like marriage – that I just did not want to do until I was absolutely ready. You know how some women have the “Perfect Fairy Tale Wedding” fantasy? I had this “Kareem’s Perfect Baptism” all set up in my mind. (Don’t judge me.) My family would be there. Alison Krauss would be leading a choir singing “Down to the River to Pray” accompanied by a group of Irish Dancers. I’d get baptized in the name of The Father, The Son, and the Holy Ghost. There’d be this ray of sunlight as I came up. Aretha Franklin and company would be singing me out of the water on “Oh Happy Day” while the angels circled overhead.  Jesus would be waiting for me on the shore with his thumb up, a wink, and say “Yeah… Nice job, Buddy!”

Yeah… I never said that fantasy was reasonable. That’s just how I imagined it. Don’t judge me.

You’re totally judging me; Stop it.

Okay… Yeah… I asked for it… ANYWAY

I came up with all these excuses. My life’s a mess. I can’t get my family there. The church is having it in the river. There could be anything in that river. Snakes. Brain-eating amoeba. Ch’thulu. It’s not wheelchair accessible. The church is using a pool during the service. I’m playing electric piano; I can’t do it during service. I’d get electrocuted. The music director would strangle me with a patch cord if I asked. Well, I can’t schedule it during another time; I have to think about everyone else’s schedules. Too many people go to THAT service. Nah… He wouldn’t use a patch cord, but a bass guitar string. CH’THULU… IN… THE… WATER!!!
Yeah… the mental acrobatics got tiring.

A little background on my church: It has three campuses with individual flavors. The small one is located in the Black suburb. The medium-sized one is about three miles away in the city. The galactic-sized one with five services alone is way out in one of the White suburbs north of the city. I often play keyboards at all three on different weekends, depending on whatever their needs are. I live south of all of them, so it takes me about 30-35 minutes to get to any of them if traffic is clear. When I go sit in the pews, I go out to the galactic-sized one. (5:00 PM on Saturday is when I’m the most awake.)

SO… It was Baptism weekend at all three campuses. As it turned out, I was on keyboard at the galactic-sized campus for all five of their service celebrations. (Two on Saturday; three on Sunday.) Since I was “on duty”, that automatically ruled that one out. Okay, I probably could have asked, but crowds in general tend to unnerve me. (Yes. I know. I’m a musician. I can play in front of 4400 people and be just fine. Ask me to sit among them and I need to be as close to the door as possible.) As rowdy as they get, I’d have ducked back under the water and probably drowned myself.

The small and medium campuses had joined up to do river baptisms that evening. Of course, my same “river excuses” came back. Ch’thulu. After setting all that aside, the only reason I almost didn’t go was because I knew I couldn’t bring my mother. (The wheelchair wouldn’t make it.) On the way home from serving at the Galactic Star Cruiser, I thought, “Maybe I should ask Bro #7. He could take pictures.” (See… Now, I was making excuses TO do it.) I came home after church, slept on it, decided enough was enough, and dug out the swimming trunks. Bro #7 said “Hold up… You’ve never been baptized?!” and off we went.

Nope… Didn’t tell anyone at any of the campuses I was going to do it. Just went there.

Like many people headed to the river baptism service, instead of getting directions, I just Googled the address. (I know “Google” isn’t a verb, but I’m using it anyway.) We arrived at the edge of the hosts’ property, but had no clue whatsoever because everyone was near the house! (We couldn’t see the house.) Fortunately, we had plenty of company. We eventually got around to where everyone else was. Yeah… There was still a bit of a crowd, but not TOO bad. Once I gave Bro #7 my car keys, I knew I wasn’t escaping. Jive turkey!

Actually, the service was enjoyable. We prayed and sang to get us warmed up. The Pastoral Trio of RE, JM, and RP waded into the river and got things moving. I think there were about 20 or so people. I waited until last… admittedly, because I was still thinking “There could be ANYTHING in that water.” Mind you, I probably should have been worried about cutting my bare feet. Yet, I was still thinking that Ch’thulu was going to rise up and eat me. (If you haven’t figured out how my imagination works by now…) By the time it was my turn, I was pretty sure Bro #7 was ready to knock me into the water if I didn’t get in there.

First, there was DJ, one of the worship pastors at the small church. Gotta love DJ. She had the good camera out already.

DJ: KAREEM… You’re getting baptized?! Do you mind if I put it on Facebook?

TKP: Sure…  Go ahead. My brother was going to t…

DJ: Yeah, I was going to do it regardless of what you said. I’m so HAPPY I’m here for this!

Bro#7: (He flashed an evil grin. It was his way of letting me know I was getting in that river one way or the other. He’s a 5th Degree Blackbelt. I wouldn’t win that one. He also had my car keys and my shoes. By the time I could climb out, he’d have already driven off and left me stranded, soaked, and barefoot.)

By this time, the Pastoral Trio have now figured out I’m the last one.

“Kareem, you’re getting baptized?”


“Is this a reaffirmation or…”

“First time.”

“REALLY?!” They laugh and decide they’re all going to join in on it. Yeah, I almost climbed right back out. Then, I remembered the steps were slippery, my brother was waiting to shove me in, and DJ was waiting with a camera and would probably take pictures if he did shove me in. She was going to get pictures one way or another!

Okay… I might be exaggerating. Might be.

“You have to bring me back up. You promised.”

Now I’ve got these visions of being dunked in the river, them letting me go, me flailing around, stumbling to my feet, and being sucked down by the tentacle of Ch’thulu, as the three of them laugh sinisterly. Yes… That’s right. I’m thinking this of three clergymen trying to bring me to Christ. If you’ve read this far and haven’t figured out I have issues, then there’s no hope for you.

So, I hand ZS my glasses, which now means I’m wading into water with these three laughing pastor-type people and blind. My first thoughts?

TKP: Oh God… The water is cold. Oh God… I just said the Lord’s name in vain.

RE:  Yes… Twice, now.

TKP: Oh God… I said that aloud. Oh God… STOP THAT! Wait… No… God, don’t YOU stop it. Stop ME from stopping that. No… Don’t stop ME from stopping that… Get ME to stop that… Wait? Did I just presume to command the Lord Almighty to do something for me? GAAAAH!!! That’s NOT what I meant. Oh God, am I saying all of this aloud?! Okay… WHEW… my mouth is closed. I think. ****!!! I DID IT AGAIN!!!

(No wonder I thought Ch’thulu was waiting to eat me. Here I was about to be baptized and I was sinning along the way.)

By then, we’re out there. I believe RE was on my right, JM was on my left, and RP was behind me. So, if they let me go, I was sure I could grab at least two of them to take with me to my watery doom. Then I remembered, I have to use one hand to pinch my nose shut while the other arm was crossed over my chest. If they did let me go, that probably meant I would at best only be able to grab one of them.

Yes, I know. I’m a bad person for even thinking any of this.

Well, I’m glad to say the immersion went extremely well. Ch’thulu decided not to eat me and I did indeed make it back above the surface of the water. Aretha wasn’t singing “Oh Happy Day” like in my perfect baptism fantasy, but I can say there were probably at least 40 Jesuses cheering on the bank. I’ll take it!

So… after making it back to the bank, we hung around for a bit, ate pizza… I barely introduced anyone to Bro #7, which meant that – Yes - I’m still a horrible person. I was asked how I felt and I said “Okay.” Yep. I was relieved and glad I finally did it… Then, Bro #7 looked at my phone and said “Yep… You’ve just been tagged in a picture on Facebook.”

Sure enough… DJ posted a picture and tagged me. There were Likes and the first response was from my cousin CL. Of course, that significantly increased the likelihood that Mom would find out about the baptism by checking Facebook! (Yes, that’s right; I told neither of my parents that I was getting baptized. I’m a really horrible person.) Bro #7 looked at me and said – in his own charming way – “Hehehehehe… You’re dead.” After my no doubt being an anti-social post-baptized crazy-thinking crazy-guy, we decided to make our way home. I’m still thinking “Yeah… I’m feeling okay…”

Then, 20 minutes into the drive, I’m thinking “What the **** did I just do?!

Yes, I know the obvious answer, but I think the question beyond that is “What does it mean?”

If you were to ask me why I got baptized, I couldn’t give you an answer. I can’t explain it. I can’t explain it to you. If Jesus walked in the door and asked me, I couldn’t tell him why, either. Yes, I’ve thought over it through and through. For years. I’ve spent my entire life trying to figure out logical explanations. There isn’t one. Not for me. Maybe I’ve just concluded that faith cannot be reasoned. If it did, would it be faith? I don’t know.

Yes, I know. It’s not an answer. Well, I’m still searching for it. Baptism was an important step along the way.

Oh…  And as for how Mom reacted when I got home?

“Worst secret ever. Congratulations!”


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

THANK YOU, TAYLOR SWIFT! CD Baby, Apple, and the AFM, not so much...


This particular blog entry has been difficult for me to write. The “practical” and “professional” move would be to simply accept how the Taylor Swift vs. Apple Music situation played out and join the many thousands of musicians and musician reps around the country in thanking Ms. Swift for speaking out against Apple Music’s heinous “three month at the artist’s expense” scheme. On that end, I agree. THANK YOU, TAYLOR, FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART! With one blog post – backed up by the strategic removal of your album – you called out Apple Music for a practice that would have adversely affected musicians everywhere and convinced them to change course. KUDOS! As soon as I hit the “Post” button, I’m putting “Shake It Off” on YouTube and dancing to it in my office. Then, I’ll follow it up by singing along with you and Tim McGraw on “Highway Don’t Care” at the top of my lungs. Fact is that I appreciate what you did and the results. Apple Music will pay ALL artists for any music streamed during their free trial… as they should have planned to do from the beginning.

So, where’s the “heart-ache”? Why did I hesitate in posting this blog? Why can’t I just accept the “victory” and go on about my business since my primary gripe has been rectified?

No, musicians and music-lovers; all is not calm in the world. Yes, this particular situation with Apple Music has been rectified. That doesn’t mean we should just brush everything else off and pretend everything is awesome. There is no reason the situation should have ever got to this point. If you look at my past entries, I have held Apple accountable for their role in this fiasco… back in November when I discovered that Apple Music’s predecessor Beats Music was engaging in the exact same practice, albeit for a two-week trial period versus Apple Music’s three month trial period. This exact practice was what #DrDreisaHypocrite was about. I am looking in particular at two parties that I am paying to look out for my interests: CD Baby and the American Federation of Musicians.

At this point, I have absolutely nothing to gain. The entire situation since I first spoke about it was actually a bit of a running gag with my friends. (It’s okay; It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been a punchline.) Make no mistake, though; this is a hit piece. They pissed me off and I am very much reevaluating my relationship with both of them.


The “Apple Music Three Month Trial” fiasco did not “suddenly materialize” with the leak of Apple documents to Digital Music News on June 10. Again, Apple Music’s predecessor Beats Music was engaging in the same practice last year. I wrote about this subject after I discovered it myself while browsing through my Digital Distribution Summaries. CD Baby confirmed the practice to me by email. This was covered in the blog, complete with screenshots of my summary and my email correspondence with CD Baby. The main purpose of that blog entry was to inform musicians and their supporters of a practice by one of the world’s largest multibillion dollar corporations – that sells music as a loss leader for their doohickey gadget business – that further devalues music and if left unchecked could have grown to become the standard practice. Why are digital downloads $0.99 or less? Easy… because Apple iTunes – who gets more than 60% of the digital download market – sets it that way. You think they won’t operate similar leverage if they are able to take over the digital streaming market?

I spoke out because most musicians didn’t have a fucking clue this was happening!!!

Again, I posted this back in November when I found out. Today is the last day of June. Oh… it also happens to be launch date for Apple Music. Imagine that…

Since that post, there had been further communications…

To CD Baby:

Seriously, I’m wondering “Who the hell do you work for?” This digital distribution company has one of the best origin stories I have ever heard. Derek Sivers started this company out of his garage to sell his music online, expanded it to his friends, and went from there. People – of which I am among that number – went to CD Baby to distribute their music online. The CD Baby website specifically says “CD Baby has always been a company run BY musicians FOR musicians. (In case CD Baby has forgotten this, I’ve decided to include a screenshot. You’re welcome.)

Check out those nice red boxes and lines.
It pretty much says right there that the company's clientele are musicians.

So… You entered this agreement with Beats Music to supply our music to them during their two week ”free trial” periods (so they can increase their client base) at no cost to them? You AGREED to give our music to one of the world’s largest multibillion dollar corporations FOR FREE and you felt no obligation to inform your clients? I found out by looking in my digital distribution summary!

So then you tell me that if I am uncomfortable with the arrangement, I can opt out of it. Well, I went back to that area and didn’t see Beats Music listed as one of the distribution partners at all. I suspected I knew why, so I decided to do the waiting game. Once Apple Music’s memo got leaked, I made my objections known, posted a screen shot, and asked how to opt out. Oddly enough, you answered my question the day after Apple Music caved to Taylor Swift.

Here's a recap of our November conversation in pictures:

Dear CD Baby: WTF, Dude?

Yeah, Bro... We sold you out, Dawg! No payz!
You G** D*** M*****-F****** C***S****** S** of a B****!
And now, here is our conversation via Twitter:

Kevin Breuner: VP of Marketing for CD Baby
Hmmm... iTunes is listed, but not Apple Music. But I thought...

OHHHHHH... So you CAN'T opt out of ONLY Apple Music...

In order to not stream on Apple Music, I had two choices… in your own words.

1.) Remove my music from all digital streamers altogether. (No Spotify, Rdio, Deezer, etc.)

2.) Remove my music from iTunes – who gets the vast majority of the digital download traffic – and later pay out of my pocket to put it back when the trial period has expired.

That’s nice. You get to say publicly that I can remove it from this one specific marketplace I objected to, but you have to be pressed before you admit that there are consequences FAR beyond “simply not being available on Apple Music.” So my REAL choice was to either allow Apple to stream my music for free or you would cut access to my music in other marketplaces. That’s not “choice”; that’s passive-aggressive blackmail.

Again, I ask CD Baby “Who the hell do you work for? Contrary to what your website says, it is clear that you have no sense of accountability to those who you claim your company is “for.” It’s clear who you work for. CD Baby, you need to dispense with the charade and be honest to the musician community about who you really are:

The fact is that you are not a digital distribution company for independent artists to get their work to the market place; you’re a supplier of music for digital music corporations.

To the American Federation of Musicians:

The AFM is a labor organization made up of 80,000 members across the United States and Canada. Seen a professional orchestra lately? Probably AFM members. Heard a major label recording? The musicians are probably AFM members. The bands on “Dancing with the Stars” and the “Tonight Show”? AFM members. Broadway musicians? AFM members. In terms of musician advocacy, there is no one looking out for the rights of artists like the American Federation of Musicians is doing.

This part is personal for me. I’ve been a member of the AFM for about 12 years now. I had actually just started playing professionally (post-college) when I joined. The reason why was a no-brainer: You know what they call a hand-shake agreement between a musician and his/her client? A prayer. It’s common sense in any business transaction to have all of the terms spelled out in writing, particularly pay. Musicians need to make contracts before they agree to perform. Even more, these contracts need to be enforceable. If Joe Jerkwad has a contract with me and he defaults, I have to take him to court on my own dime. If it’s an AFM contract, though, they enforce the contract on my behalf. (Provided that it has been properly filed and what-not.)

I’ve been involved with the AFM, both on the local and the national front. I’ve served as president of Local 101-473 in Dayton, OH from 2007-2011. I’ve participated in three national conventions in 2005, 2007, and 2010. I’ve stood at that mic on the floor – no doubt looking like a fool – and spoke out about the importance of promoting diversity - racial, cultural, gender, age, etc. - in the national leadership. My local hosted the 25th Anniversary Regional Orchestra Players Association conference and I was there from start to finish doing whatever had to be done and shuttling people around in my probably-filthy car. I’ve made friends and I’ve learned a lot about everything, including how much I don’t know about the music business. I would like nothing more than to see it grow. That said…

After I posted about the Beats Music situation in November, I reached out to two International Executive Board members on Facebook. Mind you, these aren’t mysterious people I’ve only seen as pictures in the International Musician journal or on the AFM website. I’ve spoken to them in person and on the phone. They know who I am. One of them was actually very helpful about something I needed to change in the blog post that distracted from my point. We didn’t discuss it any further. The other one had this to say:

Now, I’m not disputing anything he said. I do question the practicality of fighting for a legislative solution against people who have lobbying budgets larger than the entire AFM treasury, much less given the current congressional/presidential configuration. I’m also not questioning all the other good work the AFM does on the behalf of all musicians, including: calling attention to Sirius XM/Pandora trying to get out of paying royalties on pre-1973 recordings, fighting for a performance royalty on terrestrial radio (that EVERY western country except the US has), fighting the off-shoring of music scoring by American movie studios, and so much other shit that it would take a book to get through it all. As I said, the American Federation of Musicians is the best damn advocate that working musicians have in this country.

So… What is my problem?

One of the world’s largest corporations – Apple - that has been valuated at over $700 Billion with nearly $200 Billion cash at hand was poised to enter the on-demand streaming market armed with 800 million iTunes customers (and their credit card numbers) and was streaming music to customers for a two week trial period and paying the artists absolutely nothing. Even Spotify – spawn of Satan that it is and I USE Spotify – paid at least some albeit-insignificant amount even on their “free” ad-supported tier. Apple/Beats Music was paying nothing.

I just told him that – again right after he attended an international conference on digital streaming about two weeks after Taylor Swift pulled her music off of Spotify – and the AFM couldn’t invest in the thirty minutes it would take to write up a release about the practice and distribute it to their membership? Or – assuming they didn’t want to act prematurely – they couldn’t have asked their 80,000 members – many of whom use digital distribution services – to check their digital summaries to see if they were being affected by this? Again… most musicians didn’t know their music was being given away. There wasn’t even a blurb in the International Musician.

Eight months roll by and everyone is speculating about when Apple Music will enter the fray. Then, Digital Music News dropped the bomb on June 11. 2015: Apple Music would debut June 30, 2015 (aka today) with a three month free trial period and – exactly like their predecessor Beats Music – would pay artists absolutely nothing. Well… All of a sudden, people on Digital Music News and other websites were starting to take notice.

Wouldn’t that have also been a good time to inform the dues-paying membership of the AFM about what was happening? I posted about it on Facebook as soon as I found out and tagged the AFM in the post. I know damn well officers saw it.

The AFM said nothing. Not a press release/response decrying the practice. Nothing to the membership explaining what was happening or how it is poised to affected them as Apple Music would likely entice customers to move toward streaming rather than downloading music. Nothing involving a petition demanding that Apple stop this. The “best damn advocate” for working musicians didn’t say a damn thing. Not until Taylor Swift entered the fray on June 21 and convinced Apple to change its tune. Then all of a sudden, the AFM was standing up and patting her on the back.

Just how the fuck can a labor organization who claims to represent all of its members be so fucking negligent. The AFM can’t claim “Oh… We didn’t know!” I warned you back in November. The AFM can’t say “Well… This doesn’t affect us as much as these other issues…” You sent the AFM President to a conference in Europe about digital streaming. He knew damn well about the problem posed by on-demand services. Oh... AND he said "JOB WELL DONE, TAYLOR!" 

Taylor Swift, by virtue of her success and stature, has a tremendous platform to get a message out and affect the industry. Although the AFM clearly doesn’t have her leverage, it could have used what it did have to inform their members about this issue and push them to take action and publicly shame Apple for its corporate exploitation. Yet… it did nothing. Oh… wait… It congratulated Taylor Swift on what she did, both on its social media pages and in an email distributed to its members just days ago.

Now… to be fair, my phonetically palindromic friend did ask me to call him shortly after I blew my stack and called the AFM out on its sheer negligence on Facebook. I held off on calling him because I wasn’t sure I could hold a conversation without getting into a shouting match. I even considered not posting this until I cooled down. Well… I’m a bit cooler now, but I can’t say I’m cool enough to get on a phone with a smooth-talking rattlesnake who didn’t consider me or what I had to say important enough to spend ten minutes to look into what I was warning about, but will turn around and kiss Swift’s ass when she speaks out about the same damn thing and gets results. It makes me wonder who else the AFM leadership is ignoring.

Well… I’m obviously not a 25-year-old internationally-known blonde superstar force of nature. I’m not particularly successful or commercial. No one knows who I am or would care if I got hit by a bus tomorrow. I do more care-giving than music-making these days and have an uncanny talent for having people – acquaintances and strangers alike – berate my lack of musical aptitude, knowledge, qualifications and talent to my face. It’s my life; I’m used to it. You know what else?


I warned you this was happening. I told you that musicians needed to know this was happening. I laid it all out. I didn’t even care if anyone knew I said something or got any credit. This was fucking huge and the fact was that I was ignored by the organization I pay dues to and have served – often at my own expense – because I wasn’t considered worth the ten minutes it would have taken to verify my argument.

Not that I thought this was going to happen anyway, but…

Don’t call and apologize to me. I’m not interested in your “reasoning” for ignoring me or whatever you have to say about an issue you decided to ride Taylor Swift's coattails on. I don’t care about your words. I don’t even particularly care if I’m in violation of AFM Bylaws for speaking out in this manner. I’m not interested in talking to you.

What do I want?

Own your mistake. Apologize to your membership for dismissing the situation you knew about for months and dropping the ball when you had every opportunity to lead and call the AFM members to action. Tell the membership your next steps for working on this issue, why it affects them, and how they can help fight it. And for God’s sake, quit fucking kissing that girl's ass and pretending you had anything to do with it. You’re better than that and everyone can see right through it.

Of course, my experience thus far is that neither you nor the AFM give a damn what I want or about anything that directly impacts my life. I dare you to prove me wrong.

Until then, I don’t give a damn what you have to say.

So… To Summarize it all:

Thank you, Taylor! You're awesome!

CD Baby and the American Federation of Musicians can go fuck themselves.

Oh…  And Apple Music debuted today. They can go fuck themselves, too.

All the best,


Friday, January 23, 2015

Update on Apple/Beats Music Royalties... Well... Kind of.

My October statement came in.

Gotta love it. Beats Music gets to use MY MUSIC to entice new potential customers and they don't have to pay me ANYTHING.

There's big money to be made in the music business... and the TECH companies are the ones making it.

How long are musicians going to put up with this shit before they speak out and hold Beats Music, Apple, and Dr. Dre's feet to the fire?



Monday, November 24, 2014

Apple, Beats Music, and Artist Royalties: Why I Am Calling Out Dr. Dre


I wanted a simpler hashtag - something that would be easily memorable, not take up too much precious characters in a tweet, and yet capture the entirety of my argument. Well... While it ticks off the first box, I can see how it falls short on the other two. At the very least, the statement is provocative enough that it may just prod people - perhaps even Dr. Dre himself - to ask why I am leveling that charge.

Who am I?

My name is Kareem Powell; I am a pianist from Dayton, Ohio. Depending on who you ask, I am either a brilliant overlooked pianist, a nice guy, or a laughing stock that gets called only as a last resort. Frankly, I'm at an age where I've ceased to care. I take care of my family and sometimes I actually get to make music. If you want to learn more about me, browse through the Curriculum Vitae on my website.

Front cover of my album

The more relevant thing to note is that in 2011, I released my first - and to date only - solo piano album "Reflections in Black and White." The back of the album cover says "Sunstrike Entertainment LLC." What it doesn't say is that I am Sunstrike Entertainment LLC. I wrote most of the tracks and arranged all of it for piano. The studio time came out of my pocketbook. I used my car as collateral on a loan to pay for that album. There is no agent, no manager, and no producer. The risk was solely mine.

Honestly, the album got very little traction. I couldn't even book a local gig with it. No one was interested. Three years later, I've given away far more music than I've sold. Do I stand by the music? Absolutely. I gained valuable experience that I'll put to use whenever I do a followup. The point is that "Reflections in Black and White" is my hard work - blood, sweat, tears, risk, reward and failure. All of it.

Ins and Out of Digital Distribution

Like most recording artists, I use digital distribution. Where the major-level artists are concerned, the major record labels - all three of them - are responsible for getting their work out into the digital marketplace. Because they have the big-name artists that consumers most want to hear, the record labels are able to negotiate directly with each of the platforms: iTunes, Spotify, Rdio, etc. All of them.

Well, I'm not signed to a record label, remember? For my album to be delivered to these digital marketplaces where you can find it along Taylor Swift and my "enemy" Dr. Dre, I have to use what is called an "aggregator." You see, each place has certain things that need to be done to the music files in order to be delivered best on their platform. The record labels have people whose job it is to do that. My one-man-operation doesn't. An aggregator collects all of us stragglers - I mean - independent musicians, processes our music, and sends it right to the marketplace. For that service - which is the only way we little people can distribute our albums along with the majors - the aggregator charges a fee or percentage of the royalties. My aggregator of choice is CD Baby.

For the most part, I have been pleased with the quality of CD Baby's customer service. They were the shining jewel in what was otherwise a chaotic process of self-releasing my first album. Just because you like someone doesn't mean everything they do is perfect.

The CD Baby Account Dashboard

One of the things I like about CD Baby is their record-keeping. I can go inside my member profile and see when an album or track has been sold, which site it sold on, and how much money I will be paid as a result. My revenues are nothing to brag about, so my browsing through this is more of a "morbid curiosity" type thing. I can also see which platforms are streaming my music, which tracks are getting streamed, and what they are paying me. Again, it's nothing significant, but it gives me a little personal insight into the ongoing discussions about digital streaming.

Here are some "very exciting" screenshots of my streaming reports from:

Streaming Report: Deezer

Streaming Report: iTunes Match

Streaming Report: MediaNet

Streaming Report: Muve Music

Streaming Report: Rdio

Streaming Report: Rhapsody

Streaming Report: Spotify

Yes, the individual stream revenues are laughable. I was actually tickled pink whenever I saw anything even resembling a penny per stream, seeing as Spotify likes to pay me 4 hundredths of a cent. I joked to a friend a few weeks ago that Spotify usually pays me enough to buy half a candy bar per year.

On Sunday November 16, 2014, I happened to take a peek at my account overview and I saw with delight that my album was now being streamed on Beats Music for the first time and these were the first streaming reports. (There is usually about a 2 month lag between the streaming and the actual report.) Again, this is typically about entertainment value for me, so I went to see how many streams and what minuscule amount that Apple's newest acquisition would be paying me...

Streaming Report: Beats Music



Fifty-three streams - which is the equivalent of listening to my album four times - and I did not get paid a damn thing by a corporation that Dr. Dre had just sold to tech juggernaut Apple Inc for THREE BILLION DOLLARS.

Needless to say, I was hot. Assuming it was a mistake, I asked CD Baby what was happening.

"Dear CD Baby: WTF, Dude?"

"Dear TKP: Yeah. We sold you out, Bruh."

"Dear CD Baby: *insert expletive-laden rant*"

Yeah, I blew my stack. I was already earning jack shit and Beats Music just got to use my music at no charge so they could build their own customer base?

How do I respond?

Good question. I didn't need a lawyer to know that what Apple/Beats Music just did was perfectly legal. Like everyone else, they negotiated with CD Baby and the other aggregators and CD Baby agreed. If the major record labels accepted this arrangement - again, I don't know... they don't call me - then I could easily see Apple turning to the aggregators and saying "This is the deal; take it or leave it." Again, there's no doubt in my mind it's legal.

Do you know what else is legal? Using eminent domain to route a sludge pipe through a farmer's corn field. Starting a Black Friday sale during Thanksgiving Dinner. Passing laws to criminalize feeding the homeless. Legal does not mean right.

My initial reaction as you see from the email above was to remove my album from Beats Music, reconsider my relationship with CD Baby, and be done with it. Once my initial anger subsided, I started wondering if that would really solve the problem. It's not like I was the only musician this affected.

1.) Did other musicians (particularly with CD Baby) know this was happening?

2.) Did Beats Music negotiate that agreement with everyone?

3.) How can this practice affect the entire market?

4.) Who has the leverage?

Again, Beats Music - the brainchild of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine - is owned by Apple. Apple owns iTunes, who single-handedly determines the maximum sales price for digital downloads. Why? Because everyone goes there. Any other marketplace will just want to match or beat iTunes price. So yes, they control that part of the industry and will take their 30% cut. Could Beats Music possibly do the same thing to streaming?

Spotify - the favorite punching bag of Taylor Swift and Scott Borchetta - is valuated at $3 Billion last I checked. Pandora - an online radio service whose royalties are set by law - is valuated at $2.6 Billion. Apple Inc. is valuated at $662 Billion. (What'd you expect? Beats Music was worth $3 Billion to them.) I'm neither an economist nor a businessman, but I'm pretty sure with pockets that deep, they probably will take over streaming once they figure out the right product. If Apple/Beats Music can get away with setting a new standard - that artists do NOT get paid for music streamed during "trial membership periods" - then all other streaming platforms will follow suit.

So, yes, I could take my album off of Beats Music aka take my ball and go home. In a few months, I'd just be finding out that Spotify, Rdio, and everyone else will be doing the same thing and not compensating artists for streams on their "free versions." Apple has already been in negotiations with major labels to reduce their royalty rates. What do you think that will do to the rest of us?

It is time to speak up.

Other musicians need to know this was happening. Other musicians need to know this could possibly be happening to them. They need to check their reports and tell their stories. Speaking out against Apple/Beats Music is the only way I can see convincing them to end this practice and pay artists for all the music streamed on their platforms.

And from my standpoint, that begins with holding "one of our own" to task.

Dr. Dre needs to be held accountable.

Yeah... Technically, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine sold Beats Music to Apple. While counting their billions, they are both still at unspecified roles at Apple. What are they? No one knows and the sale is nearly 6 months old. The fact is that Beats by Dre still has his name attached to his product. Beats Music is a spin-off of Beats by Dre. Dr. Dre is an integral part of that company. There is no way he "didn't know" what his company was doing to artists. He knew. He condoned it. He profited from it.

Back in 2000, Dr. Dre sued Napster because his music was being uploaded and shared onto that platform. Users were sharing his music for free and he received nothing. 14 years later, he's streaming the work of other musicians on his own platform and what is he paying them in return? Nothing.

Dude practically wrote my opening attack.

"Yo, Dre! Are you a hypocrite or what?"

Yes, I wrote it by hand on a notepad, took a picture of it with my cell phone, and posted it to Instagram. Short, sweet, and to the point. Despite my "fantasy" of this sparking a movement, I wasn't sure what to expect out of it or if anyone would really care. Dr. Dre is a musician/producer/entrepreneur who makes more in one minute than I do in an entire month. He is a billionaire and popular icon that has built an empire. I'm a poor, fat, hairy schmuck in debt up to my eyeballs.

It struck a chord. My friends felt strongly enough to share it. A friend of mine posted it to imgur with the caption "Dr. Dre is a hypocrite" that in a few days would become my hashtag. The imgur picture didn't have the details the Instagram or Facebook caption had, but it did spark a discussion. That was a start.

You called out Dr. Dre; what do you want?

As nice as money would be for my 53 streams, the market value is not worth the price of postage. This is about a basic principle: If you use my creative work, I should be paid for it. I did not release my album to build Dr. Dre's empire. This is what I'm looking for:

1.) The practice of Apple/Beats Music streaming music to "trial members" without compensating the artists who created it needs to end. If you play my music, I should be paid regardless of whether or not you are collecting money. It's one thing for me to decide to give away my music. It's another thing altogether for a multi-billion dollar corporation to give away my music.

2.) Musicians need to be aware this is happening. They have the highest stakes in this "game." They need to check their streaming reports and SPEAK UP! Apple and Beats Music will continue getting away with this as long as we and our fans let them.

3.) Consumers need to recognize that smaller level, independent artists are just as (if not more) affected by what is happening as the major label artists. There has been a lot of talk about the "greedy major record labels" getting their comeuppance for screwing their musicians and very little talk about independent artists like me who own all our rights. To be clear, the labels do me no favors with their "deals," but these tech companies - regardless of how good they are from a consumer standpoint - aren't exactly being good "partners" either. Apple used my music to expand their customer base and paid me nothing in return.

4.) Someone needs to tell Beats Music/Apple to fix the page on their knowledge base to more accurately reflect how they are "paying better royalties." Here is my correction:

Aw, hell. I'll say it here: Beats Music TOTALLY lied.

5.) Dr. Dre needs to answer to his peers - the musicians, not the billionaires. He needs to look musicians in the eye and explain how he can go from fighting against piracy to condoning and placing his name on a legalized incarnation of the same practice. I asked the question in my first Instagram post: "Did $3 Billion turn you into a hypocrite?" 

As far as I'm concerned, you know what the answer is. If Dr. Dre would like to discuss this, I'm all ears. For now, though...

God Bless and All the Best,

T. Kareem Powell