Heavy-metal band getting greedy

Metallica has taken a stand against Napster, but what's the band's motive?

A few weeks ago, Metallica became the first band in history to sue an Internet music trading company.

The suit, filed against the now-infamous Napster, alleges that the company is engaged in blatant copyright infringement and piracy.

"We felt that someone had to address this important artistic issue," said Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.

But it's really not about art, is it Lars? No, it's about money and the difficulty in wedding finance to one's creativity.

"Why is it all of a sudden OK to get music for free?" the drummer asked on the band's Web site. "Why should music be free, when it costs artists money to record and produce it?"

It's always been OK to get music for free, and bootlegging and tape-trading have an extended history that runs concurrent with that of rock's.

Furthermore, if you want to talk about art, take a look at van Gogh, who died having sold only one measly painting. Did his lack of financial support hinder his ability to create art, or was it one of the driving forces behind it?

It really doesn't matter because no band who sells its music for a major corporation can really claim to have artistic expression at the forefront of its musical mind.

This is about money.

"If we were doing this just for the joy of playing music," says Metallica bassist Jason Newstead, "we could not focus on what we do and come up with new challenges for ourselves. We would have to have regular jobs. ... This could kill Metallica and music."

It's really difficult for me to image the four millionaires of Metallica returning to the drudgery of their former day jobs to continue supporting the band's musical career. Metallica is a supergroup that not only sells millions of albums, but millions of T-shirts, hats, posters, tour programs, videos, box-sets, etc.

In fact, I would venture to say that Metallica is one of the more heavily merchandised groups in music today, hawking just about anything and everything it can, exploiting fans for each and every extra nickel.

Over the years, Metallica has released limited-edition boxed-sets that run into the hundreds of dollars, expensive double CDs full of half-baked cover tunes and souvenir everything. Furthermore, it's one of the highest-paid touring acts in the world, raking in additional millions and sending merchandising revenues soaring.

In fact, if Metallica never sold another piece of music again, the band would still be able to maintain its luxurious, rock-star lifestyle (the band often spends a year or more making studio albums in exotic locales) and have more money left over than the vast majority of its fans combined.

The question here is: How much is enough?

Apparently, for Metallica, there is no limit to the amount of compensation it feels it deserves to do a job that many people would gladly do for free.

Moreover, Metallica's legions of fans are certainly not going anywhere. Fans of the band are known to be some of the most dedicated around and have supported nearly every endeavor the group has undertaken over the years. A few million downloads is not going to erode Metallica's fan base or mean that its next release will not sell multiple millions of copies.

The group claims that it is doing this on behalf of all of the artists who can't afford to spend money on expensive lawyers or frivolous lawsuits. Yeah, right.

The reality is that Metallica works for a major music corporation (Elektra) that is owned by a larger music corporation (Warner-Elecktra-Atlantic) that is owned by one of the largest media conglomerations in the world (Time-Warner Communications).

The song in question, "I Disappear," is a track from the "Mission: Impossible II" soundtrack. The film was produced by Paramount pictures, a company owned by Viacom, which owns MTV, VH1, Blockbuster Video, Showtime and CBS News, among other companies.

If Metallica fans don't want to shell out 20 bucks for a crappy soundtrack with one song they really want, well, too bad, because the group cares a lot more about appeasing the companies that have manufactured its success than it does the fans to which its success is owed.

One thing made abundantly clear by the whole Napster debate is that the music industry is undergoing massive changes in the advent of new Internet technology. Rather than cower in fear that one's millions are going to be pilfered, why not embrace the technology and utilize it further one's art?

Prince, for example, has decided to "outdo" Napster and set up a Net-based music club where subscribers would be sent new music on a monthly basis. Innovative use of new technology is the only way musicians will be able to survive the tidal wave of changes engulfing the music industry.

The only people threatened by Napster are those who stand to lose money to Napster. They've fallen under the spell of insatiable greed and hunger for a nonstop flow of cash that cannot be sated. For the rest of us, it really is just about loving the music and finding new ways to access it.

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