Letters to the Editor

Week of November 5, 2003

Monster Mash

The coolest music comes from da people, not corporations:Your recent story "Corporate B Cool" [Oct. 22] is interesting in its speculation on the not-so- distant future of mainstream music, where music columnist Prick predicts that as major labels merge, so will its music artists. However, it missed a very important point: The mixing and matching of artists from different music genres is already happening -- but with one crucial difference. It is not corporate. In fact, it's quite underground. And it's pretty damn cool.

Welcome to the world of bootlegs or mash-ups or bastard pop or whatever the kids are calling it these days. It's so new that corporate interests haven't labeled it yet. Take the vocal track of one song, mix it into the instrumentation of another. Suddenly, you don't just have a mix of genres -- you've got a brand-new song! Imagine Michael Jackson rocking out with Nirvana, or Madonna singing with the Sex Pistols, or Ludacris rapping with Kylie Minogue. It's not all that different from the "odd-couple collaborations" suggested by the article -- except that it's real -- and happening right now.

But it's not being done by major labels. It's being done by renegade DJs in clubs and 15-year-old computer jockeys in bedrooms. And nobody's making money off of it. These pirated tracks are rarely sold in stores. Instead, they float around the Internet, much to the chagrin of corporate execs. It may sound like hip hop mixed with pop, or R&B over rock, but the attitude is pure punk. Anti-corporate and irreverent, bootlegs and mash-ups represent the true future of pop music, the inevitable synthesis of all genres that Prick's article speaks of. And while corporations are already trying to capitalize on it -- witness the Gap commercial that mashes up Missy Elliott and Madonna -- bootleggers are always one step ahead.

It's surprising that Prick wasn't aware of this, especially since San Francisco is the first city in the U.S. to have its own monthly mash-up club -- "Bootie" at the Cherry Bar -- that plays bastard pop exclusively.

Adrian Roberts

Little Guys vs. Little Guys

Musicians can't afford to let bar owners rip off their creations:As a content producer, I would expect Matt Smith to be a little more careful and balanced in reporting on copyright issues ["Sounds of Silence," Oct. 22]. ASCAP and BMI are associations of writers, and although they did support the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, the balancing point here is that this law makes U.S. copyright law conform to worldwide standards. While it's debatable if that's such a great idea, it has virtually no impact on music such as that played at Skip's Tavern, and neither does the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or the fight over music downloading, which is spearheaded by the Recording Industry Association of America, and should not be lumped in with the songwriters' associations.

What actually happened at Skip's is that Bill Courtright made a business decision. When music is played in a commercial space, the owners are profiting from that music. Bill is selling beer and drinks while people enjoy the band and the songs they are playing. All Bill has to do if he wants music to continue is acquire a license from BMI and ASCAP. He should have got it at the same time he got his cabaret license. He would have been shut down in a similar way if he didn't acquire the cabaret license.

If it were not for ASCAP and BMI, many songwriters would receive nothing for their creations. The reason that they hire "music spies" (usually musicians, by the way) is that businesspeople try to cut corners by failing to license the music that they use to sell their products, add ambience, or advance their cause. No one would expect an interior designer to create an ambience at a club or a restaurant for free, but people think nothing of doing the same thing with music, be it a live band, karaoke, or DJ.

I wonder how much Sir Mack Rice receives for his creation? I would hope that it's quite significant, given how much profit is generated by the song ["Mustang Sally"] in bars and on the radio. If users of his song don't pay license fees, how would he be compensated? Are ASCAP and BMI compensation methods fair? Are they restrictive to amateur or aspiring musicians? Maybe Smith should address these issues in the future, but don't confuse the efforts of songwriters to make a living with the attempt of the entertainment giants to prevent their dinosaur industry model from tanking.

James H. Prescott
Via Internet

Saving Sophie

If she's recalled, would her replacement be any better?:I have had some experience with residential development issues on Potrero Hill and am an active member of the Potrero Hill Neighborhood Boosters ["Dumping Sophie," Bay View, Oct. 22]. The Supervisor Sophie Maxwell described by the individuals quoted in Lisa Davis' article is not the Supervisor Maxwell I know.

Supervisor Maxwell and her staff have been actively involved in planned development and supportive of neighborhood interests. I have always found her, and her very capable staff, available and responsive. Maxwell has a huge job, and the issues facing Potrero Hill, the Bayview, and her other constituencies are almost overwhelmingly complex. For example, the power plant issue is more than a full-time job itself; Maxwell has supported our neighborhood's intervention in the permitting process, and that intervention has to date prevented a wholly unacceptable plant siting. To blame Maxwell for not solving that and other problems is shortsighted.

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