Industry still doesn’t get ‘the download’ (PLAY Corner)

Ryan Dombal

I’m a sucker for the hype, the glitz and the glamour, so I had to watch the Grammys a couple weeks ago. It did not live up to my relatively low expectations, thanks to the involvement of people like rock-legend-turned-easy listening-puffball Sting who, between his two terrible performances, managed to wipe out nearly all memories of his former coolness. But as I fast-forwarded through most of the schlock-fest the day after it originally aired, I was especially irked by the annual “state of the music industry” bore-a-thon hosted by Recording Academy president Neil Portnow.

Portnow announced the start of a new public service campaign aimed at informing kids on the dos and don’ts of downloading. The crusade’s epicenter is a new Web site lamely dubbed “What’s The Download” (whatsthedownload.com). Portnow also premiered a new commercial promoting the drive in which a teenage girl illegally downloads a song off of the Internet, causing a power outage in some “hip” club that happens to be blasting Pink’s “God Is A DJ.”

The shoddy, poorly-produced commercial — if you’re going to propagandize, do it right — is condescending and laughable, but the Web site is even worse. The campaign’s official press release states that its “target consumers” are between 12 and 24 years old, but based on the dumbed-down language found throughout the site, I would be surprised if anyone over 14 took it seriously.

The problems with the site are plain to see on the “Get Music Now” links page. For instance, under the “Music Labels” section, only the five biggest labels in the country are listed. The page starts with a couple links to online music stores like iTunes. “We can even rock a full album on many of these sites,” exclaims the intro, sounding like a crazy uncle desperately trying to impress his weary nephew. And under “Online Retailers,” only seven mega-stores, including Best Buy and Wal-Mart, are included. You get the picture: “Get Music Now” means “get force-fed the same crap everyone else is listening to now.”

In the “Artist Buzz” section, some thoughtful ruminations on the consequences of downloading are sullied by useless drivel from “Access Hollywood” host Pat O’Brien, who spews new-age wonder-fluff like, “If they can figure out how to do this so that not one artist gets hurt … how great will it be to have all the music at our fingertips.”

If you want to really know “What’s The Download,” buy music that you think is good. If you do not want to waste $15 on a CD you are unsure about, download it for free first and then decide. Do not share a million songs with the words “Avril” in the file name and, unless you really want to hear Britney’s new single, do not use overpriced online music stores because they are arguably an even bigger rip-off than huge retail chains. And, whatever you do, do not listen to what Pat O’Brien says. Ever.

Medill senior and PLAY music columnist Ryan Dombal would like to thank the Academy. He can be reached at [email protected]