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The Revolution Is Now: How Neil Young Stole the Show

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Revolution is a rolling thunder. It has no off switch, no expense account, no power point presentation and no manager models. It's the wild, unkept sound of ideas, whose rhythm strikes a chord with the tired, the disenchanted and the quiet. Revolution always comes in song and is passed along with passion.

Neil Young's new album, Living with War, has been plastered all over the music headlines in recent weeks. Once again, Mr. Young has brought us back to the important issues of the day. He's one of the best troubadours, in the true spirit of the folk song. But the real magic to Neil Young is his desire to push boundaries. Like all true artists, Neil Young doesn't play politics with his art. Unlike the throngs of musicians searching for attention with sound bites and retail opportunities, Mr. Young seems to have looked right down the barrelhead of the business and said, Screw it.

The album was recorded live, in a 12-hour session, with top flight musicians and a 1000person choir. Neil Young took the reins and followed the public. He bypassed the traditional 3-month set-up and four weeks later, the full album was posted on his website for streaming. Suddenly, everyone from MySpace to Pitchfork, from the New York Times to KLOS, were talking about the record that wasn't yet out. But of course it was out. It was alive and well and on the internet and everyone could hear it.

The real revolution in the music business is about the idea that artists are taking back the night, and setting the terms of their engagement. The fact is, what consumers want is a front-row seat every time. They want to hear, see and touch artists in a far more personal way then ever before. Repeated airplays on a radio station guarantee nothing these days. Today's consumer is far more interested in joining a community of like-minded thinkers, and connect directly with artists.

So the suits are not welcome here. This is a club they are not invited to. That's the revolution in action.

In other business news, < ahref=http://www.emigroup.com/Default.htm target=new>EMI and Warner Bros have been hinting at a possible merger for months now. This week, the Warner Music Group rejected an acqusition bid from EMI, but it remains to be seen if another offer will be tendered. If the two join forces, the entire major label record business will be in the hands of three giant multi national conglomerates.

And perhaps the biggest story of the week is the lawsuit that the Allman Bros and Cheap Trick have waged on Sony BMG. The bands rightfully claim that the labels accounting practices are completely outdated for digital downloads. Since both these particular bands signed deals with their labels long before digital downloading was in play, prior contractual accounting remains. This means things like CD artwork costs, normally deducted for the sale of physical CDs, are still deducted for digital sales, as per their contracts.

If the bands win this lawsuit, the door has been opened for thousands of others to argue similarly. This could have a significant economic impact on record labels.

Clearly, the time has come for every label to review their past accounting practices to properly compensate artists.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.
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