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Gama Bomb Issues Open Letter To U2 Manager Paul McGuinness

Gama Bomb has issued the following open letter to U2 manager Paul McGuinness about his recent article on the music industry:

"U2’s manager Paul McGuinness’ recent article (‘How to save the music industry’ for GQ) is well-reasoned, well-informed and commendable in its aims – though it’s crazily short-sighted. It falls at the last hurdle when envisioning future solutions to the problems file sharing causes for the music industry, and is filled with logical blind-spots on the current state of the business. He’s got the numbers right, but the headspace is all wrong.

"To his credit Mr McGuinness is here wading into an argument that, as he notes, often involves untold abuse for those willing to stick their oar in. Furthermore, it’s one that doesn’t affect his untouchably profitable bread-and-butter, U2. So who am I to gainsay him?

"Last year my band Gama Bomb released their third album free of cost as a download with the permission of our record company, Earache Records. This, to my knowledge, makes us the first signed band ever to do so. We took this step because we personally consume music in this way and were aware our previous albums were largely being consumed as shared files. To release another CD in the traditional way seemed futile.

"Also, as a band playing a niche form of music on a small budget, we were aware of the potential PR power of such a move. The label agreed, we did it, and that’s why I feel qualified to dust off my soap box on this one. To keep this sweet, Mr McGuinness’ argument can be summarised in five points:

1. The ‘problem’ of ‘free’ content is the biggest issue facing the music industry
2. ISPs are profiting from widening bandwidth associated with filesharing
3. this has caused the music industry’s profit shrink, therefore
4. tackling the ISPs is the key to saving the music industry
5. To this end, governments should legislate to make ISPs punish consumers who infringe copyright, encouraging them to use legal, paid, approved means of consuming music.

"Two things stunned me as I read the article. First was Paul’s own emphasis on the negative nature of prosecuting consumers for file sharing, though the ‘graduated response’ or ‘three strikes’ legislation he champions offers no less a persecution to the very people artists rely on.

"Second was this quotation: 'In recent years the music business has tried to fight free with free, seeking revenues from advertising, merchandising, sponsorship...these efforts have achieved little success.'

"This is rather brash given that 360 degree contracts (where labels share in merch, licensing, royalties and live performance fees) have been common currency in the industry for more than 10 years, with all the majors buying over merchandise production companies in order to best profit from their bands’ deals. It seems his own industry are quite keen on it.

"It’s also startling because U2 signed a 12-year deal with Live Nation in 2008, giving control of the band’s merchandise and web presence to the concert promoter in sure recognition of those being vital cogs in the machine. And as for the rest? The band famously synergised corporate sponsorship and high-end merchandising in the form of the U2 iPod in 2004. Textbook new-industry pathfinding. But Paul skips over these new revenue streams like they’re a footnote, when they are in fact the lifelines of the music industry right now.

"His band signing to a concert promoter and Lady Gaga hawking Wonder Bread in her videos is a sure indication of their worth. Mr McGuinness sees the new anti-file sharing legislation as ensuring the future of the music industry, though he admits the labels will have to adapt to the new digital age yet.

"I think he’s dreaming. I think he’ll be looking to a new, final hope in six months time, and another six months after that. The only way to fix things is to sweep the decks clean, overturn the idea of file sharing as ‘theft’ and rethink how to profit from it. Industries world wide have done this time and again in the face of social and technological advancements. There came a day when the log roller guy had to start making wheels, right?

"If Paul’s argument has five points, maybe it’d be neat for me to present five of my own in counter.

1. It is impossible to police the internet effectively.
2. Technology savvy evaders of new legislation will simplify technology to allow access to those below them. This is a constant stream. File sharing can’t be stopped.
3. The old model of record labels being the only career-former for bands is obsolete. Brian Message’s proposed Polyphonic label is a good example of alternatives.
4. Endorsing the idea of free content is the route to profit, creating a ‘goodwill’ industry.
5. Usenet groups currently charge users around £18 per month to download unlimited material. This is the best model for the future, with corporate tie-ins and advertising monetizing the interactive space in which people will swap material.

"I’m not here to call Paul McGuinness a hypocrite or an old-guard bulldog or anything of the sort. On the contrary, I want to praise his passion for rock music and ask him to get on side with championing free content and encouraging the music industry to re-tool to take advantage of it. That’s a big leap, and may feel like an irrational one since that way lies the death of all that built the towers of the rock and roll biz in the past – but it has to be done.

"The coming war between the labels and the ISPs is where this new approach will be forged, though I believe punishing the consumer for being ahead of the curve is simply wrong. As Mr McGuinness suggests, the great minds behind Facebook, Google and Apple - and yes, behind the rock colossus that is U2 - will need to cooperate to establish the future of the music industry. But that future will not lie in restricting content, throttling bandwidth, or playing an exhausting eternal game whack-a-mole with non-conforming websites. By the way, when my band released their third album for free last year, we managed to sell an equal number of physical CDs as we did the prior album when it finally hit shelves. Not a spectacular result, but an interesting one.

"More importantly, we’ve seen a groundswell in our fanbase and now get paid more for playing gigs and sell more merchandise than before. On the balance I think we won out, because we gave people what they wanted; a quality album and a bit of credit. File sharing works for indie bands. And as for the big boys? Let’s look at the case in point. Bono’s back notwithstanding, U2 are bigger than ever, making over 130 million dollars in the last year, much of it from touring.

"The freely distributed album is the path to record tour profits, as the industry knows well, as well as they know consumers’ money is still there - it's just being exchanged for different services. What Paul needs to tell the labels is, if you're not willing to change the column titles on your spreadsheet, you don't deserve to be in business. There are not enough fingers to stick in this dyke Mr McGuinness. Isn’t it better to just let the levee break and become the richest swimsuit salesman in town?"

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16 Comments on "Gama Bomb Issues Open Letter To Paul McGuinness"

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deathbringer's avatar

Founder, owner & programmer

1. deathbringer writes:

While I'm not totally sold on the free music model as a must, these are some great points and great analogies. I think the ISP war is bullsh**, and is basically still blaming piracy for everything. This is dead on: "I think he’ll be looking to a new, final hope in six months time, and another six months after that." They will if all they do is witchhunt and not evolve. Excellent points.

# Sep 15, 2010 @ 4:46 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
brandedcfh420's avatar


2. brandedcfh420 writes:

Very interesting read. Good points, but filesharing will never die!!!

# Sep 15, 2010 @ 5:19 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
3. b.bristowe writes:

If Google gets any bigger, illegal file sharing will die.

# Sep 15, 2010 @ 6:00 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Fuck_A_Name's avatar


4. Fuck_A_Name writes:

^i dont see how. I use google to search for a fair portion of my torrents. When btjunkie doesnt have some obscure album, i go to google to find a site that does. I got my sol asunder and rumpilstiltskin grinder albums through google searches. If anything, google makes it easier to get free music.

# Sep 15, 2010 @ 7:59 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
5. Caveman111 writes:

or just use torrentz.com, a search engine thats for all torrent sites. it kicks ass

# Sep 15, 2010 @ 8:39 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Cynic's avatar

Senior Reviewer

6. Cynic writes:

I think we are inevitably marching towards an ISP/site based solution. Vevo is a start in a good direction and I hope in the future we can have a mixed system.

I say this because as has been pointed out, information sharing (tape trading, file-sharing, borrowing a cd from a friend) is both impossible to stop and critical to bands becoming known. But another aspect is that fans will always want physical tokens of fandom too - be that cds, vinyl, artwork, posters, t-shirts, stickers, patches etc.

# Sep 15, 2010 @ 8:43 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
7. m1ke writes:

The day physical CDs cease production is the day I will START pirating music.

Whether a business model can be devised whereby the 'niche' that prefers to buy their music in physical formats remains, is going to be the hard part.

# Sep 15, 2010 @ 9:14 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
8. m1ke writes:

Although I think the metal industry is in a better position than the four major labels. Just look at the European metal releases now days. Most come in special packaging (digipaks, digibooks, limited box sets) with bonus content, extra tracks, DVDs etc. Obviously, it works, and is something Euro metal fans in particular demand from labels such as Century Media, Metal Blade, Nuclear Blast, Peaceville, Earache etc.

# Sep 15, 2010 @ 9:19 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
WOLF7's avatar


9. WOLF7 writes:

Goes without saying that McGuinness is an awesome manager and a businessman, but...
What does he actually know about the actual situation and real life out there? Does he know what an average music fan wants and needs cos he runs the business of one of the biggest bands in the world? I don't think so.
Someone like him is simply too high up the ladder to see the actual situation and the real world.

I have to say, while I like and respect bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead (and their "free download" idealism), I don't feel we should pay any attention to what they say in regards to file sharing, cos all these bands became huge/made their money during the days when people still bought albums. So, with all due respect, what makes them the "file sharing" or the market place specialists now?
And we all know these bands will be selling millions of albums anyway due to their status, no matter if they offer free downloads or not.

Personally, I'd rather like to hear what bands like Mastodon, Meshuggah, Lamb of God etc have to say about the situation and state of music business, as these are the guys who release albums, go out there and play, meet their fans and hear what people have to say.

# Sep 16, 2010 @ 1:30 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Popctrl's avatar


10. Popctrl writes:

You see posts from Gama Bomb like once a year. And they're always great. Also I like how people wanna pretend that the labels and corporate whores like U2 aren't pulling in obscene amounts of cash.

# Sep 16, 2010 @ 2:38 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Fuck_A_Name's avatar


11. Fuck_A_Name writes:

Actually, lamb of god has stated live several times whenever they have a new album that people should go ahead and illegally download it if they want. Although, i would say those guys are at the higher end of metal bands in term of income, not rich, but if they keep touring and making albums, theyll be pretty well off for quite some time, so i dont know if their opinion matters neither like nin and radioheads dont. i just think its entertaining that a band that sings about mummies, aliens, witchs and robots puts out such a discussion inducing piece like this.

# Sep 16, 2010 @ 8:59 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
brandedcfh420's avatar


12. brandedcfh420 writes:

Something that a lot of people dont look at is when the high ups look at "real world" things, its always from their viewpoint, never the fans! The avg metal consumer means absolutely nothing to the corporate suits, except dollar signs.

When the money slows down, they usually look at the things that are a competitor (napster, filesharing, etc) and not how to make the people come back and buy their product. What they refuse to see is that their overly high priced material can be obtained by people at much lower prices and even free! They want to get the most out of the consumer while maintaining a huge bank acct. This is why the music industry execs. are singled out as greedy pigs. They are so high on thier lifestyle that they see us (the avg. consumer) as cattle. This is why we need to bankrupt these b****es every chance we get.

CONTINUE THE PIRACY OF MUSIC, BUT BE SURE TO GO TO SHOWS AND BUY MERCH AT SHOWS, SO YOU GET MONEY INTO THE BANDS POCKETS (where the money really belongs anyways)!! They are the ones who earned it!

N.P. - Birch Hill Dam --- Seeding

# Sep 17, 2010 @ 9:12 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Popctrl's avatar


13. Popctrl writes:

I think one of the other big issues that's desensitizing consumers is that when they buy an album, less than half that money goes to the band. It's difficult to pay $15 so a band can get $3.

NP Gama Bomb - Zombie Brew

# Sep 17, 2010 @ 1:47 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
14. Chains writes:

People do download a little too much these days, I'm one of the only people I know of that actually goes out and buy's CD's/Records still. I only download to check out new bands, it's better than looking them up on Youtube or something.

# Sep 17, 2010 @ 2:28 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
WOLF7's avatar


15. WOLF7 writes:

I still buy albums, and I actually know some people who have gotten back into buying them, which is great.

post 13#, good point. Deftones is a good example; They've sold something like 15 million albums, but when their bassist had the accident and needed 500k or whatever, he/they didnt have it. What's wrong with this picture?

On actual downloading; I think it's great we get the opportunity to check some album out before forking out 15-20 bucks/euros for it, But, too many people take downloading as something perfectly acceptable and as a way to get an album, and that's taking many artists and bands out as they simply cannot afford to continue making their music.

# Sep 19, 2010 @ 11:58 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
16. Greyback writes:

Gama Bomb is right. The Internet cannot be propperly policed, and to do so is denying us our freedom that we supposedly are fighting for now. Focus on the rapes, homeless, and much, much more pressing issues like alternate fuels. The thing is online music purchasing is either iTunes or CDs. I don't like ITunes, and buy CDs because I like actual fedelity in my mucis, not just a garbled MP3 that I pay a dollar to listen to. I can buy the CD for $10 and have a true copy of this album. The new age is going to be lossless audio formats if expanding online music/getting totally away from those plastic discs is the goal here, which most people will agree however willing. I'd hate to see the CD totaly die out, but in a way it would help if there was a standard protocol of online purchasing of online music sort of like PayPal and not crappy iTunes. That being said, this will only curb the filesharing for a while, until people figure out new ways to share music. That's just the way it is, and anybody who can't realized his this is behind the times

# Sep 20, 2010 @ 9:33 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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