Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?

I was flattered to see that Chris Walla left a comment on my post about the music industry / National Association of Broadcasters rent-seeking team-up. He makes a few points, but probably the one that’s most directly in contradiction to what I said is:

Don’t ever assume that just because Flagpole Sitta is in your head or on your radio that those guys who were Harvey Danger must be rich, or even that they have an apartment.

That’s quite true. Still, based on what I can see on the internet all the guys from Harvey Danger seem to be doing okay in life—probably faring better economically than the average America, while mostly doing reasonably interesting jobs completely aside from however much money they made during their 15 minutes of fame or with the band’s less commercially successful albums.

But to put my point more precisely, the point is that whether or not the Harvey Danger crew made a lot of money off of “Flagpole Sitta” getting all that radio airplay, they certainly made more money than they would have made had “Flagpole Sitta” not gotten so much airplay. I liked the song so much that I bought the album, and I like it to this day. My favorite track off it is actually “Private Helicopter”:

Part of what’s interesting here is the story of how that song became a hit. Apparently the album was released in July 1997 and was a bit of an indie success. Then in January 1998, one radio station in Seattle played the song some and it became highly requested. Then it got picked up by KROQ in LA and spread from there to national radio and to MTV. All that exposure obviously helped sell more albums, concert tickets, t-shirts, etc. than would have been sold had KNDD in Seattle not played it in the first place. And of course other bands go from one huge radio hit to many huge radio hits and do get rich. Which is all just to say that FM radio exposure has traditionally been an important avenue to musical success. Like any sensible person I’m more instinctively sympathetic to musicians than to tech company executives, but the fact of the matter is that having mobile device makers pay money to radio stations so the stations can give money to the artists whose songs they play is a “solution” to a non-problem.

If you want to help your favorite band make more money, go to their show and buy some of their merch. Recommend their albums to friends. This proposed legislative change is loopy.