Chuck D: Music wants to be free

The Beatles were big, but the Internet is the biggest thing to happen to music ever, Chuck D tells a crowd at CMJ Music Marathon
Written by Lisa M. Bowman, Contributor

Using spicier language than he did when testifying before Congress, rap artist Chuck D praised the power of the Internet before a crowd at the CMJ Music Marathon.

"This is the most exciting time in music -- ever," said Chuck D, a champion of MP3 music and an unofficial spokesman for freely traded music on the Web.

Calling the Internet "music's biggest sensation since The Beatles, disco, and rap," the rapper vowed that free music-swapping sites, such as Napster, let talented musicians circumvent clueless and greedy record labels as well as talent scouts too lazy to seek out quality music.

The former leader of rap group Public Enemy now runs Rapstation.com, a multimedia site that promotes rap music by featuring, among other things, free songs and artist interviews. Chuck D was the featured speaker at CMJ Music Marathon, a four-day conference for music industry insiders.

As evidence of how much influence the Internet has had on the music industry in recent years -- particularly because of the high-profile litigation against Napster, MP3.com, and others -- the conference featured multiple Web panels. One panel featured musicians who claimed to be making money on the Net. On another, insiders debated whether music should be free on the Web. (Yes it should, the audience voted afterwards.)

During his profanity-peppered speech, Chuck D said music labels were wasting their time trying to quash services such as Napster in the courts. As he put it, "Trying to stop that s--t is like trying to stop the rain."

A Mets fan, the rapper said he'd like to see the music industry more closely resemble the sports world, where "cream rises to the top."

In other words, a band from Akron, Ohio, should have as much chance of making it big as a ballplayer from the same place. The Web can help bands build an audience that reaches far beyond the borders of their hometown, he said.

Artists who use the Internet wisely won't have to wait for years to get their music to market or shell out thousands of dollars for the videos or the other promotional tools that get their music heard, he said. "You can get in the game without being subjected to anybody letting you in the game," he told the crowd, whose members sported leather trousers and T-shirts advertising bands that had toured musical hot spots from Steven's Point, Wisconsin, to Gunnison, Colorado.

As alternative song-swapping services become a greater part of the musical landscape, Chuck D said that even the record labels are starting to realise what's so obvious to artists and their fans. "Is the genie out of the bottle?" he asked rhetorically. "Hell, yeah. And it ain't going back in."

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