John Popper, best known as the front man of Blues Traveler, clearly did his homework to prepare for questions about Pandora and streaming music. In a video interview on CNBC, when asked about songwriter royalties, Popper delivered a history lesson:
“John Philip Sousa was upset when recording devices came out in the first place because nobody would hire his 70-piece band to play their birthday parties, they’d just buy the record. He didn’t understand about royalties. Even then, the royalties had to work themselves out over several decades. The recording business got to a place where you could make money doing that. But, only a very tiny fraction of people make a lot of money with records. I look at Hulu and Netflix, and if filmmakers intellectual property is available for a small fee … we’re part of that.”
History does repeat when it comes to technology disruption. Baseball owners resisted radio broadcast of games, predicting it would diminish ticket sales, unable to forecast its promotional value and eventual licensing fees. MPAA then-president Jack Valenti famously compared emerging videocassette technology to the Boston Strangler. Similarly, Popper seems to be smartly saying, musicians today are caught in the fulcrum of change, the future possibilities of which are impossible to foresee.
Popper is somewhat fatalistic about it all: “How can you stop it?” In the meantime, he advises musicians to own their songs and make money by performing.