Here’s an example of why I am an outcast in the music business.
Best in Texas Magazine is regarded, I have heard, as an “important publication” on the Texas music scene. And judging by the names of people who appeared in a recent edition, I understand why: Kevin Fowler, Aaron Watson, Dierks Bently, Cody Canada, Miranda Lambert, Tommy Alverson, George Strait and others.
But I’ve always been suspicious of this magazine and others like it (including the granddaddy Billboard Magazine) that publish “music charts” along with their entertainment news.
Best in Texas’s Texas Music Chart, like most others, portrays itself as a credible, impartial poll of radio station managers in its particular expertise — Texas Music. But a quick study of the accompanying advertisements is proof enough for me that the publication’s goal is deeper than that. The real goal, of course, is to encourage the bands, themselves, to buy plenty of ads appealing to the radio guys voting in the poll.
This means that getting a song into the Texas Music Chart can be more about how much money a band spends on advertising in Best in Texas than it is on artistic merit — or even popularity. I just think that’s wrong. (I think the same, by the way, of media outlets that report endlessly on political opinion polls while also making millions off political advertising. In journalism school I developed a bad attitude that made me think it’s important to focus on real news. My life would be easier if I’d just slept through those classes like so many of my fellow students apparently did.)
I’ve raised this issue 100’s of times over the years with people of all walks of life in the music industry. Most of the time I hear that I’m just too idealistic. Many people agree with me but then sigh, “Hoss, that’s just the way it is.It’s all about money, and you’re not going to change that.”
Several times I’ve just ended up ostracized — or fired.
Nonetheless, I have stuck to my story: Music charts, as they are currently run, are deserving of no respect or credibility. Publications like Best in Texas are just plain bad for the music business.
Someone’s gotta say it out loud before it can ever start sinking in. So I’m that someone, I guess.
Well, given the pain that my radio career has suffered in the defense of this position, I hope you can understand my reaction when a friend called in October, 2007.
“Did you sell out, afterall?” my buddy laughed as he told me he’d just seen a CD review with my byline was in that month’s Best in Texas.
How in the hell did that happen?!
After throwing up my dinner, I stumbled to my computer and checked the magazine’s website. Sure enough. A review that I’d posted on this website in January, 2006 was right there. Almost word for word. I found the magazine’s printed version. It was there, too. Unbelievable!
As much as I disagree with the overall premise of Best in Texas, I would have never guessed the publication to be so bold as to simply lift a piece from someone else’s website. But I dang sure wouldn’t have given them permission to run the piece if they’d asked.
Well, it turns out, Best in Texas didn’t exactly just lift the review from my site. But the real story isn’t any more comforting.
It seems a couple of staff members, were sitting in their office near deadline and realized that they didn’t have enough material to fill that month’s reviews page.
So they started calling bands they knew.
They got in touch with my buddies in the San Antonio-based Electric Cowboys and asked for a recommendation for a review. The guys faxed over a copy of mine.
The magazine staff apparently didn’t think twice about just popping the thing on the page to fill their hole.
Those people must have really slept through Journalism 101.
The publisher was apparently a snoozer, too. When I complained about all this, he seemed surprised that I would object to having my article appear in his widely read magazine. I confirmed that I did, indeed, object, and he got a little obstinate. He said he was well within his rights to print the piece because the Electric Cowboys had said it was okay to do so.
I told him it was okay with me if he wanted to look up a San Antonio Express News article about a Texas singer and print it as the cover story of his next issue.
I don’t think he understood.
After hearing no apology from the publisher, I did a little checking on the federal copyright law: minimum “statutory damages” for copyright infringement is $750. A couple of lawyers said it would probably just take one letter to get that much or more from the magazine. Of course I dislike lawyers as much as I dislike music charts, but I asked one to draw up the dang letter. I planned to donate any proceeds to charity or some worthy band.
Then, as the lawyer went to work, it occurred to me that the magazine might try to pressure the Electric Cowboys into chipping in on the payment.
And what do you know? I got a call from the band.
“Do you want some money from us? Just tell us how much. We’re really sorry about this, and we don’t want to start a battle with the magazine. We just got on the chart, and things are looking good.”
Of course I didn’t want the band’s money. Those guys had done exactly what I would have done if someone had asked me to suggest a review. My complaint was not with them — not in the least.
I didn’t want the magazine’s money either, for that matter.
I just wanted the magazine, whose entire premise is questionable from the start, to promise to pay far better attention to its ethical P’s and Q’s. I also thought it was important for Best In Texas readers to know that the magazine apparently makes a practice of asking bands to recommend supposedly impartial reviews. How’s that for credibility?
I called off the lawyer.
Instead, I then tried to explain the basics of copyright law and journalism ethics to the publisher, and I asked him to simply print an apology and an explanation in the next edition.
Two months (and one email reminder) later, the following appeared in the Best in Texas review section:
“In October Best in Texas, we ran on this page a review of the CD Prisoner of the Honky Tonk by the Electric Cowboys. The review was rightly favorable toward the band and the CD. The review was printed due to a misunderstanding between the band and this publication. We regret any misunderstanding about running the review.”
You see why I just never have fit in with the music business?