Henry cites example of unpaid Black Flag royalties to point out music theft is more widespread than many people claim

Henry Rollins

Part of the Problem? Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins says music pirates aren’t the only ones to blame for the music industry’s current problems – and cites his former band Black Flag as a prime example.

He states he and his ex colleagues haven’t been paid royalties in decades for profits made from their back catalogue. And although he insists illegal downloading is wrong, he maintains there are advantages to people hearing music they wouldn’t otherwise listen to.

Rollins says in his LA Weekly column: “Musicians have been kept from their earnings by everyone from venue owners to managers, agents, other band members and record labels, to the point where it’s an almost built-in expectation.

“Black Flag’s music is on a label called SST, owned and operated by Greg Ginn. He doesn’t pay royalties – no statements, nothing, to me and several of my old bandmates.

“I’d love to see just an estimate of what I’m owed over a period of almost three decades. But I’m not holding my breath for the man to come to my door with one of those oversized cheques any time soon.

“I expect this kind of behaviour. But when the fans do it – well, I guess there are a lot of people who want to join the fun.”

Rollins wonders if music has become victim of modern high-stress living, and has become devalued in a world where people can be too busy and too financially stretched. He suggests that because music is now thought of as something people can get for nothing, it’s worth less i the eyes of the paying public.

He says: “It’s an abbreviated life, often without the time to even tweet ‘how r u?’ to someone we actually kind of know. The consideration of music has gone down that same path – how could it not?”

The singer believes modern technology could provide the answers to questions it raised itself, but doubts whether the established industry will assist in the process.

“I reckon it will be musicians and music lovers who will save music from the role of being mere background noise. It’s important to keep music alive by going to the record store, going to the show, telling your first about a cool band, listening to radio shows hosted by music fanatics and anything else you can do to keep it bouncing off the walls.”

Ultimately, Rollins reflects, there are positives to the issue of online pirating: “There are so many record I’ve had a chance to hear only because someone posted them. Sometimes members of bands will write in and thank a site for putting up their tracks for people to enjoy music that would otherwise have been deep in obscurity. The optimum outcome is a cool reissue – that’s happened many times over the years.

“I download records like those. If I could have found the genuine article I’d have acquired it. When I do find a copy of that record I’ll go after if with remarkable obsession.

“I don’t know if this makes me part of the problem, but I’ll counter any incoming guff with this: music was made to be heard.”

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