Music Industry Tells Budding Musicians They Must Pay to Play

Not satisfied with suing people, both alive and dead, who enjoy listening to music, now the priority-challenged music industry is threatening to sue guitar tablature sites, where users exchange tips on how to play songs.

For those who aren’t familiar with tablature sites, they are web sites that contain a database of guitar tabs, usually indexed by artist and by song. I use tab sites regularly to learn songs. Sadly, my site of choice, Olga.net (Olga standing for On-Line Guitar Archive), and others have bowed to the pressure and taken their once expansive database off-line.

Normally, the way it works is like this. Let’s say I wanted to learn CCR’s Bad Moon Rising. I’d go to a tab site and search for either CCR or the name of the song. The page I would find would look something like this:

D         C   G    D        D     C       G      D
I see the bad moon rising,  I see trouble on the way
D     C    G          D          D     C   G     D
I see earthquakes and lightning, I see bad times today

Chorus:
G                                   D
Don't go around tonight,  well it's bound to take your life
C         G               D
There's a bad moon on the rise

(I have no idea if my tabs will translate to a feed. If not, see my blog for what it is supposed to look like.)

The letters, of course, are the chords used to play the song. Guitar players will recognize that these chords are the easy way to play the song. And that’s just the point- most tab sites are all about easy and none contain the full music notation found on purchased sheet music. In addition, tab sites often contain easier tunings that make songs easier for novice guitarists to play.

All of which tells me that the music industry is once again engaging in knee-jerk lawsuits (or threats thereof) that are addressing a problem that isn’t there. Lawsuits that will ultimately hurt the music industry from an economic as well as public relations perspective. Here’s why.

Many people who use tab sites for learning songs are either novice players or intermediate players trying to learn how to play more songs. Expert guitarists and most professional musicians typically either play by ear, use traditional sheet music which they purchase or use one of the various numbering systems that are completely different than traditional music notation. I’ll never forget the first time I was in a recording studio while someone recorded one of my songs. The session players listened to the demo tape once, without pausing, and then listened to the chorus and the bridge a second time as they transcribed the chord progressions into a numbering system. Then they sat down and played the song better than it had ever been played before.

This, of course, means that the typical user of a tab site is not going to run out and buy sheet music they likely can’t read to try and learn a song. They’ll just learn some other song or give up altogether.

Sure, they could go buy a fake book (a book that has chord notations similar to what I did above in addition to music notation), but those books are created for professional musicians, formal music students and others who are doing more than just trying to play Wild Thing and Louie Louie using the only three chords they know. Many of the people playing Wild Thing and Louie Louie today may continue into more formalized lessons later- or not. But it does nobody any good to stop them in their tracks before they have a chance to decide.

All it accomplishes is to quash someone’s musical ambitions before they have a chance to become a lifelong customer of the music publishing industry.

The music industry should stop suing all the music fans or there won’t be anybody left to buy their products.

I would really like to interview the decision maker behind this latest scorched earth attempt at stuffing the cat into the bag. If anyone can hook me up, please let me know.

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