Oppenheimm didn’t get up, and didn’t try to shake his hand. “I’ll admit I’m intrigued, Mr. Murphy. I’ve never heard of you, and yet Cheryl gave you an appointment without speaking with me. She never does that.”
“Cheryl did a bad thing, once. It’s nothing that impacts her ability to do her job, my presence here notwithstanding. You would have met with me anyway, this was just easier. Cigarette?” Murphy put a pack of Bronco Light 100s down on the desk.
“I don’t smoke.” Oppenheimm looked at the pack nervously, because it was his brand.
“No, not for six months, seventeen days. Your wife admitted to you that her uncle died of lung cancer, and she couldn’t stand watching you kill yourself. She failed to tell you she was also pregnant, and hadn’t yet decided to terminate the pregnancy.” Oppenheimm's face turned white. “The procedure was performed by a Dr. Goldman twenty miles north of here, in Harristown. She never told you.”
Oppenheimm was silent. Murphy unfolded a stack of papers from inside his coat. “This is a list of 67% of your client base. These 67% are hereby terminating your services.”
Oppenheimm kicked his feet up, and focused away from the cigarettes to look at Murphy, smiling. “They can’t do that. I have a contract.”
“That’s right. And when we’re done here, we’re going to go to the basement, open your safe. The code is your second son’s birthday, with the year reversed. You’re going to tear their contracts up, and I'm going to walk out of here with the pieces of those contracts in your briefcase. Your wife bought it for you for your thirteenth anniversary on a trip to Italy. I’ve taken the liberty of placing an identical one in your car, under the rear seat, down to the discoloration where your oldest son spilled Coke on it.”
“I’m going to give you the benefit of explaining. Being generous, and assuming you’re very good, 95% of music sales go to overhead, everywhere from disc pressing costs to promotion, distribution, management and agents. Discs are dead, and attempting to force them on the public with radical DRM technologies has eroded the part of the market that demands a physical copy of music. Antipiracy technology doesn’t stop pirates, it just stops honest people from being able to fully enjoy the music they buy. Telling customers what they can do with things they bought always pisses them off. And there’s no legal reason why someone has to purchase different copies of an album to listen to in their car, their home or their computer, and hiding behind the incompatibility of formats is an argument you won't win anymore.”
“And independent artists are grossing within 80% of industry supported artists. When you remove overhead from the equation, they outnet your clients in the range of 300%.”
Oppenheimm smiled wider. “But people can’t be trusted to pay for their music. Preview music can be cracked and stolen from Amazon, and downloaded songs can be pirated to millions of people peer to peer.”
“Didn’t you people learn anything from VCRs and CD burners twenty years ago? People aren’t stupid. They understand that if they don’t pay artists, artists will make less art. That’s why people are much more willing to buy direct from an artist, where the artist gets to decide how much their work is worth, and gets all the money paid, minus what, 10% for hosting and technical costs. How much goes to the management, the promoters, disc pressing? An artist with a good contract and phenomenal sales can hope to gross 5%, but then you recoup recording costs, promotion, videos. At best, they net 2%, and that’s pie in the sky.”
Oppenheimm loosened his tie. He wasn’t smiling anymore. “I have a contract.” His hand was shaking, and he found himself pulling out a cigarette, flicking the lighter, all instinctively, just to keep himself from quaking. Murphy smiled as Oppenheimm took a drag.
"Most men in your profession have nightmares in the corner of their lives. A woman they raped in college, substance-abuse and a stockpile that would put them away until their children graduate from med school, financial dealings so shady they make congressmen blush.” Murphy placed a small, black rectangle on the edge of his desk. “This is a magnetic tape recording, I trust you’re old enough to remember them. It’s a reproduction, of a quality high enough most experts would think it’s the original. It’s a recording of a conversation you had with a Pakistani gentleman nine years ago, regarding the disposition of a Mr. Fung. Mr. Fung operated a file sharing network, and suffered a major misfortune less than a week after this recording was made. Now, I don’t think you intended the severity of Mr. Fung’s accident, but the tape makes it clear you wanted him punished.”
Oppenheimm was sweating. The cigarette fell out of the corner of his mouth, and he absently ground the cherry out onto his carpet. “I- I’m a good man. I’ve got a family. He was a pirate, stealing from artists. I’ve never hurt anyone who didn’t deserve it.”
“In February you sued an 80 year old woman for music her grandchildren downloaded. Half of her social security check is garnished and sent directly to your office. Her debt won't be completely repaid until she's 105. You’re a leech, bottom-feeding scum whose career has been built bullying your clients and their fans. And the world doesn’t need you anymore.”
Oppenheimm couldn’t speak. Murphy continued. “Thirty years ago, record companies paid the overhead that was necessary to produce and release music. Now, studio quality recording can be accomplished in a sound-proofed garage with a computer. Your industry exists simply as a self-perpetuating parasite only interested in its own survival. At least the motion picture people are still necessary for making big budget films, and even they nearly swallowed themselves when they tried to resell everyone the movies they’d already bought onto two successive formats in less than a decade."
"And most career writers died when the publishing industry collapsed. Everyone but Grisham had to get a day job, but most writers had day jobs, anyway. And the literary industry is still alive. More people read books through the online entertainment sites than they ever did in print. Part of the diversification of the market meant more people could make money off their writing, and more people could find exactly what they wanted to read. It also meant almost no one could make a living at it. People got tired of letting corporations tell them what’s worth their time and money, and artists got tired of companies owning their art as 'work for hire.'”
“67% of your roster are leaving with me today. When those artists don’t all go broke, expect the rest to leave.” Murphy turned towards the exit.
Oppenheimm lit himself another cigarette, breathed the smoke out through his nostrils. “Whatever they’re paying you, I’ll triple it.”
Murphy smiled. “That’s why your kind are dying. Because there isn’t room in the system anymore for your kind of bastard; you can’t pay enough to keep it dirty. Every healthy industry is an organism that evolves and grows to meet its own needs, and you're a tick. It's high time someone burned you off."
As a show of solidarity to musicians and anyone else effected by the changing technology, I'm releasing this story under a Creative Commons license. Under this license you can copy, distribute, display, and perform it, or make derivative works. You must include my name, Nic Wilson, and my web address, "www.NicolasWilson.com" as attributions. Your distribution must be noncommercial, and derivative works must be distributed under the same license below, and you must make the license terms clear. Any of these conditions can be waived if you get my permission, and fair use and other rights are in no way affected.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.