Give It Away [on Very Flawed Wednesday]

BMI music moves our world copy

There’s a yearly ritual in our home that I have come to dread. The arrival of the BMI statement. Broadcast Music, Inc., one of the performing rights organizations (royalty collectors) that track and collect royalties for the worldwide play of Kerri’s music. If I could hide the envelope and feel good about myself I would do it.

The BMI envelope evokes a dark cloud. Kerri clutches it and disappears into a corner of the house where she meticulously adds the numbers. With each number, her inner emotional rubber band winds tighter and tighter and tighter until it approaches the snapping point. I hear mutters and curses, “Listen to this,” she shouts to no one, “27,000 plays and I made a whopping 6 cents! 50,000 plays and get this! I made 6 bucks! Six whole bucks!!!”

I stand by, phone in hand, ready to dial the medical rescue squad. If her exclamation is ever followed by hysterical laughter, I’m dialing. I swear it.  “Are you alright?” I call out as part of the ritual. There is never a reply, just more clicking sounds from her phone calculator. Click, click, click…More mutters. More frustration. More anger. She is no longer adding numbers, she is adding abuses. Stacking her fury. She is consciously stoking her discontent.

I lose her for days in the black BMI cloud. Ritual anger. Hot fire.

In the old world, these numbers would add up to a very healthy living, a very successful career. In the new world, the numbers mean Apple Music and Spotify and Rhapsody and SoundCloud and YouTube…are making a healthy living on her music and the work of other independent artists. The artists are circumvented from realizing the profits of their work.

“You know it’s coming,” I tell her, “so why put yourself through this every time? You aren’t going to change it.” My ritual appeal.

She doesn’t acknowledge my question. She doesn’t acknowledge my presence. Click, click, click…”Oh Great!” she exclaims! “I’ve had a decrease! Last time it was .00079 and now it’s .00074! OF A CENT!”

I go to the far side of the house where DogDog is hiding from the dark and angry storm. We sit together, DogDog and me, phone at the ready.

The thing is, I agree with her. It is not fair. It is not right. It is a sign of the times that the organizations intended to protect her rights are active participants in selling her out. They make more money by ensuring that the artists makes less. Far less. “It costs them more per penny to send me the check than I’m getting per performance play!” she writhes. “Ten Times As Much!” She’s done the calculation; her indignation is numerically exact.

It is also not healthy to obsess on it. They’ve literally taken her livelihood. For several weeks each year she freely gives them her sanity. She drop-kicks her peace out the door. Her health suffers. Her heart breaks. And, for some reason, she waits with anticipation for the next letter to come so she can descend into darkness and rail again at the injustice. It’s as if the BMI letter is the only real, last remaining validation to her artistry. Over a million people enjoy her music each year.  The red hot anger is her only remaining thread to that deep rich pool of creativity.

In the meantime, she refuses to go into her studio and compose.”Why Bother!” she shouts to no one listening. Click, click, click…

She has, of course, given them far more than they have taken. During one of these rituals, the rubber band will snap as happens to all artists who turn against their artistry. After the snap, after I dial the phone and the good people come to take the pieces away, I will play her albums – all of them – and listen to the life-giving beauty that came from that deep creative pool before she could no longer see beyond the BMI betrayal, before she allowed the clicking numbers to parch her wild abundant artistry.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BMI

 

black box copy

 

Know [on KS Friday]

i didn't know song box copy

There is much an artist cannot know about their own work. They sit on the mountain so they cannot see it. But, in their general blindness, there is one thing they do know: there is a difference between the bulk of their work that is good and the few shining pieces that are great.

Kerri is evasive when talking about her work. I imagine somewhere back in the nether-times of her artistic formation, Beaky taught her a definition of ‘humble’ that now precludes her from speaking kindly of her compositions. I’ve learned that there is a chink in her armor. If you want truth, piss her off. In her anger she just might let slip what lives behind the humble-fortress. Recently, red-in-the-face mad at my provocation, she glared at me and said, “My work is good but This Part Of The Journey is great! It is world class!”

It is. She knows like only an artist can know. It’s her best album. And, the pity of it is – to me, at least – she is now – 20 years later – capable of better. Her artistry has grown. By far. Her unrecorded songs and compositions live in a notebook. They will never be recorded. “Why bother,” she says, each time she opens her BMI statement, looks despairingly at the enclosed $47.00 check while perusing the report that shows well over a million people listened to her music last year.

If you want to hear her play, the route is the same as the path to her truth. Piss her off. I secretly look forward to the day the BMI statement comes. On BMI day, in a fury, she sits at her mostly ignored piano and plays. You can’t imagine how beautiful heart-pain can sound. You can’t imagine how much music is in her. On BMI day, I get to hear her best work.

You can say, “I didn’t know.” I cannot. I do. I know. And, I suppose, more to the point, she is not alone. Kerri is only one of thousands of musicians whose music makes millions for streaming services but are paid virtually nothing for it. Perhaps you should grieve -as I do – that I am the only person on earth who has – or will have – the opportunity to hear her greatest compositions. That should piss you off.

 

I DIDN’T KNOW on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about I DIDN’T KNOW

 

i didn’t know/this part of the journey ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood