A Brief History of the Machine

Welcome to the Machine

Bothsams began as a licensing agent and talent development label ("A&R" - artist and repertoire) with Capital and Columbia. Back then, there was "the machine," made famous in the Pink Floyd song "Welcome to the Machine." The independent music scene back then was, essentially, festival artists making their annual rounds, performing for pennies, if anything, and basically just being a part of the musical community. Their main revenue sources came from publishing their songs and having them licensed. Just as an author wants a publicist to score a movie deal, a musician sought the services of a licensing agent to sell their songs as sheet music, get them placed into jukeboxes and on the radio and into record stores, or to have the song or track bought for use as a soundtrack or commercial jingle. There were agencies who did this for artists, who were considered to be "guilds" or "unions" - BMI and ASCAP. Bothsams began under BMI as part of the Songwriter's Guild program they offered and then moved to ASCAP in 2003 as a registered licensor for music, film, video, broadcasts and books. It kept all its industry resources and standards and worked through ASCAP as part of a talent development initiative designed to groom artists for signing and licensing their work to record labels and soundtrack producers.

Virtually everything on the radio then came from a major studio or music group, signed artists. Occasionally, an artist would create a funny, hip, cool song and send it to a radio station and it became a one-hit wonder, a theme song. In the 70s disco era, "Rapper's Delight," the song by the Sugar Hill Gang that brought rap and hip-hop to mainstream audiences, was released this way. Due to overt racist policies, the song almost never got into rotation. No one wanted to play "Black" music - meaning, music that belonged exclusively to Black culture and communities. The importance of having a licensing agent is relevant to the story of the song. Chic, the band whose "Good Times" hit was already fast becoming a pop culture anthem, heard the song "Rapper's Delight" at a live club show, featuring the distinct bass line and even back-up melody (called "interpolation," legally, but we all call it "sampling" or "lifting") on “Good Times.” Chic immediately filed copyright infringement and the Sugar Hill Gang went to court, and the decision was to list Chic with the track's songwriting credits, which allowed them to collect royalties every time "Rapper's Delight" was played or sold or performed for a fee. 

In the 80s, as soon as the major labels began planning to incorporate, independent labels and artists were either forced to go with the boat or their contracts were frozen or rescinded. The majors openly resisted the independent artist community and movement, because, they claimed, "standards would drop" if artists were allowed to, say, write their own songs, draft their own contracts, manage their own royalty reporting, and of course, without the big agencies, artists were "at risk" for exploitation by unscrupulous "talent agents" and others. This, in full denial of the fact that the machine, itself, was, at the time, the one responsible for exploitation of artists. Sounds a lot like abuse? Much of the time, it was. Multiple complaints and law suits were filed, even by major artists, most notably Prince, fighting for artist control and independence as content providers. The claims demonstrated that, if anything, it was the label that owed the artist, not the other way around. 

By the 90s, after the fiasco labels experienced in trying to sign indie “grunge” artists who were openly defiant of the Machine and part of a nihilistic scene, heavily drug-influenced, the organic response to such famous artists and impending major label incorporation led to what people conceive of today as the "self-published author" and the "independent artist." Pearl Jam took on Ticketmaster, and held them accountable for over-charging and over-crowding, as well as other tactics used to force artists to either sell out or cancel. Hundreds of thousands of artists were left stranded by incorporation, unable to afford services and restricted from gaining access to agents. A&R divisions were closed, uniformly, which meant the vital role of the talent scout went by the wayside, and then, in a final blow, label agents were told to refuse to work with managers and only deal with artists, directly, fully by-passing their one layer of protection in a ruthless profit-mongering industry. In the film industry, where the Machine got its name from, studios went back to the old Hollywood star-maker formula with a make-over, re-creating their A-list rosters with actors who had a certain look or appeal, whether or not they actually had talent. If the content provider's contribution is whittled to little or none, then the studio (the "publisher" of the content) can refute claims like Prince’s that the artist “makes the studio”, and indisputably claims 100% ownership and control. See how that works? This is where the independent mantra of "Be in control! Retain your rights!" came from - these are the things that the Machine used to take away. Studio producers used to say, "I made you and I can break you," to threaten artists who complained about lack of creative input and autonomy. The problem was, they were telling the truth. 

Back then, and still today, major producers and publishers and even agents not only launched careers, they destroyed them to save their own reputations and make money off the next victim who put up less of a fight, complained less, "got with the program". In the publishing industry, agents closed their doors and major publishing houses ceased scouting for new authors and dropped their exposition conferences, where authors could solicit agents and publishers and have their manuscripts reviewed and enjoy direct access to the deal-makers in their industry. Consequently, printing services that self-published authors used to be able to use and afford suddenly charged soaring rates. Major indie publishers only accept templates that require licensed software designed to self-produce book covers (namely In Design), even though there is free software available. Even Ingram Spark will not layout a cover design for its clients. They have to figure that out by themselves or pay someone to do it for them, at a minimum of $150, unless they have a friend. Indie publishers offer this service now at more or less exactly what it costs the author to do it, personally - right around $500 - and that’s fine, but they don’t the publishing agreement even though they are only doing cover design and layout. Doors shut everywhere, artists were cherry-picked for tractability and mass-produced with a vengeance as pop artists, comics, films and books all started to look and sound alike, and the standards did, indeed, drop, as predicted - because the Machine, itself, dropped them. Welcome to the Machine...it never went away. If anything, it escalated itself into a super-power and attained total dominance. 

This incorporation and blocking of independent artists was not confined to the music industry, but was a systemic movement to prevent individual content contributors from ever producing and profiting from their own works. It was a cruel and unethical betrayal of the artists who had made these entities the giants that that they became. Although some of that has changed, because labels did learn a few lessons, artists still can't afford industry-standard services, can't access agents, editors, publishers, can't receive full publishing support, and can't submit unsolicited manuscripts to a major publisher - and most importantly, they can't attract an agent. Just as A&R was shut down in the music industry, literary agents who once were the front line in manuscript submissions, have all but disappeared. Of the dozen or so whom we've contacted as we launched our converted publishing house, two responded back. Their take? "We have to already have a demand in the market, and we go by what the major publishing houses want, before we will even look at a manuscript." If you cannot fill a niche, no agent will bother with your submission, even when they've put out a call, yet most charge substantial fees, some more so than even the cost of book production packages at the most expensive tiers ($14,000 and up, baseline). Also, the agents want the best deal, by their evaluation, when sometimes, the best deal is not the majors, but the best deal for the agents is the best commission. You have no say-so as to where they submit your work, but you can decline an offer - and then you can say goodbye to your agent. This is what they do for a living, so even paying them a retainer won’t induce them to keep working with you when you decline offers that they’ve decided are the “best thing on the table.” It makes them look really, really bad and they work from reputation, alone. What they want is a publisher who can pay their client - and their commission comes out first - an advance, and only the major traditionals will do that, and only when their market is open. It doesn’t matter how good your book is. The publishers just aren’t buying, agent or not, yet every week, a new “major” book comes out with a New York Times “bestseller” sticker on the front. To get reported to the list, the book has to have already been selling everywhere in the world. Who, without a publisher, has been promoting the book to that extent, and where was the book on shelves before it was released as a “best-seller”? This is done through pre-sales, the kind only a publisher’s distributor can generate. An author can still be independent and reach industry standards of success. Can an author self-publish and attain the same? Yes. Eva Natiello did it, but she won’t say how, only that it took her seven years.

Bothsams was born and bred in that machine and we are redesigning our publishing model to make the functional components of publishing available and affordable for the independent artist, to help foster talent development and sustain a creative community environment, and to give adequate control and autonomy back to the creators of the content, so the business of making a career out of creative work can become a reality for artists of all types. "The Machine," after all, is not a thing, but an idea. Bothsams deals with reality, not false ideology, pipe dreams or promises. The tools we use, the resources we possess and our adherence to industry standards are all things the artists we work with inherit from the relationship, on or off contract. So...welcome to the new machine, where the artist is the owner-operator and the publisher is a designer, representative, and vital industry resource, for life. Flip the switch, with Bothsams.