neil young, the "music" industry, and my pal - stephan smithstephan is a dear friend of mine - i met him in one of my classes at the new school. ironically, i'd heard two of his songs, recorded with dj spooky, on an adbusters music compilation and had been searching for him for close to 6 months (i wanted more music!) when i found him - completely accidently, after i'd logged in to the introductions section of a zapatista course i took way back when. he's a talented songwriter and musician, and a good guy at that. you may have caught the show he played at prospero's a few years back.
i got this note from him a few weeks ago, and he asked that this be passed around - so here i'am. and here it is:
Hi Everyone, I wanted to share with you, and hope you will share with others, my open letter to Neil Young that is in today's San Francisco Chronicle Editorial section 'Insight,' in which I speak to Howie Klein (Neil's former rec. co. president), Danny Goldberg (Vice Chairman of Air America and former co. pres to both Neil and me), and folk legend Pete Seeger about Neil's comment that he's not hearing young protest singers.
Why, in an era of unprecedented global economic inequality, environmental degradation, and violence, are we not hearing songs that mobilize people to make our world better?
In the byline, the Chronicle mentions my new single, "Another World Is Possible," that I'm releasing for free only on the internet this week as an anthem to help galvanize the global justice movement. It will be available at my website http://www.stephansmith.com, beginning tomorrow Monday, May 15, at noon. A personal statement about the song, and my decision to release
it under my born name Stephan Said (pronounced Sayeed), reclaiming my Iraqi heritage, will be distributed online this week.
Here' the article:
Sunday, May 14, 2006 (SF Chronicle)
Hey, Neil Young: We young singers are hog-tied, too
You recently said that you felt compelled to write your new album "Living
With War" because you got tired of waiting for young protest singers to
pick up the torch. I'm compelled to tell you that young protest singers
are here, and we're holding the flame. I'm one of them.
The trouble is, you can't hear us on major radio stations for the same
reasons you noted last year when you poignantly stated, "I can't do
anything in the record industry, or especially radio, because it's so
controlled by corporations."
While established artists like yourself may have felt your hands tied, the
truth is far worse for upcoming artists: Even booking agents and managers
won't touch us for fear that we will offend their audiences in a country
where consumerism and patriotism stand united, as your song "Restless
Consumer" makes clear.
Bono was right when, at U2's induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
last year, he said, "There is very little chance for there to be another
U2 the way the business is constructed right now." Describing corporate
dependency on the toothless hit single, he said, "You have to have the hit
single immediately. Bruce Springsteen didn't have a single for 10 years.
Neil Young, I'm not sure, he ever had a single."
If radio won't play an artist whose singles touch on politics, the only
hope is to get a break opening for established acts. But, I don't know of
a single mainstream artist whose agent will allow an unestablished
political artist to open for them. Would you?
Your good friend and former record company president Howie Klein, who
wrote the first review of "Living With War," put it eloquently when he
told me he thinks it's depressing that in a world of unprecedented global
economic inequality, environmental degradation and increasing frustration
causing terrorism, today's Bob Dylans and Neil Youngs are not getting a
chance to be heard.
Some see positive developments, though. Industry legend and activist Danny
Goldberg, now Vice Chairman of Air America, says, "The Internet provides
opportunities for new artists to find a fan base that was not available in
years past." But still, the Internet has its limits.
I should know. As then-president of Artemis Records, the nation's largest
independent label, Danny signed me in 2003 after my song "The Bell," with
Pete Seeger and Dean Ween, which was released on the internet on Sept. 11,
2002, burst into mainstream press as "the anti-war anthem for this
But, even though "The Bell" was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times,
printed over 250,000 times on various compilations, and was covered by
artists from Dave Matthews to DJ Spooky, booking agents and managers
remained too fearful to take it on. Why? Because most industry
professionals, even those who pride themselves on their left leanings,
believe they have to protect their audiences from politics.
As Geoff Edgers reported in the Boston Globe, when discussing the Dixie
Chicks and Pink, whose songs "Not Ready to Make Nice" and "Dear Mr.
President" address President Bush, John Hart, president of Bullseye
Marketing Research in Nashville, said, "I don't think they're bad people.
I just think they're expressing an opinion.
"Unfortunately, they think most of their listeners or fans feel that way,
and they're wrong. All the fans want is to hear their music."
But this is not true. As Howie revealed to me, contrary to widespread
belief of a detrimental backlash to the Dixie Chicks' anti-Bush comments,
radio response to their new album was 90 percent positive. It was only 10
percent of the listeners who objected.
Already, during the initial invasion of Iraq, the industry knew there was
a market for dissent. When I took part in the launch of ProtestRecords.com
in March 2003, a Web site of free protest MP3s started by Sonic Youth's
Thurston Moore, replete with unknown artists, the Web site was hit over 1
million times in the first six days. Still, the industry failed to respond
while soldiers and civilians continued to die.
Many say that Green Day and Steve Earle received Grammys for their largely
topical albums, and Kanye West, Bright Eyes and Anti-Flag have all
profited from dissent in the past 2 years, but this is misleading: These
are all artists who were established before they questioned the war in
Iraq. For now, questioning authority in the mainstream industry remains
reserved for celebrities.
When I called Seeger recently to tell him about your great new album and
your thought-provoking comment, Pete said, "Protest singers have never
been played on the radio. In the 1930s, at the depths of the Depression,
no radio station played the songs of the miners organizing for their
rights in West Virginia, like 'Which Side Are You On.' "
In the 1960s, artists like yourself, Dylan, Phil Ochs and Joan Baez could
rise to the fore because visionaries like Pete and Woody Guthrie built a
community independent of the industry, and shared it with the youth.
Neil, will you, or Springsteen with his "We Shall Overcome," follow in
Stephan Smith is an Iraqi American songwriter who grew up in Appalachia.
His newest single, "Another World Is Possible," will begin streaming
exclusively at his Web site www.stephansmith.com today. His father's
family lives under the daily threat of bombing in Baghdad and Mosul.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2006 SF Chronicle