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An Open Letter to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver ("Help us Obi-John! You're our only hope.")

Dear Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Staff,

First of all, thank you for all that you do. Your work is greatly appreciated by clear-thinking honest people everywhere. And it is ALWAYS so damn funny — Sir Oliver is a treasure!

Secondly, I realize that you can’t accept suggestions from unsolicited outside sources for the simple reason that if you saw the suggestion, and already had plans to pursue the topic on your own, the sender (submitter? suggestee?) could then sue saying you had stolen their idea. Well, please consider this letter to be my official abdication in writing of any such suggestion or right, I just want you to cover this horrible situation…PLEASE!

And thirdly: I have a very important proposal for a show topic:

The Music “Business”

I put the word business in quotes purposefully to emphasize just how unfair this entity is to content creators (performers and composers/song writers) thus setting the stage for a complete collapse of the living musical arts in the world.

That last statement is — sadly — NOT hyperbole.

Here is an article that I wrote that spells everything out in detail:

For the purpose of this brief proposal however, and my sincere hope that you will read it and take this issue on, what follows are ten bullet points that outline this untenable and dreadful situation:

  1. It is now impossible to make a viable living from recorded music (except for a very small number of touring superstars)

  2. Streaming services such as Spotify do not pay creators enough money to even reach the poverty level (Typically $0.0033 to $0.00 per download)

  3. It is now common practice for all record labels to generate “topic” YouTube channels for releases that put MP3 videos of entire recorded projects into circulation free of charge to all consumers, thus taking away any need to purchase the music.

  4. It is easily possible to download any YouTube video in any format for free, thus adding the track to a cyber personal archive, completely bypassing any services that charge a fee.

  5. Copyrights for all but a few superstars have become meaningless.And even some of those ultra-successful and prosperous musicians (Taylor Swift, Snoop Dogg, Beyoncé, etc) are railing publicly about all of this.

  6. The most popular tracks now streaming are ubiquitous works of the past, making the creation of new creative pieces of any genre all but impossible to promote.

  7. All entities such as record labels and music rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI, AFofM) have by default abdicated any effort to protect or promote any creator save those very few successful superstars. A few new organizations that are trying in good faith to make a difference are essentially powerless.

  8. Beyond working for the rights of the handful of musicians who write, perform, and record movie music, are members of symphony orchestras and operas, or Broadway shows, the musician’s union is powerless to help.

  9. All of the above is not seriously on the radar of any legislative body of any country. While heroic efforts have been mounted by quixotic activists in the U.S. Congress, and the U.K. Houses of Parliament, the issue has yet to get past the “concerned discussion” stage.

  10. As A.I. continues to develop and move exponentially towards a sentient state, the clock is ticking for performers and creators of original content everywhere. …and the general public has now been conditioned to not even notice.

It has been said that to gauge the health of a society, the best indicator is how that society supports the arts. Using that as a metric…it’s time to call 911.

To wrap all of these apocalyptic facts into one of your timely and succinct tour de force shows of wonderfully biting comedy and killer satire, just might be what it will take to bring this sad situation to the attention of those who will be able to do something about it. AKA: I really do believe that you guys can make a difference!

“Help us Obi-John! You’re our only hope.”

Sincerely Offered with Great Respect,

Steve Wiest

Multiple Grammy-nominated performer-composer, author, and cartoonist

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Jim Lutz
Jim Lutz
Apr 07

I would love to see John Oliver take a swing at this. He would crush it, I’m sure! There is so much to be lampooned…

On a more practical note, I’m also curious what you might think about Seth Godin’s idea of building your own tribe with the goal of finding roughly 1,000 “true fans” (people who would spend about $100+ per year on what you do for them). Seth expounded upon this idea in a talk at Juilliard, and Andrew Hitz made a transcript which is available here:

I don’t know if this is the perfect solution for every music maker, but it feels much more doable than forcing the genies of technology and corporate greed/stupidity back into…

Steve Wiest
Steve Wiest
Apr 08
Replying to

Hi Jim,

I believe that–in theory–Seth's idea is absolutely spot-on! I would also hope that it is viable in reality. In my own experience, there are some flaws, however (sadly)

  1. The community that we as artists would call upon is itself moderately-to-profoundly impoverished. AKA, we would be asking for help from those who have the least. These salt-of-the-earth kindhearted and beautiful souls would surely want to help, but simply could not afford to do so. Those who DO have the means to help, generally would not help due to the fact that–in order to achieve their financial success–they make a habit of NOT supporting or even being aware of the arts...either by honest ignorance (not having been exposed to any…

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